“Automate This” to Build a Better Black Friday Experience

4 min read

How IT automation can help you survive Black Friday.

A little history: “Black Friday” was coined in 1950s Philadelphia. It described the chaos that erupted when the city was flooded in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. These days, it’s a global commerce event—in the U.S. alone, consumers spent $8.9 billion online—as retailers look to holiday sales to finish the year profitably (i.e., in the black).

Let’s look at how IT automation—specifically observability and application resource management—can deliver a better Black Friday experience.

Don’t freeze—observe

Many retailers opt for the “Black Friday Freeze” of their website and infrastructure. For weeks before the big day (and sometimes weeks after) a company will halt any change to its production system to keep the website as stable as possible. The idea is if you don’t change the system once it’s reached a known acceptable state, you can eliminate the risk of that state being disrupted.

That approach may have worked in the past, but it’s a concept that now feels both woefully outdated and the opposite of what a competitive operation should be. Today’s modern e-commerce sites have too many components from too many vendors for this idea to make sense. Even if you were to freeze every system under your control, you can’t stop everything:

  • What if your credit card processor changes its system?
  • Can you prevent your hosting provider (all of them?) from performing potentially risky maintenance to their data center?
  • Might your analytics vendor push some updated JavaScript, which ends up breaking the checkout form?

And that’s before you begin to consider the other business process IT systems that you don’t control at all, such as your integrated connections with third-party shipping vendors. Finally, if you do have to fix a problem, how can you know if it will actually fix it or make it worse?

It’s a fait accompli that you can’t simply “freeze away” the risk. For all but the biggest companies, e-commerce is inherently filled with this kind of technical risk. Now, however, there’s an alternative to the Black Friday Freeze. Observability is the way to understand how to quantify, handle and react to risks. With a modern observability platform, you can gain insight into the state of your running system and all its components from the underlying infrastructure to the specific browser and/or app interactions on customers’ devices.

This understanding lets you handle the risks of operating your site without halting important changes for weeks or months. With a full-stack observability platform, you have access to the following:

  • Application performance monitoring (APM) for full request and response tracing between the end user, the application and any of its external services.
  • Monitoring of the end-user device, including asset timings and JavaScript errors.
  • CI/CD pipeline deployments to understand the impact of code-level changes within seconds of release.
  • Distributed tracing to trace every request across every service for application troubleshooting and performance optimization.
  • Automated root-cause analysis for immediate identification of every service impact. 
  • Business-relevant SLOs and dashboards generated based on application health and metrics.

Learn more about observability. Then see how solutions like IBM Instana Enterprise Observability can help you enhance application performance monitoring and resolve issues before they become problems.

Handle seasonal spikes in stride

Carhartt, in business since 1889, has been the dependable apparel choice for workers in automobile production, construction and many other industries. More recently, younger consumers have embraced this iconic brand, growing Carhartt’s revenue from under USD 100 million in the 90s to nearly USD 1 billion today.

Such rapid growth creates application performance challenges, especially during Black Friday’s dramatic new spikes in demand. Yet the Carhartt IT team has managed it all with a combination of old-fashioned hard work and smart technology deployment.

The company was an early adopter of application performance monitoring (APM) to spot code issues and manage performance. But when there was a spike in demand, it created issues between the company’s front-end site and multiple back-end systems, including inventory and loyalty systems. The code was fine, but they could not pinpoint the root cause of the performance problem. They needed greater visibility into application resources and greater clarity into any performance issues.

Using IBM Turbonomic Application Resource Management, the team clarified the resource relationships between Carhartt’s hardware, its virtualization and its APM solution—stitching together the company’s complete application stack. The software then identified opportunities for improvement, including adjusting Java Heap sizes, powering off low-use systems, adjusting VM hardware for best performance and consolidating VMs for performance and efficiency. Following IBM Turbonomic’s prescriptive actions, the Carhartt team prevented performance issues from occurring during the holiday season (and beyond), driving record sales.

Start your journey to assuring app performance at the lowest possible cost. Request your IBM Turbonomic demo today.

Read more about Carhartt’s Black Friday success.

A podcast for retailers

For technology you can use year-round, listen to the podcast, Automation in Retail, part of the Art of Automation series hosted by IBM fellow, Jerry Cuomo. He’s joined by NCR Corporation CTO, Tim Vanderham, to discuss how progressive retailers use automation to transform the customer's shopping experience.

Be the first to hear about news, product updates, and innovation from IBM Cloud