Black Friday 2021: Top tips to keep your business safe and maximise sales

Black Friday has gathered momentum in the UK over the past decade, becoming the peak Christmas shopping day. This year, customers are expected to spend £9.2 billion over the weekend – 15% more than last year.

However, while retailers are looking to ramp up their offerings and optimise sales, businesses and consumers alike must protect themselves against the cyber-criminals poised to take advantage of the spike in online-spending – from ‘too good to be true’ phishing emails, to online fraud.

This Black Friday weekend, we spoke to a range of industry experts, who offered their advice on getting ready for the busy period – and protecting against the increased threat.

Customer experience is crucial

2020 was a tumultuous year for the retail industry and physical retailers will be pushing to make up for lost time after an online-only Black Friday last year. However, Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru explains, “the consumer landscape has undergone its own form of Long Covid, with permanent behavioural changes established.”

“To stay competitive, organisations cannot provide anything less than exceptional customer service across every conceivable engagement channel – both digital and physical,” he adds. “Utilising an omnichannel engagement strategy allows retailers to deliver to shoppers’ preferred channels of interaction.”

Chris Wilson, Industry Director of Retail at Six Degrees, agrees. “User experience is everything. Your website’s uptime, performance and security are essential elements of the user experience you deliver. Throughout the peak trading period and into 2022, retailers should be considering long-term strategies that use the right secure cloud-based technology platforms to enable them to adapt to changing consumer demands.”

Notably, the ecommerce space is expected to dominate sales over the Black Friday weekend, with £5.738bn worth of goods set to be purchased by online shoppers. In light of this, Gregg Mearing, CTO at Node4, warns: “A breach or website downtime on Black Friday not only negatively impacts the customers’ experience, but with consumers looking elsewhere for deals, sales could also drop. With this in mind, it’s important for retailers to ensure all e-commerce software and content management systems are updated to the latest versions, prior to the big weekend.”

Jeff Keyes, VP of Product Marketing & Strategy, Plutora echoes this sentiment. “On days like these they’re faced with an unpredictable load on the system combined with last-minute changes to handle special processing on the deals. Part of this relies on businesses not scheduling updates to critical systems, such as their websites, during these busy times, risking the site being unavailable during this crucial window.

“Retailers should control their updates to key systems on and around the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend to prevent downtime.”

Use flexible technology

One of the biggest difficulties surrounding Black Friday is ensuring your systems can cope with the increased traffic. Hugh Scantlebury, Founder and CEO at Aqilla, argues, “coping with this anticipated demand increase requires a flexible and scalable IT infrastructure – and supply chain, order fulfilment and accounting solutions all need to be up to the job. Automation of key processes at each stage is absolutely critical if retailers want to keep systems running efficiently and reduce the likelihood of human error — and to ensure everyone who wants one can grab an end-of-year seasonal bargain.”

Joel Reid, UK&I VP/General Manager at Axway, points to the usefulness of APIs in easing logistical pressures. “APIs are bridging the virtual world and the last mile by enabling retailers to innovate and connect to third party applications like click and collect, same-day delivery through partner services, and real-time delivery tracking where retailers can even pinpoint the location of a specific shipment on a truck. 

“In a world with unprecedented pressures on logistics, brands must connect market intelligence from social media sites with supply chains to ensure last-mile services can quickly and easily get stock into customers’ hands. Data intelligence and automation is crucial, with APIs centralising the necessary data while automating the process of buying the right stock and delivering it to customers.”

Watch out for financial crime

With such a surge in demand, both retailers and consumers must be cautious of the threats posed by cyber-criminals who are looking to take advantage of the spike in online spending. One of the challenges this Black Friday will be the increased use of buy now, pay later (BNPL) schemes. “With most BNPL offering only soft credit checks as part of the onboarding process, criminals can use false or stolen identities to purchase goods they have no intention of paying for and will no doubt sell on the black market.” explains Martin Rehak, CEO of Resistant AI.

“BNPL providers need to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in order to validate customer identity quickly and painlessly. This creates a win-win situation for customers and merchants, avoiding costly fraudulent chargebacks and happy shoppers securely taking advantage of Black Friday specials.”

Beware, ransomware

Given that the retail industry was reported as the second industry most attacked by ransomware this year, retailers must have a laser focus on security in their preparations for Black Friday.

As Chris Rogers, Technology Evangelist at Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, points out, “A ransomware attack on the day could be catastrophic.

“To avoid this, retailers need to shift to a more pragmatic and strategic security approach that aims to ensure the organisation can recover fast from a cybersecurity event and get back to business as usual – with zero data loss,” he adds. “Once you’ve been compromised, prevention is no longer a viable protection strategy. By implementing tools that deliver disaster recovery and continuous data protection (CDP), IT teams effectively regain control of their destiny and can’t be held to ransom by external threat actors that are intent on disruption or extortion.”

Stuart Abbott, AVP & GM, UK & Ireland at Commvault also emphasises the importance of being prepared for a ransomware attack, particularly for retailers utilising technology to cope with the increased business. He explains:

“The cloud is an ideal solution for businesses to cope with the vast influx of data they can expect on and around Black Friday. It’s easy to scale as required, thereby meeting the demand of busy shoppers without slowing them down in their search for the best bargain. But with all of this extra data comes the responsibility to look after it. With ransomware attacks constantly on the up – the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a 62% year-over-year increase in ransomware complaints from January to July 2021 – it’s vital that retailers using the cloud have sufficient backup and recovery solutions in place to ensure that all customer data is safe and secure. There’s no good time for a data breach, but the lead up to Christmas is definitely less than ideal!”

Danny Lopez, CEO of Glasswall, adds that as employees turn their minds to the holidays, they become more vulnerable:

“During the holiday season especially, emails can easily be spoofed, ridden with malware-infected ‘special discount or sale’ documents or containing malicious links to trick even the most cautious of employees and consumers.”

He concludes: “Taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity and having the measures in place to prevent attacks from penetrating your systems is the best way to ensure your organisation can enjoy the festive season without suffering a breach. It’s also far more efficient and cost-effective than relying solely on your employees.”

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