If your store’s doors are locked, three seconds is all it takes for a shopper to rattle the handles, then turn around and go somewhere else.
For many retailers, the holiday season is a time of both trepidation and anticipation. As both Macy’s and Lowe’s discovered last year with site outages due to overcapacity, it’s impossible to conduct business if consumers aren't able to get in the virtual doors.
The three-second rule of the web states you have mere seconds to grasp consumers’ attention — or risk losing them to other sites, and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Today’s consumers have a variety of options that keep them busy chasing multiple deals at peak traffic times, with more than 75 percent of online consumers opting to leave for a competitor’s site rather than suffer delays.
Any variable, like slow site speed, that impacts the consumer's ability to make a quick decision can cause them to defect, risking the loss of a sale.
To ensure websites and applications operate seamlessly during busy traffic periods like the holiday shopping season, it’s critical that online retailers have a clear strategy in place.
What to Know Before You Grow
Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become ubiquitous as the events that kick off the holiday season, and many brands spend most of the year honing their sales and marketing campaigns in preparation. Be prepared. Don’t let your company’s best, most anticipated day of the year become the worst day of your year!
With sales and marketing initiatives designed to drive traffic to companies’ websites, it’s important for web development teams to know what’s coming, whether it’s marketing campaigns, loss-leader or highly-discounted products, or even TV advertisement schedules. With this information, they can then scale their sites appropriately. Preparing for the inevitable spike in traffic will help ensure a seamless online experience for both new and returning customers.
Scale or Fail
Once the sales or marketing events that might trigger an influx of site traffic have been identified, the website should be readied to scale proportionately to handle more load.
The first step for organizations to undertake is to benchmark the site. Doing so will help understand the maximum number of site visitors who can be accommodated before the user experience is disrupted, and once the site does reach capacity, how it can be scaled quickly to accommodate additional traffic instead of slowing down.
After the baseline for site usage is established, a solution that allows for growth without disrupting the established IT infrastructure should be identified. Organizations can look at technologies such as a content delivery networks (CDNs) to move static content off the site and reduce delays due to bandwidth starvation. However, many larger commerce sites consist of dynamic components that cannot be easily offloaded to CDNs or edge computing. Cloud platforms offer both an affordable and scalable solution for many retailers looking to avoid lag or downtime since they have the bandwidth to handle the increase in traffic load.
Prepare for Site Overloading With Sales Exploding
When sales are booming and websites are struggling at capacity and unable to scale, how can retailers degrade the site gracefully without appearing to fail?
The first step is to prioritize resources for parts of the site that are vital to handling transactions such as payment gateways. In this instance, organizations also need to be prepared to sacrifice nice-to-haves that aren't effectual (e.g., recommendation engines) and may slow the site.
Organizations may also need to use rate limiting to throttle traffic to sensitive parts of the site, like the checkout process. Once customers have made their selection and joined the checkout queue, they're invested in the transaction and less likely to defect. This is where retailers need to employ load-balancing technology to apply rate limits and avoid overloading parts of the site. With an overloading contingency plan in place, e-commerce sites are less likely to see bounce rates and lost sales.
While Black Friday, Cyber Monday, new product releases, and other real‑world events may be stressful for retailers hoping to reach specific sales goals, these instances also present an opportunity to examine website architecture for weak points that can lead to slow response times and downtime. After all, being aware of what may cause site performance issues and adapting effective performance optimization is a continual process — not just for the holiday season.
Owen Garrett is head of products at NGINX, a free, open-source, high-performance HTTP server and reverse proxy, as well as an IMAP/POP3 proxy server.