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Data is very much behind the success of Black Friday – particularly for e-commerce operations. So it’s no surprise that new research from Oxylabs, in collaboration with CensusWide, reveals that 85% of ecommerce organisations have chosen to make more significant use of data to attract customers. In response to their survey of over 1,000 UK and US-based senior decision makers, including CTOs, VPs of Engineering, Chief Data Officers, Heads of Business Intelligence and Heads of Data & Analytics, they comment that this “…highlights how businesses are using newer, more advanced forms of technology, such as web scraping, to get ahead of the competition.”
During last year’s Black Friday, they report that £9.24bn was spent by consumers, with an extra £2.18bn on Cyber Monday. “By web scraping publicly available data, organisations will be able to forecast consumer demand, monitor what competition is doing and lower prices in real time to attract customers,” they add. Gediminas Rickevicius, Vice President of Global Partnerships at Oxylabs, says the period between Black Friday, Christmas and the New Year – known as the Golden Quarter – “…is always an intense period for e-commerce; so business leaders need to ensure they are using the correct tools and methods to prevail over competition.” As the e-commerce industry is forever growing, and it will continue to do so, he describes data as the new gold. He therefore suggests that the organisations that comprehend this will be the ones that can truly benefit. Not only will they use the increasing amount of data they can collate using analytical tools to analyse each transaction, but they can also use publicly available data to gain further insight into market trends, consumer sentiment and competitor pricing. Rickevicius thinks, “The savviest companies won’t only survive this Golden Quarter but thrive it.”
Drop in confidence
However, these are challenging times and consumer confidence has been dented by the cost-of-living crisis. Could this mean that there will be less activity on Black Friday, or will consumers use it ahead of Christmas to buy gifts ahead of the festive season? Tighter wallets could either lead to a drop in e-commerce activity, or actually see it increasing as consumers will want to gain by finding bargains.
Sophie Lund-Yates, Lead Equity Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, comments: “Retail sales fell 1.4% in September, considerably worse than the 0.5% drop expected. This is a disappointing but unsurprising latest instalment in the saga of the cost-of-living crisis. Food sales were especially affected, as customers make do without extra trolley treats or more expensive dining habits. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, total retail sales were 1.3% lower. The shift in consumer behaviour is likely a result of the upcoming Christmas season, which many will be approaching with caution this year.”
“This also coincides with a 1% drop in Deliveroo orders over the third quarter, which the group has said today was down to a difficult consumer environment. Whatever the cause, this is not the high-growth pace of things investors were promised during Deliveroo’s recent and very high-profile IPO. Gross transaction values were also only up 5%, with price inflation padding out this figure, rather than organic improvements.”
Despite these challenges, retail brands are responding by offering the opportunity to shop for highly discounted products to maximise overall value. Nikki Gilliland asks in her article for Econsultancy: ‘How is the cost of living crisis impacting Black Friday 2022?’ She cites new figures from Retail Economics and Metapack, which suggest that consumer spending on non-essential items during the last three months of the year will drop by £4.4bn, with nearly 60% of UK consumers expected to cut back.
However, she adds: “A recently-published Emarsys study of 3,006 US consumers found that one in five respondents plan to increase their Black Friday spend from 2021, with one in ten using the occasion to complete most of their Christmas shopping.”
Wilkes Wood nevertheless comments in a post from August 2022 that, in their view, e-commerce will continue to grow overall in 2022. This is despite the challenging market environment that is affected by a slowing global market, conflict in Ukraine and struggling supply infrastructure. Citing Statista, they predict that online retail sales are expected to account for 21% of all global retail sales in 2022.
Better data analysis
No matter what the reality is, there is a need to treat data as a company’s most important asset beyond simply having customers. Big data analysis can make the difference between success and failure. So, it’s not just about having the technology to scrape publicly available data from other website because e-commerce retailers ideally want to know what’s happening in real-time, as people browse their websites and make their purchases to decide where to concentrate their efforts, and to offer the right customers the right products that will sell the most.
There is, nevertheless, a devil that can prevent true real-time big data analysis from taking place and that’s called latency, which slows down wide area networks (WANs) to the extent that it can cause packet loss. The traditional response to this would be WAN Optimisation, but it doesn’t often fulfil its promises. SD-WANs are increasingly be deployed, but they too can be impacted by latency and so they often benefit from having a WAN Acceleration overlay.
WAN Acceleration solutions, such as PORTrockIT, use data parallelisation, artificial intelligence and machine learning to mitigate the effects of latency and packet loss. This enables better bandwidth utilisation and it can subsequently permit real-time data analysis. However, it’s not just about big data analysis to understand customer and market trends.
E-commerce retailers need to keep their platforms up and running. Uptime is crucial to success, and slow e-commerce websites can lead to customers jumping ship to go to buy products and services from a competitor. It’s therefore an imperative to ensure that a website performs well by permitting an uninhibited customer experience. WAN Acceleration can help retailers to achieve this. Christo Briedenhann, CEO of StratIT explains that organisations need to be able to generate value out of the data that’s both stored and captured. Out-of-date data may not add any value, and so it must be updated to make sure that it stays relevant, as well as able to create value. In certain industries, such as in e-commerce, data has to be updated in real-time to ensure that the big data analysis is accurate and makes the right predictions or offers to ensure that the right products are offered, or the right solutions are provided.
Back up, back up!
Unfortunately, Black Friday doesn’t just attract consumers. Bad actors, such as hackers and other cyber-criminals, often want to take advantage of the period of increased activity. Apart from phishing customer accounts, threats such as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) can render a website inaccessible and cause downtime.
“These attacks are often intended to eliminate competitors or to offer to restore a site to working order for a ransom,” writes Benjamin Fabre, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of DataDome, in his Forbes article, ‘How E-Commerce Companies Can Shore Up Their Defenses Against Bots For The Holiday Season.’
It’s therefore essential to back up data at 3 disaster recovery sites, and to have the ability to restore data and services quickly. WAN performance gains could make the difference to cloud or data centre to data centre back-up times, while also having the ability to improve recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs).
One organisation that benefited from WAN Acceleration is CVS Healthcare, which reduced its 50GB back-up from 12 hours to just 45 minutes. This equates to a 94% reduction in back-up time, and for an e-tailers, this timesaving would be crucial to their survival if an unexpected attack or downtime for any other reason were to occur around the Black Friday sales. This means WAN Acceleration is vital to making sure e-tailers can gain accurate data insights, to ensuring their data is kept safe and to enable them to maintain business continuity by permitting accelerated back-ups and data recovery.