Layoffs, shutdowns, cutbacks, depression

Considering the experience and familiarity shoppers now have with the web-based shopping model, the current climate in the US could provide an unexpected opportunity for online sales channels.

          In the month before the holiday shopping season begins, there isn't a lot of hope for glad tidings in most merchants. Threats of terrorism are creating concerns for public safety that do not bode well for brick-and-mortar storefronts in the US.

          But considering the experience and familiarity shoppers now have with the web-based shopping model, the climate could provide an unexpected opportunity for online sales channels.

          Although dollar spending may be down, online merchants still standing during the 2001 holiday season will likely realise a boon.

          You won't, however, be able to sway shoppers to your checkout if they can't find your front door. So begin taking stock of your preparedness, and fine-tune the availability mechanisms in place that will help make this holiday season a success.

          Performance enhancements will be key to managing traffic surges. It's too late in the season to rearchitect your content management system, but improvements such as better database segmentation and beefier server clustering will go a long way toward improving transactional efficiency.

          Another viable option is to consider outsourcing hosting operations -- even if just in part -- to a content-delivery network.

          Companies with a global customer base or unwieldy catalog breadth, for whom caching and optimization remain thorny, will find distributing the payload should help ensure availability.

          Furthermore, a yearlong decline in the hosting-services market has created a rather competitive climate, and you may soon have the opportunity to strike a cost-effective deal.

          Given the shaky financial liquidity of many hosting providers, be sure to hammer out ironclad requests for proposals and SLAs (service-level agreements) that will safeguard exit strategies and ensure retribution for any lost commerce should the hosting facility fold midseason. You should also have a well-drafted contingency playbook to encourage fast reaction to untimely situations.

          Also crucial to capturing market share this holiday season will be the skillfulness with which advertising and personalization strategies can be used to attract, retain, and upsell to customers.

          This will include some of the not-so-glamorous yet still-effective technology workhorses such as email marketing. Now would be a jolly good time to begin soliciting patrons using the opt-in lists we've been recommending you cull during the past year.

          Whether or not terrorism blew up our economy will remain to be seen, but it shouldn't prevent you from readying your IT resources for a holiday season of streamlined effectiveness.

          How are you preparing to shore up holiday logistical concerns? Let me know by writing to me at james_borck@infoworld.com.

          James R Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Centre. Get this column free via email each week. Sign up here.

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