Tips to Prepare Your Web Site for the Holiday Rush
It may come as no surprise that our current economic conditions and diminishing consumer confidence are predicted to limit the growth of retail sales this holiday season. But what may be shocking is that even e-tailers are expected to take a hit. While online sales this holiday season are expected to reach $44 billion, the 12 percent increase over last year represents the slowest growth to date, according to Forrester Research.
All this uncertainty means that Black Friday and the weeks that follow will be an even more critical time for e-commerce. Retailers’ ability to keep Web shops running reliably through heavy holiday traffic will be the key to attracting consumers, boosting sales and converting one-time shoppers into loyal, returning customers.
With a competitor’s shop only a click away, and your reputation and profits at stake, it’s imperative you give Web users the best experience possible every time they visit your site.
Here are a few ways you can prepare your Web site for the heavy volume of holiday traffic expected this season.
* Load test. For any e-tailer anticipating a dramatic spike in traffic — whether for Cyber Monday, the result of special promotions, or for some other special sale or event — it’s essential to know how many users your site can accommodate. Load testing lets you simulate Web traffic, providing insight into how your site responds and behaves under different user loads. By performing a load test prior to the holiday shopping season, you can determine the breaking point of your site, and make adjustments if you expect traffic to exceed that limit. Load testing is crucial to avoiding site outages due to unexpected scalability issues that could result in thousands, even millions, of dollars in lost revenue.
* Role play. In order to ensure a quality user experience, it’s critical to measure the performance of all the moving parts of the store. Web performance monitoring tools that help you easily measure search, catalog, shopping cart, login and checkout functionality let you manage the store from the perspective of a Web browser. These tools provide insights into overall site accessibility and response times, as well as the intricate details of performance at each step and for every graphic along the way.
* Use synthetic monitoring. While knowing what’s happening on your site during peak hours is important, not all customers are going to shop during these periods. Some may come to your site in the middle of the night, and others may browse at the crack of dawn. Therefore, it’s important that you know how your site is performing at all times. Synthetic monitoring tools regularly check to make sure your Web site and applications are working, even if few or no shoppers are interacting with them at a particular moment.
Finally, always have a backup plan. Even the most extensive testing and preparations cannot ensure you won’t have some glitches along the way. Have a graceful, humorous or personalized error message ready to be launched in the event of a page or site outage to let shoppers now you’re aware of and addressing the issue.
As you’re gearing up for the holiday rush, keep these tips in mind. Because for the harried holiday shopper, a single broken link or sluggish page could be enough to send them clicking toward the competition.
Ken Godskind is chief strategy officer for AlertSite, a provider of Web performance monitoring solutions. For more information on AlertSite’s array of services, go to www.alertsite.com.