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Blog November 16, 2021

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: IT’s Ultimate Stress-Test

It’s that time of year again! With Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly approaching, retailers are gearing up for the 2021 holiday shopping season.

While it’s commonly believed that Black Friday earned its name because shoppers have to get up while it’s still dark outside, it’s actually because many retailers traditionally use the weekend to bring their yearly sales into the black. In fact, 30 percent of all retail sales transactions typically take place between Black Friday and Christmas. The 2021 holiday shopping season marks the second to be impacted by the global pandemic.

Before the pandemic, e-commerce sales and online shopping steadily climbed higher every holiday season for nearly a decade. Then, last year’s pandemic threw everything for a loop, exacerbating online sales since brick and mortar stores were closed to in-person shopping. Even now, U.S. retail store traffic for the fiscal year to date is down 18.6 percent from the 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Forbes reports that Black Friday is expected to be the busiest U.S. shopping day of the entire 2021 holiday season. So what does that mean for retailers and small businesses?

Experts Predict Black Friday Boom for Online Retailers

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how to shop online. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, online sales grew by more than 30 percent in 2020. Many retail experts predict that online sales will be bigger than ever this year.

“People are definitely going to be interested in Black Friday and excited about it, but the bulk of the activity is going to be online.” Donna Hoffman, professor of marketing, George Washington School of Business.

Sentiments like above suggest that Black Friday/Cyber Monday should still be a boom time for online retailers. Due to the pandemic, many major retailers’ storefronts were closed on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday for the first time last year. As reported by BlackFriday.com, most of these retailers will continue that practice in 2021. Perhaps that’s one reason why many of these same stores have already started their Black Friday sales push. Furthermore, BlackFriday.com predicts that online Black Friday sales will hit $17 billion in 2021.

Staying in the Black on Black Friday

With many retailers counting on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to bolster their bottom line, IT mistakes can be costly. On past Black Friday weekends, the holiday shopping spirit was marred by several high-profile outages at major retailers, including J. Crew, lululemon, Ulta Beauty, Game Stop, and more. While data center outages can cost a company thousands of dollars, the costs skyrocket for online retailers during Black Friday.

For example, experts estimate that the J. Crew outage cost the company around $775,000 in sales. The long-term damage of these outages is harder to predict as disgruntled shoppers air their complaints on social media and take their future business to other sites. The reason reported for the outages is almost universally higher website traffic than the company anticipated.

IT security is another angle that demands heightened scrutiny in 2021. While IT departments are focused on website availability and system performance on Black Friday weekend, they’re not as focused on monitoring for potential attacks. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and Ransomware are both attack types that frequently wait for IT departments to be distracted before they strike, and both can cripple a website for days.

In one 2021 survey, ransomware was the third most common type of attack seen by respondents. Social engineering was the number one attack vector reported. In a social engineering attack, the attacker poses as a legitimate company to steal the victim’s credentials. With inflation and supply chain shortages driving up prices, online shoppers across all industries are particularly concerned about these types of attacks. Employees at organizations that don’t follow best practices, like ensuring the use of strong passwords and different passwords for personal and work, are particularly susceptible to their credentials being compromised.

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4 Actions to Take Now 

Connectria’s security specialists work diligently with our retail clients to ensure they follow all best practices so that we can work together to fortify their defenses against DDoS and ransomware attacks.

Ideally, you’ve stress-tested your systems and strengthened your perimeter already, but even if you haven’t, there are actions you can take as Black Friday and Cyber Monday draw near. Here are four ideas to get you started.

  1. Test your disaster recovery plan. The best defense against unplanned outages is a disaster recovery plan. If you don’t have a disaster recovery plan, contact us. Our disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solutions can provide peace of mind with less effort required on your part. If you already have a disaster recovery plan, this is a good time to review and test it to make sure it will work when and if you need it.
  2. Be sure your system can scale. If you’re already in the cloud, speak to your cloud provider about how quickly your systems can scale to meet unexpected web traffic. If you’re not yet in the cloud, you probably won’t have time to migrate, but Connectria can help you leverage could-based resources to provide near-real-time scaling to meet your increased capacity needs.
  3. Update your applications. Vendors release updates throughout the year specifically designed to guard against the latest cyberthreats. Now is the time to perform a system-wide check to ensure all applications and operating systems are up to date. Connectria offers a variety of application and operating system management services for organizations looking to offload this housekeeping task.
  4. Beef up your security monitoring. Finally, make sure your security monitoring is up to snuff. This may require training your in-house staff on which types of attacks to watch for and how to spot them. You’ll also want to be sure you’re using the latest technologies, complete with AI and Machine Learning algorithms. Cybercriminals deploy these technologies, so you need to fight fire with fire. With the ongoing talent shortage in IT security, security as a service is one of our most popular service offerings.

Need help getting ready for Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Contact us today.

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