The back-to-school shopping season is upon us, and retailers’ e-commerce sites should be prepared for a shopping frenzy. eMarketer forecasts that this year's back-to-school sales will total $828.81 billion, a 2.6 percent increase over 2015. Furthermore, the e-commerce portion of back-to-school sales will continue to grow, jumping 15.3 percent this year to $65.42 billion. That represents 7.9 percent of total retail sales for the period.
While these peak shopping periods can be an excellent opportunity for retailers, the influx of traffic they generate can pose a serious risk for companies that aren't prepared. Today’s consumers expect a seamless experience when shopping online and have become more impatient when it comes to poor website performance and slow load times. Every second that a consumer spends waiting for a web page to load is an opportunity for them to click over to a competitor's site.
For high-volume days in particular, online retailers must be prepared to handle that traffic and ensure their site is ready for peak load. Online retailers not only run the risk of website failure and poor performance, but also jeopardize customer loyalty and brand reputation. They cannot afford website outages on peak sale days. Here are some ways that online retailers can optimize their sites ahead of peak traffic events:
1. Plan ahead. Retailers should take a critical look at their ability to handle a huge increase in traffic. Exceptional end user experience starts with a well-executed technology strategy that includes the ability to monitor, control and optimize online infrastructure at scale. This will ensure that a top e-tailer’s online solutions are consistently available, efficient, secure and fast, even across complex, distributed IT infrastructure deployments.
2. Test. The internet is constantly changing and very unpredictable. Using a tool to manage your internet infrastructure allows you to recognize the most important third parties that your systems depend on, monitor and test them constantly, and alert you when things go bad. This advice might sound obvious, but until you know and understand your exposure to infrastructure dependencies and mitigate for issues, you won't be fully prepared for hijacks, slowdowns or outages. Online retailers should perform routine stress tests to ensure their sites can handle a high volume of traffic and regularly monitor their internet infrastructure to ensure there are no delays or glitches in accessing assets online.
3. Look to the cloud. Cloud-based managed DNS and traffic management can help retailers to deal with traffic booms. Analytics tools enable them to plan ahead, identify any potential risks and make informed decisions for upcoming periods based on data. These tools make it possible for retailers to plan ahead for sale traffic booms. Through real-time monitoring and optimization tools, businesses can detect whether their single cloud is buckling under load and can monitor in real time to signal if and when there's strain on the network. Real-time tools can help improve performance, build a more flexible and resilient infrastructure, guard against performance issues, and notify an IT admin if and when there are glitches to your site.
4. Have a plan B. Retailers need to be able to react quickly if an issue does affect their site performance. A strong plan B is vital not only to safeguard brand reputation, but also to guarantee consistent, seamless experiences for those customers who will come back to purchase again long after peak sales periods have passed.
Consumers expect a seamless online experience even during peak sale periods. Businesses need to ensure they have the right technology in place and that their sites are up to speed well ahead of the real event. If they fail to deliver, they run the run the risk of losing customers and jeopardizing brand reputation. Internet performance is the key factor when it comes to meeting customer demands online and delivering an optimal experience. No matter the size of the event or season, brands must be prepared to handle high-volume periods and peak traffic loads.
Scott Hilton is the executive vice president of products at Dyn, a cloud-based internet performance management company.
Related story: Kids Lead Target's Back-to-School Strategy