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Avoiding infrastructure problems on Black Friday 2015

The interest in last year’s Black Friday took both shoppers and retailers by surprise. With 55 per cent of all shoppers making online purchases, the unprecedented customer demand left many high profile retailers under-prepared for the influx of traffic that flooded to their sites.

Many customers experienced prolonged periods of outages on websites that were unable to handle the increased activity. With many more online retailers expected to get involved this year, Visa Europe predict a 17 per cent increase in online sales in comparison to 2014, taking the total online spend to a whopping £721 million.

So what can online retailers do this year to ensure their website infrastructure is ready for the record-breaking shopping day? Website performance can be the difference between a retailer capitalising on the demand, and one that misses out.

Preparation is crucial

Although a number of sites went down during Black Friday 2014, there were many more that stayed up to take advantage of the surge in traffic. Load-testing is one way to assess the infrastructure of a website before the critical period. It works by assessing how a website responds under usual conditions and also to a traffic increase. This gives the tester the chance to spot and also address any areas of weakness prior to the big day.

Well-prepared websites may also have undertaken stress-testing. This involves overloading a website with varying levels of traffic, from very little to an extreme amount. As well as highlighting any flaws in the site, stress-testing also identifies the specific breakpoint of the website. Testers can then address the issues by optimising the code and infrastructure so that the website is ready for the critical peaks in demand that occur.

Stress-testing is an invaluable tool for websites prior to those essential times. In fact, it is good practice to do this regularly throughout the year to ensure optimal performance for customers. If a customer has a substandard experience, the chances are they wont return to the site. Ensuring the infrastructure is scalable during busy times so that customers leave a website having had a positive shopping experience is imperative.

Mobile First

Last year, 59.8 per cent of all online traffic on Black Friday was via mobile. With many more online retailers expected to offer deals on their sites this year, businesses need to ensure websites are optimised for mobile use. The majority of customers that receive a poor experience at the mobile level will not return to use the desktop site.

Understanding the customers is key to customer experience. The commuter period is expected to be the busiest time for online sales this Friday, which suggests consumers will be using mobile first for shopping. Websites need to be easy to navigate as a result, due to the fact that time-sensitive people will be accessing them on the go. If they have to go through a lot of content and unnecessary graphics to get to what they are looking for, then they may move to another retailer who can provide a more customer-centred experience.

Spending time, effort and money to market deals and attract consumers to your site is a great investment, however these are futile attempts if you cannot guide people to the checkout quickly enough. Make sure the journey from basket to checkout is as painless and streamlined as possible. You don’t want to lose a customer before they pay.

This year’s Black Friday is the perfect opportunity for online retailers to capitalise on what is predicted to be a record shopping day in the UK. Websites that buckle under the pressure not only miss out on increased sales but also an opportunity to showcase what they can do. It’s the ideal opportunity to capture data and create analytics that will help success throughout the shopping year to come.

Stress-testing your eCommerce site prior to the spike in demand, enables you to prepare for a more reliable and successful Black Friday experience. Optimising your site for mobile use also provides a more streamlined experience that will encourage customers to come back again and again. Performance is key to success so don’t risk it.

Mark Stephens, Head of eCommerce, Cogeco Peer 1

Image source: Shutterstock/Vik Y