From Amazon to Zulilly: Preparing for Cyber Monday
As we approach Black Friday and Cyber Monday, how can retailers prepare for the biggest online shopping week of the year? First, it’s important to prepare early and learn from the mistakes of the past. This article will provide guidance on how to avoid pitfalls with proper monitoring and performance testing strategies.
Cyber Monday by the Numbers
Cyber Monday 2016 was the biggest day in the history of U.S. e-commerce. Consumers spent $3.4 billion online, a 12.1 percent jump over Cyber Monday 2015. Wal-Mart, Kohl's and Target all beat company records for digital sales. Interestingly, Black Friday’s online sales were only $110 million below those of Cyber Monday. These two retail holidays are getting shoppers’ online dollars, as many bargain hunters who frequent traditional brick-and-mortar retailers turn to online sales.
Amazon.com certainly has led the way in all things e-commerce, and traditional retailers are trying to compete online by building out their digital channels. In 2015, a significant shift in consumer behavior began. For the first time, roughly the same number of shoppers went online as visited stores over the long holiday weekend. This was a tipping point for online retailers, with a 40 percent increase in online sales from the previous year. The problem was most companies weren't adequately prepared.
Another major e-commerce trend is the uptake in shopping via mobile devices. To account for this trend, many more retailers are using responsive web design to support a better mobile experience. Predictions for 2017 say mobile-only spending will account for 33 percent of all online sales. Overall, predictions are that Cyber Monday online sales will increase another 12 percent in 2017, amounting to $3.81 billion this year.
The numbers are huge, and retailers have a lot to lose. What’s the impact of not being prepared for online shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
Digital Desertion is Real
Apica surveyed 2,250 internet users earlier this year to explore how consumers really feel about poor website and app performance, and the impact it has on brands.
We found that today’s online users expect a greater level of performance than they did three years ago. Well over 75 percent of consumers are affected negatively by poor website or app loading delays, and when faced with the digital disappointment of slow websites or apps, more than 35 percent report they abandon sites quickly to turn to competitors’ offerings.
Consumers also expect uptime. Over 60 percent responded they would be less loyal toward a brand if they experience poor website or app performance. The impact to brands is further compounded as consumers say they're likely to tell friends and colleagues about unsatisfactory online experiences.
With all the strategies in place to market to consumers online, don’t drive shoppers away with poor website or app performance.
Who Were the E-Commerce Winners (and Losers) in 2016?
At Apica, we've created the “Cyber Monday Web Performance Index” which tests how 100 online retailers stack up against each other. The goal of the index is to highlight how the market is doing and which brands delivered the best online shopping experience based on a weighted average of web performance.
The index includes metrics on how long a web page took to load (document object model complete or DOM score), the total site rendering time, and the stability and consistency of the site under heavy and light loads. Some key findings that stood out in 2016 included:
- the top 10 e-commerce websites are healthy, but the rest lag behind expectations;
- scaling and stability is a major issue across the industry; and
- progressive page loading is key to speed.
You can check out the full 2016 Cyber Monday Web Performance Index — there are some real surprises as to where companies are ranked. We’ll do this same testing this year, so keep an eye on the Apica website for the 2017 results.
How Can Your Organization Prepare?
Are you prepared for events that will drive a lot of traffic to your online sites and applications? Review the following checklist to ensure you have the basic data to answer that question:
- What's your performance at normal and standard peak usage levels?
- What were the statistics from last year, and how do you expect traffic to be different this year?
- Have you identified your application bottlenecks in the different layers of the application?
- Have you performed load tests to expected and/or 50 percent above max level of traffic to validate:
- stability and scaling of an application;
- third-party dependencies;
- any specific functions like search, payment, etc., that are real bottlenecks; and
- cloud scaling and failover functions?
- A good tip is to pre-scale hardware to the level of max load before the event, then monitor progress of load closely during the event so you can control scaling and delivered performance before the spikes in traffic happen.
It's important to load test early to ensure you have time to fix problems. It’s even better to consistently run load tests to ensure you already know your limits and aren’t forced to rush development for peak events. Load tests can take the form of stress tests, concurrency tests and disaster recovery testing — all are key. Focusing on performance monitoring for both the client-side and server-side of your business is also key to your online success.
Ensuring your site is ready and healthy during peak shopping days requires that performance and access are available for everyone that wants to buy that perfect gift. The health of a website is crucial to meeting business objectives not only on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but at any time of year.
Sven Hammar is the chief strategy officer and founder at Apica, an application performance testing and monitoring solutions provider.
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