IT & Engineering

How to prepare your Infrastructure for Black Friday

Black Friday is coming and you need to prepare your infrastructure to avoid any issues on the big day. Use our tips on what you need to do to get ready.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday – a time of year when all eyes are on the infrastructure team to keep the ship afloat. As marketers ramp up their email cadence, consumers rush to get the best deals before everyone else, putting a stressful load onto our servers. 

How do you prepare your infrastructure for such a high-stakes event? It all comes down to having a stable infrastructure, planning ahead, and being agile. We’ll show you how to provide the best customer experience possible across all customer touchpoints this shopping season.

Why is preparing your infrastructure for Black Friday necessary?

For ecommerce, this Black Friday is the busiest time of the year. More and more shoppers are eager to participate in Black Friday shopping. Consumers spent 7% more on Black Friday in 2020 than in 2019. The traffic you will experience is bigger than the traffic you experience day-to-day, so you need to be ready. We don’t want you to lose customers simply because your site is not ready for them. No business – big or small – should forget to prepare for those big sale days.

Over the last few years, many big brands, including Walmart, J. Crew, Lowe’s, and GAME, left millions on the table and damaged their customers’ trust because they weren’t prepared for Black Friday. It is not only important to focus on stock and offers, but also how you can support all the shoppers that are coming to you.

Your team of email marketers is working around the clock to funnel traffic into your web servers with a cadence of Black Friday campaigns and your platform needs to be powerful enough to sustain the increased amount of traffic. It needs to be able to process extreme peak loads and avoid costly and embarrassing website crashes through the lead-up to Christmas. In some cases, this can mean quickly expanding your infrastructure or just preparing all your resources for use on this day.

Getting ready for Black Friday: Operating with a stable infrastructure

Having a stable infrastructure means that you have the capability to rebound from catastrophic failure as quickly as possible, that there is no automatic restart planned for this day, and that you make sure there are enough resources available. If you focus on these three things, you should be in a pretty good place in terms of your uptime.

To be prepared means that your infrastructure will be ready to handle a lot of traffic without you having to worry about it during Black Friday. Depending on whether you use a homebuilt solution or procured infrastructure, you need to consider the risks and actions required to ensure optimal functioning throughout the day.

Homebuilt infrastructure

If you are using a homebuilt infrastructure, you will have to prepare well in advance for Black Friday. It is true that sometimes having your own infra is cheaper, but it can be more time-consuming because you are the one having to take care of every aspect of that infrastructure.

As any solution does, this one has its pros and cons. 

Let’s start with the pros:

  • Everything is in your hands – you can decide what to do and how to do it.

  • You can make as many tests as you want and analyze the results by yourself to implement the best solution.

  • You have access to the servers and all data stored on them. You can also be sure that the data is safe and no one can access it.

And now for the cons:

  • Having everything in your hands is as much a positive attribute as a negative one because if anything happens, you need to be the one to react and save the day (literally).

  • As we mentioned, you need to think about everything well in advance because most of the time you will have to add more hardware to expand your infra.

  • Homebuilt infrastructure needs constant monitoring, so you don’t miss anything, particularly on high peak days.

  • You need a real superhero to take care of your infrastructure, and even if you find them, you need to be sure that you can trust them to be there 100% of the time to intervene, maintain, repair, and manage your servers.

  • In most cases, your infrastructure is built to handle your usual daily needs, possibly a bit more than that. This means you might need to get additional resources to handle the increased traffic just for Black Friday. To have an agile infrastructure on-premises is not always cheaper than having your infrastructure outsourced to a third party.

Cloud-based infrastructure

It is true that one of the quickest ways for retailers to deal with any amount of high traffic is to use on-demand cloud-based infrastructure. But what exactly are the pros and cons of choosing a cloud solution?

Let’s look at the pros:

  • Cloud providers are responsible for all aspects of cloud server management, and they guarantee you an uptime that they need to maintain.

  • You don’t need to think about anything hardware-related – your provider will take care of it. This is just the first thing that the cloud infra is taking off of your plate.

  • Flexibility and scalability are entirely customizable and will be most beneficial for you on Black Friday. You can request more resources or even use auto-scalability features if your provider offers those for peak moments like Black Friday. Pay a bit more for that period only and then just give it up and go back to your regular capacity.

  • You have far more than one person constantly monitoring the infra performance to intervene in case of an email emergency.

But what about the cons?

  • Cloud infrastructure includes all the essential components such as virtual servers, PCs, and storage clusters, but you don’t have any access or control over it.

  • You won’t have direct access to the physical location where your data is stored, so you will have to trust your provider is doing everything they can to secure your data.

  • There is always a risk of occasional downtime while you wait for a problem to be resolved, but you will know that there is a strong team of IT specialists working to fix everything for you in a matter of minutes.

If you’re unsure whether you should choose a homebuilt or outsourced email infrastructure, check out Mailjet’s Email Infrastructure Guide and find what is best for you and your business.

Tips to prepare for Black Friday spikes

Each infrastructure is unique. That means, no one solution will work perfectly for everybody. We will mention only a few tips that we think should be taken into consideration while you are planning for Black Friday.

Remember: It’s always good to plan in advance so you can make any adjustments well before the big day.

Plan enough elasticity for your site

A lot of customers are making their purchases online because it is easier for them. This way they can avoid the big lines in the store.

This means that, as a seller, you should expect more web traffic during key shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To ensure you won’t lose customers and money in any unplanned downtime or lag, you need to stress-test your infrastructure well in advance. This way, you will know the limit of your system and know that you can handle the amount of traffic you expect.

But how will you know how much traffic to expect? You can use machine learning to forecast demands – when you see that your volume is gradually increasing on this day, you can use the machine learning algorithms to calculate what resources you might need and request them from your cloud provider.

Check with your network provider that you can extend your bandwidth when a large number of customers attempt to enter and use your site at the same time. Most customers spend no more than 15 seconds evaluating your site and deciding if they want to stay or leave. So you need to make sure that they can open everything fast and without any issues.

A lot of brands are relying more and more on cloud solutions like Google Cloud. For example, Lush decided that Google Cloud can help them better manage site traffic climbs, storage solutions, and prevent any outages. And even more – they saved 40% of the price of their hosting solution after the migration. It might be worth it for you to take some time to learn more about the cloud infrastructure option and see if this is a good solution for you.

Don’t forget about security

As much as we hate them, hackers are always present, and most of the time, no matter how much we hate to admit it, they are really smart people.

Hackers know that you will experience a large influx of traffic on Black Friday and that these days are critical for your business. So what if a hacker doesn’t like you or your brand? They could try to ruin your best sale days. To avoid this, you need infrastructure that is not only stable but also secure.

Let’s look at the different threats you could face during this period:

  • Orchestrated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a high risk during peak traffic periods because the hacker’s work is made easier with the already increased traffic you are expecting.

  • Since you will receive a lot of online payments during days like Black Friday, you need to make sure that your client data is secured and no one can get to it without you knowing. GDPR and your customers will hunt you down if you ever allow this. Here as well, stress tests would be a perfect way to test your infrastructure for different types of attacks and see if everything will go smoothly.

  • Phishing scams during holidays like Black Friday are another type of attack that shouldn’t be neglected. Hackers send messages relating to payment, order confirmations, and coupons that contain malicious links.  While this is something that can’t be prevented, it’s important to educate your employees and, if possible, your customers that they should not trust those emails and how to recognize them.

Improve the use of your site on mobile

A lot of consumers are only using their phones to make purchases. We get it – it’s easy! You can be anywhere, pick up your phone, and get presents for the whole family.

You need to be sure that your site loads on mobile as fast as it does on a computer, or that your mobile app is up-to-date and can handle all the visits. So you need to be sure that you are using a solution (either cloud-based or in-house) that can deliver content across globally distributed points of presence.

Make payment and return options easy

Both the payment process and the payment success rates are crucial to your profit on Black Friday.

Don’t forget to include popular payment methods like PayPal and ease the procedure for all of your customers. You will probably have to take care of thousands of payments on such peak days, so make sure that your infrastructure can handle it and you have enough bandwidth to execute all those payments without a delay.

Another pain point is the return options. Yes, this is not something that will happen immediately on Black Friday, but it is still worth mentioning. It is good to have an easy return policy for customers that buy items online and give them the chance to return the items quickly. 

Also, having data analytics combined with machine learning enables you to understand why returns happen and learn to make better product recommendations in the first place.

Monitor your infrastructure’s performance during the day

You can plan for almost anything, but customers will always surprise you. Imagine that your biggest competitor doesn’t prepare for Black Friday and experiences issues – some of their customers might transfer directly to you. This means that the traffic you are going to experience will be even bigger than expected.

This is why you need to keep an eye on your infrastructure during the Black Friday and Cyber Week sales. You will know if there is something you need to improve immediately or implement a hotfix. You need to be ready to react fast to keep things going smoothly and prevent any downtimes or crashes.

Our best advice is to stay agile and resilient at the same time – don’t make your system so tight that it breaks easily. Allow yourself some flexibility – double your expectations and remain diligent.

Ensuring all your Black Friday emails reach their destination

Emails are a key element in your sales activity around Black Friday, and you’ll need to pay special attention to what happens both on the days before and during the actual day.

Of course, you’ll already have sent the biggest part of your marketing campaign to tell your customers about all your discounts, but it is never a bad thing to remind them again. But sending a newsletter on Black Friday is not an easy thing because your customers’ mailboxes will be overflowing with emails.

There are several things you’ll need to plan for and pay special attention to:

  • Prepare your email list ahead of the holiday season.

  • Ensure your Black Friday marketing campaigns reach the inbox.

  • Check all transactional emails are sent on time.

Prepare your email list

In addition to preparing your infrastructure, you also need to make sure your contact list is clean and ready. Email verification can help you locate high-risk email addresses on your contact list that jeopardize your sender reputation. 

Spam trap addresses, in particular, pose a risk to your ability to stay out of the spam folder.  Maintaining strong engagement filtering on your contact list will prevent sending to these addresses most of the time. However, depending on the frequency of your contact, you may not have up-to-date information on these addresses. 

But spam traps are not the only risky email addresses. Catchall domains (a domain that accepts any email address) are often used to feed blocklists. It can be challenging to know which addresses at these domains are legitimate and which do not exist.

Email verification can help you identify spam tramps, catchall domains, and role-based addresses (webmaster@mailgun.com, sales@mailgun.com) that often cause high bounces and spam complaints. To protect your deliverability, make sure you check the health of your email list and segment out any high-risk addresses before sending your Black Friday campaigns.

Check the deliverability of your Black Friday campaigns

On the marketing side, something that you need to consider is that there should be constant monitoring of your email deliverability. There are a lot of emails to be sent, and the ISPs can react badly. Using a tool like Inbox Placement will allow you to monitor where your Black Friday campaigns are landing and optimize accordingly.

Here are a few steps to follow as you plan your Black Friday email sending:

  • Before Black Friday: Add the Inbox Placement seed addresses to your campaigns to get insight into which providers are placing your email in the inbox, the spam folder, or not delivering the message at all. If you’re landing in the spam folder, review your infrastructure for any issues that need to be addressed and review your content strategy.

  • During Black Friday: Include the seed addresses in the contact lists you send to give you an indication of how each message is performing. If you are seeing more of your mail land in the spam folder, think – are there any changes you can make quickly that might positively impact your deliverability?

  • After Black Friday: Review the data you’ve gathered so far. Did you see the engagement you expected? Did your emails make it to the inbox? What changes can you make to improve before Christmas? 

During high peak seasons, most of the ISPs heighten their anti-spam and security policies. Because of that, if you don’t have your own compliance or deliverability team to monitor your reputation as a sender, it might be better to consider outsourcing your emailing infrastructure.

Monitor your transactional emails on Black Friday

Now your customers know that you are offering amazing discounts for Black Friday and they’ve decided to stop by your site to buy something. They see a nice K-Pop Funko they like (no judging!), press “Buy” and it’s done. It is time for your transactional emails to shine.

Of course, you can create a beautiful transactional email, but what if it never arrives in your customer’s mailbox? This is something you never want to even hear about, and especially not on a day like Black Friday.

The most important thing is to be ready to handle a lot of transactional emails on that day. Transactional emails include new account creation messages and password resets, and if those emails are not delivered on time, it will mean that you are losing a customer. No one wants to wait hours for an email to arrive just to give you their money.

Then we’ve got order confirmations and delivery notices, and there’s hopefully going to be a lot of those during Black Friday, more than any regular day! On Black Friday, every buyer will be eager to receive this confirmation in minutes, or seconds, to be sure that everything went well and their purchase will be delivered. If those emails are not delivered, you may see a lot of customers asking you on Twitter, via chat, or even by phone.

Your email infrastructure will need to be ready for the increased email volume too and to do so, you’ll need to look at the sending speed and scalability. On days that you expect to send high volumes – whether they are the last marketing reminders for the sale or transactional emails that need to be sent on time – your email infrastructure should be ready too. Again, things can be a little different if you have a homebuilt email infrastructure or work with a third-party solution.

Having your email infrastructure in-house is not so different than having any kind of homebuilt infra – you need hardware, configuration, monitoring, and maintenance ready. When you need to send more emails you will have to adapt to all this and invest more money to meet higher email demands. So this can be more expensive than just outsourcing your email solution to an ESP.

By having your email infrastructure outsourced, you pay a slightly higher subscription for such high sending peaks, but take comfort knowing someone is taking care of your deliverability and will be there to help in case you need it.

Mailgun

Transactional email services

Sending transactional emails shouldn’t be hard with the right transaction email service. With an email service provider or simple email service like Mailgun, you can easily send and track your Black Friday emails.

The work is not over after Black Friday

Let’s say that all the extravaganza of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is over. Now it is important to check all the information you have gathered and analyze it. This will help you make improvements for next year and be instrumental in ensuring the Christmas season (just around the corner) runs smoothly.

A great tip? Check the news for any known crashes or issues with competitors. Most of the time, there is information on why this happened, and you can learn a lesson without experiencing it on your own back.

There are many more scenarios we could talk about, but we’ve covered the most important ones to help you get ready. Think about your business and what makes sense for you, plan ahead and stay agile, and we’re sure you’ll make it through another Black Friday in one piece!

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