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Weathering the Storm: How Retailers can Ensure Resilience Amid Rising Cloud Outages

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In today’s digital-first marketplace, consumer expectations for flawless shopping experiences, whether in-store or online, have reached unprecedented heights and are putting pressure on retailers to provide an “always on” business model.

The Impact of Technical Disruptions on Retail

A vivid illustration of the vulnerability of retail operations to technical disruptions occurred recently in the UK. Greggs, the nation’s largest chain of bakeries, experienced a significant payment system failure that impacted over 2,450 stores nationwide. During a busy morning period, technical glitches prevented cash or card payments, forcing some stores to close temporarily or ask customers to order through the mobile app and collect in-store.

Months earlier, it was reported that thousands of Walmart stores in the U.S. were temporarily unable to process transactions after a software glitch rendered registers inoperable.

While the issues were resolved swiftly, the incident highlights how these disruptions not only frustrate retailers but also leave them vulnerable to data breaches and customer churn. And what might sometimes be glossed over as “minor inconveniences,” the growing frequency of these disruptions points to much larger vulnerabilities within the sector’s payment system software. Therefore, retailers need to take a hard look at their resilience strategy and invest in ensuring that systems are not only robust against failures but also quick to recover in an always-on consumer environment.

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As consumers increasingly demand flawless and reliable services, cloud outages also have become more frequent, severely undermining these digital experiences. They could be triggered by many factors, most of which are difficult to predict: power outages, natural disasters or extreme weather events and human error. One in four IT leaders believe infrastructure outages are the most likely source of disruption for their organization, according to a recent report.

While a total outage can be the worst-case scenario, consumers often cite “crashing” and “slow page loading” (a.k.a service degradation) as top disruptions to their digital experiences, frequently seeing them turn to competitor sites to deliver on their demand. This underscores the critical need for investing in resilient cloud architecture and maintaining rigorous best practices. By doing so, retailers can meet consumer expectations and maintain trust in a highly competitive pursuit to keep customers happy, ensuring that applications can withstand and quickly recover from the inevitable disruptions that come their way.

Practical Tips for Managing  ‘Success Disasters’ and Meeting Consumer Demands

Navigating the challenges of today’s digital era requires retailers to have proactive and practical strategies to avoid “success disasters” and ensure resilience.

One crucial strategy is optimizing and investing in robust cloud architecture to minimize downtime risks. The cost of downtime is escalating, with more than two-thirds of outages costing over $100,000, making resilience more of a priority for retailers than ever.

Realistically, outages are not a problem we’re going to completely solve. Cloud environments are only growing more complex and interconnected. This complexity at scale will continue to increase risk, particularly for retailers that are still in the initial stages of cloud adoption. Simply acknowledging the inevitability of outages, however, doesn’t mean we can’t take significant steps to mitigate their impact. Continuous monitoring and alerting are essential to detect and address issues before they escalate.

Implementing redundancy and failover systems can minimize service disruption, ensuring that operations continue smoothly even in the face of failures. Regular maintenance and updates keep systems healthy, secure and efficient, while training team members for preparedness ensures a swift and effective response to issues (especially to those affecting systems that are not self-healing).

Case Study: Maintaining Customer Trust and Business Operations During Peak Times

Imagine a busy shopping season when a retailer might face challenges due to multiple outages at their cloud service provider. In this scenario, a traditional database setup that switches between active and backup systems could reveal vulnerabilities, potentially requiring manual fixes, and leading to complications and human errors.

To prepare for these potential issues, a retailer might think about switching to a more robust database. This could ensure that even if one cloud region goes down, others can take over without any interruption to services. This setup not only helps avoid downtimes during critical sales periods but also ensures that everything from order processing to inventory management runs smoothly.

This approach highlights the importance of being prepared with the right technology to handle unexpected disruptions, ensuring that customers continue to enjoy a seamless shopping experience, no matter what happens behind the scenes.

Building Lasting Trust Through Seamless Customer Experiences

In this era of digital shopping, meeting and exceeding customer expectations is not just a goal — it’s a necessity. Retailers face the daunting challenge of navigating an environment where even minor issues can lead to lost sales. However, these challenges also present an opportunity for retailers wishing to enhance their resilience and adaptability.

By proactively addressing these challenges and preparing for potential disruptions, retailers can safeguard their operations and maintain consumer trust. This approach not only mitigates the risk of outages but also enhances the overall customer experience, ensuring that retailers can meet and exceed the high standards expected in today’s digital marketplace.

Ultimately, investing in a reliable and resilient technology infrastructure allows retailers to focus more on what truly matters — creating exceptional customer experiences that foster lasting brand trust and loyalty.


Rob Reid is a Technical Evangelist at Cockroach Labs based out of London, England. In his career, he has written backend, frontend and messaging software for travel, finance, commodities, sports betting, telecoms, retail and aerospace industries. 

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