Record online spending levels during the holiday season
Traditionally, for many online shops the holiday season is the most important period of the year. During the last three years, Cyber Monday is ranked as the heaviest online spending day during this period. According to Comscore.com, last year (2012) a record spending level of $1.46 Billion dollars was noted during Cyber Monday. During the entire period (Nov 1 – Dec 31) a total amount of $42.29 Billion dollars was spent online, which is a 14-percent increase compared to 2011.
IBM’s Smarter Commerce Initiative collected data from 500 online retailers and revealed some very interesting trends for Cyber Monday:
- During Cyber Monday, online sales increased 30.3 percent over 2011.
- Shopping peaked at 11:25 am EST
- Mobile shopping and traffic rapidly increased: a 70% increase in mobile traffic compared to 2011, total mobile sales reached 13% , an increase of more than 96% over 2011
It is obvious that online holiday spending and sales are growing every year; new records are to be expected for 2013.The extreme growth of mobile sales and traffic is expected to continue to push forward in 2013. In fact, “the growth of m-commerce is outpacing the traditional e-commerce by a factor of 2x” according to comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni.
What are the potential risks of a poor performing website?
All of these enormous peaks in traffic and sales bring a lot of opportunities. However, it also brings a potential threat: A poorly performing website, or even complete downtime during traffic peaks. Several websites of major retailers went down periodically on Cyber Monday 2012. For example, websites from Crutchfield, Brookstone, Toys ‘R’ Us, PC Mall, Barnes and Noble, Walmart and many more were unavailable to their customers. The potential cost per minute of down time during this period is huge, not to mention the damage done to these companies’ reputation. It’s obvious that everybody wants to prevent this.
How to prevent this?
There are a lot of things you can do to ensure that your processes keep running smoothly during the traffic spikes of the holiday season, and prevent your website from malfunctioning. You want to make sure that as many people as possible can use your website with an optimal user experience.
1 Find out when to expect the peak periods
Dive into your Google Analytics account and analyze the last few years. Based on this data you’re able to estimate which period, or hours will be the absolute peak period during Cyber Monday or the holiday season in general. Now you know when you need to perform at an all-time high.
2 Optimize mobile and lightweight
In addition to using a lightweight mobile website, it is recommended to make your original website (or the most visited pages) as lightweight as possible as well during the traffic spikes of the holiday season.
If you don’t have the resources to make an entirely new mobile website, at least make sure you’ve optimized your homepage and the high-traffic pages for mobile visitors.
“But I don’t have the money, the staff, or the time to fix this!” There are a lot of decent, low-cost and low-effort solutions for creating mobile versions of your website. Mashable offers you a list of tools which will do the trick for you.
3 Improve server response time
An average server response time should be around 200ms. If your server response fluctuates a lot, this is often an indication of performance problems. There are a lot of potential problems that could be causing this fluctuation like a slow database, resource starvation, slow frameworks, routing, bottlenecks in your software and, of course, simply a lack of server capacity. To find the real cause you should do some testing. Based on this data you’re able to fix the possible problems. During and after these procedures it is sensible to make use of a web application monitoring service to constantly monitor the impact of your actions on your website performance.
4 Make sure you have enough bandwidth
This might sound like stating the obvious, but with an annual growing online turnover and online shoppers, website owners could face unpredictable situations. If you were already tight on bandwidth during the last holiday season, make sure you have plenty this year. For example, it is recommended to upgrade your VPS to dedicated servers. Another good option is to temporarily upgrade your server capacity.
5 Browser caching
Browser caching is a good way to improve loading times of your website. Instead of continually reloading all the elements of your website from the server every time someone visits your website, elements like images will be loaded from the cache of the browser, which has a positive impact on the loading times of your website.
6 Make use of CDNs and reliable third party services
- For more specific loading time optimization tips for your website, check our previous article about loading time optimization (link at the bottom of the article).
Your website is optimized, what to do now?
7 Monitor your loading times from around the world
To obtain insights into the development of your website’s performance before and during the traffic spikes, it’s recommended to monitor the loading times of your website. This way you’re able to pinpoint, and act to problems quickly to prevent downtime.
8 Make use of internal network monitoring
During traffic spikes your server will be tested. Normally, your server should be able to handle large amounts of traffic, but in extreme cases your server’s CPU load can reach levels of 80 to 90%. This could be because there are more incoming requests than your server is able to handle. Of course this doesn’t have a positive impact on the performance of your website. Normally, you will only notice high CPU loads when it is already too late. If you use proactive network monitoring however, you can spot increasing CPU loads quickly and decide whether to upgrade server capacity to prevent website performance problems.
The holiday season is the most important period of the year for many online businesses. In 2013 new record online sales are expected. Offering an optimal experience during this period is crucial for success, so be prepared and take the following steps.
- Optimize your website and capacity with the tips above
- Optimize the content on your website with the tips of our previous article
- Monitor and analyze your website performance