Scaling Holiday Shopping With More Sales Per Second

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Ajay Nilaver is the Vice President of Products at Fusion-io where he oversees the development of flash memory solutions that accelerate IT systems for enterprises world-wide. Connect with Fusion-io on Twitter via @Fusionio.

Ajay-Nilaver-tnAJAY NILAVER
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“Black Friday-creep” is a new pop culture phrase emerging in the U.S. media as Macy’s makes headlines with its plan to open its department stores on Thanksgiving Day 2013 for the first time, rather than waiting until midnight on Black Friday. Amidst a global boom in online shopping, the trend highlights the differences in how brick and mortar retailers are trying to scale sales, compared to how online vendors prepare for the holiday rush.

In the physical world, retailers process transactions at the cash register in minutes, where online retailers are processing numerous transactions per second. While payment processing companies are accelerating their infrastructure to complete point-of-sale credit card charges in seconds, cashiers still need to scan and bag items before payment can be processed. In retail stores, the transactions-per-minute sales equation means that adding more hours to the sales day may be one of the only ways to nudge sales records higher during this year’s Black Friday sales spree.

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In contrast to the brick-and-mortar approach, online retailers process transactions in seconds, removing many limitations on how many sales can be rung up during Black Friday mania. With many online shops lowering prices and adding deals once the clock strikes midnight on Thanksgiving Day, sales once held on Cyber Monday now take place all weekend long as digital retailers rack up sales around the clock.

Online Retailers Get Ready

Popular online shoe vendor Zappos.com prepared for the holiday sales crunch by adding flash memory to its IT infrastructure. With flash powered servers, Zappos was able to handle many more concurrent users browsing its MySQL database as they searched the shoes, sizes and colors showcased on its website. By using caching with flash memory, Zappos improved page load times, keeping customers clicking to support sales even under high holiday shopping demand.

In China, online retailers have an even larger audience to support compared to U.S. retailers. Compounding the visitor volume challenges, many more customers shop on mobile devices, meaning that the infrastructure needs to provide a seamless experience across computers, cell phones and tablets.

Flash Memory Accelerates Databases

China’s largest B2C online retailer, JD.com, was able to support its largest sales promotion event ever after adding flash memory to its infrastructure to accelerate its OLTP databases. The company delivered 9x faster responses to queries on its website, helping scale transactions and sales success.

The current global record for one-day sales was actually set in China last November, with Alibaba Group conducting an astounding $3.06 billion in sales on Singles Day (11/11), China’s shopping equivalent to Black Friday. In contrast, comScore reported that total Black Friday sales in the USA broke through the one billion dollar barrier for the first time last year. Alibaba Group’s online payment processing provider, Alipay, used flash memory to support over 100 million payments to make it possible for the company to achieve the goal.

Shopping in stores on Black Friday is a tradition for many Americans, and it’s not going to vanish in favor of e-commerce any time soon. Whether on websites or in physical stores, we all hate to wait, so boosting transaction speeds in every sales channel improves the shopping experience for both the retailer and its customers. Long lines – on the scale of seconds online, or minutes in store – mean there is more latency between the shopper and the sale, so it will be interesting to see which retailers introduce new ways to streamline the checkout process during this year’s holiday shopping season.

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