How to Create A Black Friday Contingency Plan

Black Friday is just days away, and retailers are making their final preparations as the holiday shopping season kickoff approaches. Everyone knows the stakes are high. Online sales topped $1 billion on Black Friday last year, and as we've all seen in the past, that one database mishap can cause millions in revenue losses – not to mention scrutiny from the news media, which holds retailers under the microscope more than usual on Black Friday.
If retailers have not already done so, they should focus on final testing and contingency plans for tackling any system malfunction that may arise and ensure speedy recovery. Here are five precautionary tips to help prevent a Black Friday blackout and quickly revive downed systems. 
  1. Put the Team on Standby: It's not just the IT team that needs to be vigilant. Make sure the entire organization is prepped to jump at the first hint of an issue. Brief marketing, PR and even sales staff on how to manage disgruntled customers and negative media. Having personnel ready can help the brand save face (and money).
  1. Ace Pretests: More than 44% of the U.S. population shopped online and in stores on Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year. To prepare for the surge in customers, assess your site's previous Black Friday metrics. Expect this year's traffic to be four times the normal load and double the previous peak traffic (likely Black Friday 2012). Run a load test to ensure the website can withstand the predicted influx.
  1. Prep for Disaster: A proper and systematic backup strategy saves time on recovery and can reduce revenue losses in case of a crash. Perform a dry run of your backup and restore procedure to confirm efficiency. Run disaster recovery (DR) testing to ensure your system runs properly on a DR server.
  1. Draft Checklists: During crashes, especially on days like Black Friday, it's easy for IT teams to miss a step in the rush to get a system back up. Prior to Black Friday, create checklists for restarting databases and fixing other potential issues, listing all steps necessary to ensure a speedy recovery. In addition, communicate an escalation procedure so the team knows who to call if the problem goes from bad to worse.
  1. Ask the Experts: Sometimes crashes are too large or complex for internal teams to handle. In these cases, it's best to have outside help on call. The right third-party expert can get your systems operational in short order, but it's better to find an external partner today than to hunt one down in the midst of a meltdown.
By installing a comprehensive contingency plan before Black Friday, retailers stand a better chance of minimizing downtime on the big day. Naturally, every retailer wants to prevent downtime outright. But accidents happen, and a clear procedure for how to respond to them can more quickly get your site back up and running. Remember, on the busiest shopping day of the year, every second counts.
Samer Forzley is VP of Marketing for Pythian, a provider of specialized remote database services and consulting.
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