StorefrontBacktalk: Retail IT Lessons in the Path of Sandy
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from StorefrontBacktalk, a site tracking retail technology, e-commerce and mobile commerce.
As Superstorm Sandy blew its devastating winds through much of the Eastern U.S., retailers had to deal with it just like everyone else. But few seemed to have anticipated the more than eight days of outages along with the gas shortages, closed roads, lack of food and water, plus the dead phone lines, lack of broadband access and dead cell towers.
With global weirding (the term for the many strange weather patterns caused by global warming), there’s a fine chance these week-plus outages may be something that has to be planned for. With that in mind, let’s look at what some chains discovered when they could only exist via emergency generator.
When Best Buy went on emergency generators, it kept the lights on and the POS functioning, but not the network. That means it could process credit-card transactions but not debit. Gift cards, returns, product lookups and special orders were all either impossible or severely limited. What if this outage was caused by a simple blizzard, perhaps in the middle of December? Want to give up returns, special orders and all debit card transactions for eight days in the middle of the holiday rush?
The local Target was able to handle some debit card transactions, but it couldn’t put out all displays and related activities. Why? When various circuits were given to the emergency generator, the backroom/stockroom wasn’t on the list. It was pitch black in there, so nobody could get stuff out.
Apparently, the paperwork and permissions required to use flashlights and batteries on the selling floor to restock products is more daunting than the decision that marketing displays could wait until the power was fully restored.
In disaster recovery plans, have you sketched out which rooms will need power for an extended outage? Have you provided for power for the networks? What about auxiliary network access?
Starbucks in the region acted as small emergency shelters, providing — sometimes — Wi-Fi access along with a warm place to sit and coffee to function. But when many Starbucks had to shut down due to power outages, the website continued to broadcast those locations as open. It also didn’t provide emergency hours or which locations still had functioning Wi-Fi.
With phone lines out for huge areas, customers would have greatly appreciated seeing the most updated store information, even if it was a few hours old. Yes, that would be a lot of business during the storm. And stores full of very appreciative customers. That generates the type of loyalty that no promotion can buy.
What IT or backend lessons did Sandy provide for retailers? For instance, what are the most and least important areas at retail that require power during emergencies? What other disaster recovery shortfalls would you add to those mentioned in the article?