What we learned about infrastructure needs from Black Friday 2015

As predicted, Black Friday 2015 saw a record breaking day for eCommerce in the UK with shoppers hitting the £1bn mark for the first time, an increase of 36 per cent on last year.

Yet, while the surge in shoppers hitting the high street took retailers by surprise in 2014, this year shoppers shunned the crowds in favour of online bargain hunting, leaving many high street shops relatively calm.

The shift away from desktop also continues with almost half of the Black Friday online spend coming via mobile devices. While many retailers prepared for the surge in web traffic, some online shops still buckled under the strain of Black Friday, with one in five websites crashing before 9am. Even though a good number of high profile retailers managed the biggest online sales days without a hitch, scaling still remains a major issue for many.

Complacency

According to analysts there are at least three more bumper trading days over the festive period. Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are all expected to experience year on year traffic increases of up to 30 per cent. This means retailers have very little time to add resources at the front or back end, or to rectify any problems they may have experienced during this year’s Black Friday sales.

The link between site performance and abandonment rates is well known, especially as there are fierce competitors out there who have the online experience locked down. Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, sold more than 7.4m items on Black Friday in the UK, up from 5.5m last year, and coped with both online demand and logistics. As a result, there is no room to underperform.

Mobile attention

Until very recently, having a website that performed well across mobile devices was a competitive advantage – now it’s a necessity for retailers. Given that Black Friday saw traffic from mobile devices rocket over 600 per cent between midnight and 1am compared with day to day visits, it’s clear retailers have their work cut out.

Spikes in retail demand are nothing new and most retailers will have a good idea of what they can expect. The problem comes not so much from extra demand but where it needs to be fulfilled, whether it be in store, online or click and collect. As a result, an omnichannel approach and effective data collection has never been so important. Customer journeys and behaviour can be utilised to inform digital marketing strategies and plan infrastructure demands. Having a better understanding of how your customers operate online, the devices they are using and their purchase preferences will simplify the route to purchase and will likely result in stronger conversion rates.

The evolution of larger smartphone devices over the years has also enabled consumers to shop more comfortably on their mobile devices. This has given rise to the online/in store hybrid shopper who ventures to the high street only to make use of the free WiFi to compare prices or take advantage of better online deals to click and collect.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Despite problems last year with online infrastructure on Black Friday, many retailers again underestimated demand and failed to prepare their websites. You need to start preparing for Black Friday 2016 now and do so continuously throughout the year.

Load and performance testing will give retailers the best chance of avoiding outages at peak times in the near future and ensure they are well prepared for next year. Load-testing is a kind of a dry run that allows the retailer to assess and manage its infrastructure.

It’s no use having a cart that can process 20,000 purchases an hour if your website can only cope with 5,000. There are also fairly sophisticated stress tests available where the testing tool mimics a customer’s journey through the purchasing process.

Daniel Beazer, Lone Analyst, Cogeco Peer 1

Image source: Shutterstock/Michele Paccione