If you have never worked in retail, than you’ve have missed out on the grand experience we call “Holiday”. On the other hand, you’ve probably actually enjoyed the time of year from mid-November to Christmas while you celebrate with your friends and family, and take advantage of the seeming thousands of days of deals from the many retailers trying to get their share of wallet from you. Holiday, with a capital H, is something that has to be experienced to be believed. And every Holiday is the most important one yet, because those six weeks account for 50% or more of yearly revenue.
When you work in IT in a retailer, your entire year hinges on whether or not the systems you support survive the shopping onslaught of Holiday. In the online space, an ecommerce site might make 30% of its revenue in the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.
The massive scale up to 20X normal daily traffic was largely accomplished without clouds in the 2000s. You had to take a really good guess as to how much infrastructure was needed, build it all out over the course of the year, and hope you weren’t overwhelmed by consumer behavior. You could easily receive 1M requests per second at the edge, and 100,000+ requests per second to your actual systems. If those requests were concentrated on the wrong systems, you could easily take down your site.
After a few Holidays, you realize the second the current year’s Holiday is over, you are immediately planning for the next one. There is no break. It’s like a giant tsunami that is slowly approaching, day by day. Once this year’s tsunami passes, you turn around and can see next year’s on the horizon. And while there are many stories of failure, from every failure we learn something and implement fixes for the next year’s wave. This is why Holiday in retail is such fun, every year you get to test your mettle against the highest traffic the world can generate. You planned all year, you implemented new technologies and new solutions, but sometimes the consumer confounds you and does something totally unexpected.
It’s those moments where the unexpected happens that keep IT in retail exciting, the times when you can tell your friends the Holiday story starting with “You will not believe what just happened…”
Joel is a VP Architecture in Target Technology Services. This is an excerpt from Part XII of his blog series, A Digital Ecommerce Transformation.