2014 was the biggest cyber shopping season in history with a 12.6% increase in online retail sales compared to 2013. Both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday online sales jump over 20% YoY and there are no signs that growth will slow in 2015. The 2015 online holiday shopping season will be bigger than ever, and to take advantage of consumers moving online, retailers need to make sure their sites are ready for the onslaught. Consumers have no patience for a site that doesn’t perform, 40% of visitors will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load and 79% are less likely to buy from that site again.
These metrics have a direct line to your revenue.
In fact, if an eCommerce site is making $10,000 a day, a 1 second delay could cost $250,000 in lost sales every year. Most retailers spend a lot of time planning out their marketing for the holiday season – with good reason. However, it is just as important to make sure that you can handle the traffic that marketing sends to the site.
Tenzing is an eCommerce infrastructure specialist, and we’re already working with our customers to prepare for the holiday season. Our holiday preparation program helps our clients avoid unnecessary downtime, extend the life of their infrastructure and budget effectively. Let’s discuss three ways you can get your eCommerce environment ready for the holidays; capacity assessments, load testing and change management.
Capacity Assessments are at the cornerstone of your holiday planning. Understanding your organizations ability fulfill orders during the holiday season includes your ability for your site to receive them.
Request a capacity assessment
If your infrastructure provider hasn’t offered you a capacity assessment, request one. Your provider should review the performance and capacity of your environment regularly but leading up to the holidays it is especially important to look at Server Capacity, Bandwidth and Backup Usage.
CHECK YOUR INTEGRATIONS
Reach out to vendors that provide integration points for your application and understand their limitations and how to increase your capacity. For example, if your infrastructure can handle a 150% increase in traffic but your payment processing gateway can only handle a 20% increase, your users will be handcuffed by the processing limitations.
Establish YOUR TRAFFIC PROJECTIONS
Look at previous year’s projections and site performance, along with your current year and how you are performing to target. If you have a history of unexpected spikes, use that spike as a benchmark for adding additional capacity. To simplify capacity needs, it is best to use the straight traffic percent increase to estimate your percent increase in capacity required. This may seem simplistic and might be overkill for some of areas of your application, but we have found this method the most successful.
Assess the Entire Environment
Ensure all areas of your application are assessed from hardware through to the session limitations at your database level. Include your Systems Integrator or application support group in your assessment. This will ensure that your application is tuned for the level of traffic you are expecting.
Find out how to increase capacity
Increasing capacity during an incident (or unexpected downtime) often takes longer than anticipated. If you have limited budget, now is the time to invest in temporary capacity increases. Speak to your vendors about the process for adding capacity during an incident. Can they automatically scale to capacity increases or if they will throttle you? For example, some infrastructure providers will limit your bandwidth capacity to your commit level, others will allow you to spike but you will be billed for it later.
Determine if your vendors can add capacity on a temporary contract, and if they have different pricing options for devices that are staged and powered off. If you pre-stage additional capacity, this gives you the option to test and tune it before the holiday season.
If you expect a large spike during the holidays (or at other times during the year) a cloud hosting solution may be the most cost effective. For example, at Tenzing, we manage over 50 retailers that run Magento on AWS, which allows them to scale up and down easily and affordably.
Load testing and capacity planning go hand in hand. Including a load test prior to the start of your holiday campaign season will not only provide comfort on what your capacity can handle but also can uncover problems that may occur when an environment is under stress.
Plan for at least one test
Best practices require completion of load tests after major application releases and although cloud offerings have made the services much more accessible, they still require significant investment. If you can only afford one set of tests annually, before your holiday season is the best time to do it.
Decide which scenarios to test
Load testing is priced based on the number of users sent to a site along with the number of scenarios used. If budget is limited, scale your test cases to the most frequent activities by your users. If your Marketing team is planning interactive campaigns as part of their holiday planning, make sure you test that scenario. Also, ensure you are testing end to end site functionality.
Communicate with your vendors
Participation from all vendors in a load test is important to its success. Communicate to them when, what and how the test is being done. This allows them to monitor their systems for impact and potential problems while the test is being executed.
Fix the problems
Professional Load Testers provide you with a comprehensive report on the results of the load test. It will include successful transactions, site performance metrics like page views and load times, error detected and percentage of transactions where the error was experienced, and infrastructure performance. This information will help you decide where to make improvements before peak season hits.
Once you have prepared your environment and planned your campaigns STOP making changes.
Ensure your patches are up to date
Keeping your environment secure is not only important through your busy season; it is something that should be in your DNA throughout the year. Understanding your infrastructure provider’s patch and vulnerability program is critical to the security of your platform. Make sure you have either opted in to your provider’s program or patch your servers yourself. Your final patch (unless an emergency patch is released) should be at the beginning of October.
Limit access to your environment to authorized personnel. Require your personnel to use strong passwords and regularly review your access list. Complete an audit of users who can access your environment prior to your busy season.
Implement a change freeze
Freeze your environment and communicate these dates to your vendors. Make sure you understand all your vendors change policies and if they have a freeze which could impact your planning.