Online retailers gear up to avoid #BlackFriday crashes



Johannesburg – Online retailers will boost their capacity ahead of the Black Friday sales on 24 November 2017, to deal with surging demand and avoid the widespread website crashes, they experienced on the popular shopping day in 2016.

“It doesn’t make sense to invest in [server] computing, cloud computing allows retailers to scale up and scale down, depending on demand”, Mpumi Nhlapo, head of demand management at ICT company, T-Systems, told Fin24.

Traditionally, online retailers bought their own servers and all processing took place from a physical location they controlled.

Nhlapo said that online retailers and other companies have moved to buying or renting cloud space from internet giants such as Amazon and Google who run data centre farms “the size of football fields” which promise superior reliability.

Several websites, including Takelot and Foschini, crashed in 2016 due to surging demand, leaving thousands of irate and frustrated customers staring at “error” or “loading” messages on their screens.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Total Retail Survey 2017, just 4% of all shopping in South Africa took place online in 2015, but this figure is rising and a PayPal and Ipsos survey predicts that online spend will grow to over R53bn by 2018.

Mobile technology and social media are strong influences on retail trends, according to PwC, with 43% of all online shopping taking place on mobile devices and 88% of the survey respondents affected by social media in their purchasing choices.

Online retailers and traditional “brick and mortar” shops will be hoping to cash in on these developments while consumers will be looking for bargains online on Black Friday without having to brave crowds.

The shopping craze follows an American phenomenon where shops discount electronics, toys, groceries and books on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday, in the past, saw online retailers slash prices but e-commerce and retail shopping have converged to offer customers a long weekend of sales.

South Africa’s biggest online retailer, Takealot, will run a number of specials on Friday, through its Blue Dot Sale and anticipates higher sales figures than 2016 as people bargain hunt for Christmas gifts in what has been a difficult economic year.

Other online retailers taking part in Black Friday include Zando, Superbalist and Spree*.

Physical stores such as Makro and Dion Wired will be slashing prices on electronics and gadgets to online customers as well. 

Nhlapo said while retailers have learned their lesson from 2016 and have boosted their capacity, in anticipation of the online throngs, there are no guarantees the websites will be able to withstand the pressure.

“Don’t wait until the last minute, many sales open from midnight [and] there might be an opportunity there, while people are still sleeping”, Nhlapo advised.

Nhlapo also warned people to type in the URL of the website they’re looking for, to ensure secure payment details, instead of following a link from social media or an email.

Customers joining the Black Friday shopping spree should expect to wait a few extra days for delivery on all sale items.

*Spree is a subsidiary of Media24

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