As the holiday season approaches, retailers will face a different variety of customer traffic—the kind that will stampede networks. Online shopping has grown 62.6% since July—a percentage likely to grow as shoppers shun physical stores for safer, more convenient digital purchases. With the holiday crowds coming online, how can retailers keep their network and websites from bursting into flames—and impacting customer experience during one of the jolliest and most sales-critical times of the year?

I suspect this is the question on every retailer’s mind, especially those who digitised rapidly during the pandemic. If you’re one of the concerned, consider getting your IT team to set rudimentary network forecasting and capacity planning systems into place. I know it sounds needlessly complex. But such measures will help IT professionals adapt to the increased demands on your network, understand the limits of your technology, and ensure your systems don’t buckle during your busiest period of the year.

Looking to the data of Christmas past

Whenever I bring up network forecasting and planning, businesses often lament their lack of telemetry data as the barrier for such things. In fact, most retailers start somewhere and work out the data and metrics they need along the way. And that’s the beauty of any fresh forecasting and planning effort. You get to decide—and collect—the kind of telemetry data you think is best to maintain the robustness and performance of your network.

And here’s a great way to start: lift data from past end-year periods, like web traffic or transactions. Naturally, high traffic or sales on any given day or week indicates one thing—online customers are flocking to your website and pummelling your network. This gives you a good basis of reason to provision network capacity and resource for those days. And if you’re feeling adventurous, start collecting other useful data—like payment gateway traffic or customer device usage—in parallel. This should give you a more diverse range of data in which to plan network capacities and focus the following year.

Keep an eye on the data of Christmas present

Success of the above often requires you to put a basic level of network monitoring in place. When it comes to maintaining network health and performance, monitoring serves two critical functions. First, it allows IT to establish vigilance over the network and act on any issues of traffic spikes that could cripple the network. Second, it gives IT a clear idea of recurring problems or issues in the network; collecting data about these issues will help them better forecast and plan contingency efforts in the future. As they say, you can’t fix what you can’t see—and you can’t plan for problems and limitations you aren’t aware of.

If you don’t already have a monitoring tool in place, consider purchasing one over building in-house. This “‘buy over build” approach is preferable, especially if you have a lean IT team and limited resources to devote towards coding, deploying, and maintaining a homebrew solution. Vendor solutions like our Network Performance Monitor even provide a breadth of configurable monitoring windows, tools, and plugins. This allows IT to keep an in-depth eye on what matters and devote their time to other crucial network needs—rather than spend hours keeping a self-coded monitoring solution from falling apart.

Provision for the data of Christmas… future?

Well-implemented network forecasting and planning tells you what’s working on the network… and what isn’t. You’re not just keeping tabs on your network, but also the technology supporting it. This is especially true for retailers who had to rapidly adopt a slew of third-party digital solutions in their rush to digitise. Most of these tools or solutions have not yet undergone network stresses common to the holiday season.

The frequency these tech-breaking experiences might occur grows the more one digital solution is being used by multiple retailers and businesses. For instance, imagine a third-party payment gateway being crippled due to a high volume of simultaneous transactions. Without proper monitoring, it’s nigh impossible to detect the problem before it impacts the quality of your retail service. And without the right telemetry data collected from your monitoring, you can’t anticipate similar events and prevent it from happening again.

As the saying goes, plan for the future, but provision for the present—and learn from the past. If a retailer fails to take past experiences and prepare their physical storefront—by decluttering walkways or managing payment lines for instance—it will inevitably end in chaos during the holiday season. The same goes for their retail network. As shoppers swap push trolleys for digital carts, retailers must ensure their online experience is properly monitored and prepared for the incoming onslaught.

Leon Adato is Head Geek at SolarWinds.