October 3, 2013, 11:38 AM

Spencer Gifts relies on the cloud to handle Halloween traffic spikes

The Second 500 retailer uses servers from Rackspace.

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The Halloween season is among the busiest times for Spencer Gifts LLC, and to handle the spike in site traffic, the retail chain, No. 724 in Internet Retailer’s Second 500, turns to the “cloud” or an Internet-hosted network of web servers.

Spencer relies on Rackspace Inc.’s cloud-based network of shared servers to handle surges in site traffic that can reach 1,000 times the chain’s normal web traffic, says Steve Vitale, the retailer’s director of e-commerce. Spencer uses its own web servers to run day-to-day site operations, including handling payment card data, he says.

“We especially focus on uptime during the Halloween season,” he says. “The goal during the weeks leading up to Halloween is to be 100% available. If our systems crashed, it would be an absolute disaster for our season, and I’d be looking for a job.”

During the Halloween season, shoppers flock to Spencer’s SpiritHalloween.com e-commerce site, which Vitale calls “the seasonal beast.” While he declines to reveal specific e-commerce figures, he says the chain’s online sales are growing at a much quicker rate than store sales, which drives home the importance of strong site performance.

Spencer began using Rackspace’s cloud services in November 2009, Vitale says. “It’s truly a hybrid environment in that we have our own private environment and equipment that houses the day-to-day operations and then we have the cloud, which we use for in-season expansion for Spirit Halloween during the Halloween peak season and Spencer’s during the holiday peak season,” he says.

Spencer also has broken apart some of its web site operations, Vitale adds. Most of the online shopping experience occurs in what he refers to as the “front end,” as consumers shop on a site before completing a purchase, with other back-end operations handling payment transactions.  With its Rackspace hybrid system, Spencer has more options for handling different operations.

For the SpiritHalloween.com site, for instance, the retailer handles the front-end browsing and add-to-cart feature in the cloud. But it handles the checkout process separately on Spencer’s private servers, which enhances consumer payment security, Vitale says.

“The moment you view your cart, you are transferred to an entirely different system,” he says. “The purpose behind this is to keep the customer data secure. When the customer decides to take the next step and move on to the checkout line, we put a larger emphasis on security at that point. All of that information is pulled out of the cloud and held in our private environment to keep PCI compliance.” PCI compliance refers to the payment card industry’s data security standards on securing online payment card account information.

According to the Second 500, Spencer’s site availability stands at 99.97%. 

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