Bkw_small_headshot By Brian K. Walker

The holidays are now squarely upon us. While trying not to watch the Oregon State Beavers ransack my beloved Washington Huskies on television this weekend the holiday commercials were inescapable. And this was only November 16th.

For many online retail teams, however, it probably feels like they have been thinking about the holidays forever. For months they have been planning and developing the content; launching features on the site; planning marketing campaigns; meeting with managers of other channels; and working with their operations colleagues to ensure everything goes smoothly in the fulfillment centers and call centers.

All this is aimed at driving the largest holiday sales season online yet. My colleague Sucharita Mulpuru recently released her US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, projecting an 8% increase in US online sales over 2008, for a total of $44.7 billion during the months of November and December 2009.

But every year all these great efforts result in a few very anxious and upset eCommerce departments who discover their site is down or incredibly slow during the peak sales days — generally starting with “Cyber Monday” (the Monday after Thanksgiving) and running through December 12th or 13th. It is as if you can hear the sound of lost sales slipping out the door, or maybe that's up the chimney.

But isn’t it too late to do something about it, given that we are on the verge of Thanksgiving? Well, maybe not. Here are a few last minute tips that can help minimize the risk of a disaster:

  • Share your marketing calendar with the network operations team. Whether this is in house, or you use a vendor for hosting (or network and server operations), share your email marketing, search marketing, and other campaign schedules with this network operation team (NOC). Share your projected traffic from your campaigns and bump it up another 50-75%. Ask if the infrastructure is prepared for the traffic and has it been tested?
  • Make sure the NOC and technology resources are clear on the business goals and what's riding on this. Gain buy-in and have a game plan agreed to if things get rocky.
  • Have monitoring in place. If you do not have a service providing you with monitoring it may not be too late to get some put in place. (Akamai, Keynote and Gomez are all companies that provide these services – and worth a note – Gomez is offering a deal you might check out)
  • Review the failover and recovery plans and test them. This can be done in the middle of the night (or whenever your lowest traffic time is) to ensure you minimize any business disruption.
  • Review your content and technology teams’ back-up processes to ensure that databases and content repositories are backed up routinely in case you need to recover the site.
  • Stay in close communication with the NOC. Share phone numbers and agree on escalation plans. Be sure you have decision-makers for marketing and promotions available to work with the technology and networks teams.
  • Have a standing call for 15 minutes every morning to review the site performance, identify risks, discuss the day's marketing plans and expected traffic and order volumes. Develop communication and action plans to monitor and resolve issues as they arise.

These are simple steps to help ease the worry and mitigate the risk, and are practiced by many leading organizations this time of year. If you have other tips, please comment and share.

Have a great holiday season, may it be your best yet.


Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/bkwalker