The ABCs of Back-to-School E-Tail Performance Are Easy as 123 With the Right APM Strategy
As the summer winds down, students head back to school and there's a predictable upward trend in e-commerce activity in a number of categories. Scholars and their families are flocking to university websites to select courses, register and make tuition payments, and they're heading in droves to retailers like Ikea, Best Buy and Target to buy important supplies, furniture, electronics, clothing and more for the coming academic year. The National Retail Federation's 2014 Back-to-School Survey predicts the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics this back-to-school season, up 5 percent from 2013.
This represents a huge opportunity for e-commerce sites with a stake in the back-to-school market. Therefore, it's critical e-tailers prepare their site to make the grade, and keep back-to-school shoppers satisfied and coming back for more. To maximize return on investment during peak seasons like back to school, e-tailers need a robust application performance management (APM) strategy in place. Here are a few APM pointers that e-tailers need to have on their crib sheet to be sure they pass this year's test with flying colors:
1. Understand the need for speed. Consumers are used to high-velocity shopping, and they won't stand for a slow or poorly performing site. Consumers demand peak performance all the time, whether they're shopping on their desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The same applies for mobile applications — native or hybrid. Brands only have one chance to perform before losing shoppers to their competition.
Download speeds are increasing by 50 percent annually, according to Nielsen's law of internet bandwidth. And as consumer expectations increase, they also expect e-tailers to deliver not just a high-quality product, but a great user experience too.
When consumers experience delays, they start running for the exits (and to the competition) and don't return. In fact, Compuware APM 2013 survey data indicated 37 percent of shoppers would shop elsewhere if a mobile app failed to load within three seconds, and they're expectations are just as high if not higher for desktop sites.
2. Analyze your performance. Looking at an aggregate of what traffic analytics are telling you about your daily, weekly and monthly visits isn't enough. Furthermore, taking a sampling of what users experience just won't cut it. You need an APM solution that delivers real user monitoring 24x7 to ensure you'll see any and all issues immediately as they happen. Otherwise, you'll only hear about them when shoppers are impacted. They become frustrated and start venting on social media, which can be incredibly damaging to your company's reputation.
Load testing is commonplace these days, and although it's an important part of preparation for back to school and other peak e-commerce seasons, it's not a substitute for real user monitoring. You need to include load testing, synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring to ensure you're acing the test with every visitor.
You also need an APM approach that shares one dashboard amongst all players — developers, QA and production teams. Ideally, your APM solution provides a deep-dive, code-level view to eliminate wasted time pointing fingers when things don't go quite as planned. With a shared performance dashboard, you can get to the root causes and correct issues immediately before end users are impacted.
3. Cut the clutter. In an effort to be more appealing to consumers, some e-tailers pack their website full of "bells and whistles" like videos, animations, pop-up chats and sales help, pay-later options, etc., to lure the visitor to act. However, all of the competing noise actually detracts from the experience more often than not as many of these intended enhancements are driven by third-party applications or hosted on content delivery networks. Issues they may be having can create a negative impact on your customers’ experiences, and can be hard to understand without a robust APM strategy.
E-tailers can often benefit most by considering what their site doesn't need as well as what can be simplified rather than how to make it more advanced with additional features, functionality and visual gimmicks which are more trouble than they're worth, especially if they're not thoroughly tested.
With a smart APM strategy in place, you'll see issues that can create problems for customers before they do. You won't have to ask your friends in other parts of the country to check on your site for you; you'll know right away if there are problems cropping up regionally or with a specific type of buyer. This will enable you to identify and correct problems before they're out of hand and negative social media backlash has you wearing a virtual dunce cap.
Follow the ABCs here and you'll be at the top of your class this back-to-school shopping season and you won't find yourself awash in negative reviews. With a strong APM approach in place, you'll be equipped to perform like a valedictorian and will never have to worry about being sent to the principal's office.
David Jones is the field technical evangelist director for Compuware APM, an application performance management solutions provider.