Unplanned Outages Threaten Holiday Boon for Retailers

According to an Aberdeen Group report, the average cost of downtime has increased to approximately $165,000 per hour. At no time is this cost more critical than during the holiday season, when online retail sales are expected to reach $96 billion. Unfortunately, the results of Panopta’s recent study show that a number of major retailers could suffer significant unplanned outages this holiday season, hurting their chances of meeting revenue projections. Of the more than 130 retail sites analyzed, upwards of 45 percent experienced significant downtime since the beginning of the year, a bad omen that leads me to predict that many will likely suffer additional outages during this holiday season.

Website downtime carries numerous implications, most obviously the direct loss of sales with consumers unable to view product information and place orders. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, consumers quickly abandon unavailable websites for ones where they can make their desired purchase. The rise of social media has caused an amplification of outage visibility as consumers broadcast complaints on Twitter and Facebook when they’re unable to use a site. Mitigating this potential damage requires extra revenue-draining resources.

Fortunately, there are a number of things that retailers can do in order to decrease the likelihood and duration of outages, even with hard-to-predict holiday traffic patterns. The first step is infrastructure preparation. Follow these tips:

  • Review your current website infrastructure to look for any single points of failure. These are the components that could have the biggest direct impact to site availability when met with large increases in traffic, and therefore should be the top priority to address.
  • Meet with hosting providers and other vendors, including payment processors, DNS providers, etc., to discuss current setup and scaling options.
  • Make arrangements in advance to increase capacity, either through traditional hosting or cloud-based solutions.
  • Offload images, videos and other static content to content delivery networks, which can more efficiently deliver large files to consumers’ browsers. Design efficiency is often quick and easy to implement and can have a substantial impact on stability.

Despite the best efforts of retailers, the complexity of modern website infrastructure means that to some degree outages are inevitable. The pre-planning and process they put in place to handle outages will often have a huge impact on total downtime. To minimize the impact of outages, retailers should do the following:

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