Test for success – preparing for Cyber Monday

By Sven Hammar, CSO and co-founder, Apica.

The major calendar events of Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017 are approaching, and online retailers need to ensure that they are prepared for a sharp increase in customer traffic.
Through a combination of prior planning and learning from the mistakes of the past, business will be able to avoid any pitfalls, aided by proper monitoring and performance testing strategies.

Cyber Monday Stats

2016's Cyber Monday broke records on both sides of the Atlantic. Whilst it was the biggest retail day of all time in the US, the ONS in the UK revealed that the amount shoppers were spending online jumped 25% in November in the run up to Cyber Monday compared to the year before, reaching £1bn a week.

Last year, for the first time, roughly the same number of shoppers went online as visited physical stores over the Black Friday weekend. And there was continued uptake in shopping via a mobile/smart device, now that many more sites use responsive design that supports a better mobile experience. Predictions for 2017's cyber shopping weekend say mobile-only spending will account for 33% of all online sales.

At these busy times, the scale of potential profit is unfortunately matched by the scale of potential losses should e-retail businesses not be adequately prepared to deal with peak traffic. Recently, Apica surveyed 2,250 internet users to investigate the impact of poor website and app performance on consumer confidence.

Digital Desertion Syndrome

Apica found that today's online users expect a greater level of performance than they did three years ago. Over 75% 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% report they abandon sites quickly to turn to competitors' offerings.

Consumers also expect uptime. Over 60% 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 are likely to tell friends and colleagues about unsatisfactory online experiences.

It's clear that poor web or app performance can and will have significant impact on the success of retailers, not just around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Who were the e-commerce winners (and losers) in 2016?

Apica's 2016 Cyber Monday Web Performance Index tested how 100 online retailers stacked up against each other. The goal of the index is to highlight how the market is doing and who really delivered the best online shopping experience based on a weighted average of web performance.

The index includes metrics on how long a webpage took to load, the total site rendering time, and the stability and consistency of the site under heavy and light loads. Some key findings that stood out last year included:

  • The top ten e-commerce websites are healthy, but the rest lag behind expectations
  • Scaling and stability is a major issue across the industry
  • Progressive page loading is key to speed

So how can organisations prepare?

There's a handy checklist of questions for retailers to check through, to ensure that they have the basic data to assess their preparation maturity.

  • What is your performance at normal and standard peak usage levels?
  • What where the statistics from last year, how do you expect the traffic to grow?
  • Have you identified your application bottlenecks in the different layers of the application?
  • Have you performed load tests to expected and/or 50% above max level of traffics to validate:
    • stability and a scaling of application;
    • third party dependences;
    • any specific functions like search, payment, etc. that are real bottlenecks;
    • cloud scaling and failover functions?
  • A good tip is to pre-scale hardware to the level of maxload before the event and to monitor progress of load closely during the event so you can control scaling and delivered performance before the spikes in traffic happens.

It is important to load test early in order to leave time to fix problems. It's even better to consistently run load tests to ensure you 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 highly important. Focusing on performance monitoring for both the client-side and server-side of your business is also vital to your online success.

Without effective load testing and monitoring methods, retailers remain in the dark when it comes to handling peak shopping days. Ensuring your site is prepared to perform is crucial to guaranteeing customer satisfaction and driving business results, on Black Friday and beyond.

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