How the right website tools can prevent Black Friday crashes

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: How the right website tools can prevent Black Friday crashes.

The latest data from YouGov suggests that six in 10 shoppers are planning to spend less this year. With retailers feeling the pressure, poor website performance cannot get in the way of a Black Friday sale. Gav Winter, CEO of RapidSpike, discusses the best tools for ensuring high-performing sites.

Today’s online shoppers are fickle at the best of times. With post-pandemic expectations of high-speed websites, plus a whole flurry of alternatives waiting to offer the same deal, there is no room for ecommerce error.

What may seem an insignificant dip in performance can have far-reaching effects on merchants. For example, in 2018, retailer J. Crew may have lost up to $775,000 in sales due to Black Friday traffic overwhelm. As customers tighten their belts, they’re not only looking for the cheapest deal – but the fastest.

Staying on top of website performance works hand-in-hand with customer service. To prevent catastrophic errors like J. Crew’s, retailers should look to a suite of helpful website performance tools.

Web page tests

Mimicking the customer experience, these simple yet critical tests download all elements of a page and show each file size and load time.

This gives retailers opportunities to proactively identify potential bottlenecks, such as non-essential third parties and slow-loading elements such as oversized images, before the peak trading period gets underway. But once issues such have been remedied and pages optimised, continual monitoring is essential.

Google suite

Two key tools for retail developers are Google Lighthouse and Core Web Vitals. The first performs audits on singular URLs, testing for factors such as accessibility, performance and SEO. It highlights items needing attention, giving retailers a comprehensive action list.

Core Web Vitals are newer, having been introduced in only 2021. These measure user experience based on large elements (like hero banners), as well as the time it takes to interact, and the movability of elements on a page. A traffic light system helps to identify where retailers can make improvements. Better still, they’re now a ranking factor, meaning faster sites will be more visible on Google.

User monitoring

Real user monitoring, another popular feature RapidSpike feature, shows exactly what customers are doing in real time. Offering a more comprehensive view than Google Analytics, this highlights where customers are interacting, and identifies potential drop-off points. It can also pinpoint slow-loading sites – particularly important as seven in 10 mobile users will abandon a cart for this reason.

The user journey function also records a user’s experience from initially adding products to a basket through to transacting. This demonstrates the potential for errors – such as pop-up banners getting in the way at a crucial purchasing moment – every step of the way.

Queue systems

Queueing systems should be viewed as a last resort – but they can be helpful in times of overwhelming traffic spikes. We see these in everyday practice such as online ticket retailers. While queues are frustrating for customers, they do show an investment in customer service – assuring buyers that the site will be available soon.

If this is not possible, a pinned message on social media pages should communicate any problems.

How else can retailers mitigate the effects of Black Friday traffic?

While it’s essential to monitor traffic all year round, there are tools which are specifically designed to help during busy periods. These include:

Load testing – identifying how a website responds when multiple requests are sent at once, thereby spotting issues
Content delivery networks – sending users to a cached version of the website in an alternative location, speeding up loading times
Load balancers – sending traffic to several servers at once to make sure no single server is overloaded
Serverless cloud technologies – shifting the pressure of traffic away from retailers’ own services and onto high-load services such as Amazon Web Services’ DynamoDB.

Data is key

Black Friday is nothing new, and retailers should draw on past experiences to improve their future ones. Taking measures such as estimating website traffic can help to balance loads. In tandem, communicating with customers is essential – whether that’s through a friendly status update or a queueing system.

In the long term, retailers should look to infrastructure improvements to handle these variations in traffic loads. A scalable solution, which can grow and shrink over the festive period, is ideal for saving on costs. This may translate as cloud-based solutions, which use auto-scaling and load balancing.

Performing year-round

The tools and principles discussed here should not be limited to Black Friday only. As retailers continue to weather the storm of the cost-of-living crisis, they’ll benefit from these investments in technology multiple times over – especially as every second of shopping time, and every pound spent, counts.

RapidSpike is a website performance monitoring platform that helps retailers keep on top of their customer experience, by managing the three core aspects of web health – performance, reliability and security.

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