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Comment: Down with down-time

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The high street is moving online and consumer desire to e-shop has never been greater. In a time-strapped world where people can purchase anything from a holiday to a pair of shoes without even leaving their desk, the key priorities of online shoppers are convenience and speed. For e-commerce retailers then, the financial impact of poor website performance to business is significant – and never has there been greater pressure on seamless website operation.

Online retailers will often know when to expect heightened consumer activity – flash sales, ticket releases, seasonal holidays – and are increasingly relying on these peaks. Therefore, it goes without saying that interruptions to online shopping during these periods could have significant and sobering effects on their business. Depending on which sources you read, the cost of IT downtime equates to anything from £2 billion per year, to £3,000 per minute. Therefore, it is imperative that websites can cope with sharp increases in web traffic, often from different corners of the globe. For ecommerce websites, downtime equates to retail stores not carrying their products – hence a drastic drop in sales.

So, what are the issues that retailers need to be aware of and how can they ensure that the online experience they offer customers is top class?

Make or break for your online store

While your site might function normally on a day-to-day basis, the real challenge is whether your website, application or e-commerce environment is prepared to handle a mind-blowing surge in activity. Issues such as slow loading web pages, inaccessible websites and problems with payment gateways can easily mean the difference between a sale or not, and while 250 milliseconds is the magic number when it comes to customers remaining on, or abandoning a website, it is only natural that the impatience grows during peak shopping seasons. There are, however, three magic steps that will help you prepare for these circumstances.

#1 – Simulate

Ask your IT department to simulate worst case scenarios and use a load testing tool to check how your website and web applications behave when there is a surge in traffic. Check your webpage load times, check how each step in your critical web transaction behave. Performance problems can arise due to bottlenecks in database architecture or due to other web services consumed by your application.

#2 - Optimise

Of course, it also goes without saying that customer experience is integral to your website’s success. Therefore it is important to set expected performance benchmarks for important metrics (such as load times, number of scripts being run on your page and access from different locations) and then compare the results. This will allow retailers to identify any chinks in their armour and take any necessary corrective measures immediately. However, any major website optimisation directly before a peak sales period is not advisable. Website monitoring and optimisation has to be a continuous process.

#3 - Monitor

On peak sales days, keep a constant watch on the behaviour of your internet facing services. Monitor how each web element behaves from an end-user perspective. Real-time information is key. Set alerts for anything that crosses the standard performance benchmarks and ensure you are notified of any performance issues before it affects your end-users.

In addition, take monitoring samples from multiple geographies and services providers to make sure you get visibility in to your service uptime status from your end user perspective. This way, corrective measures can be taken immediately before it affects your end-users. This will also go a long way in giving a more informed response to support calls from your customers about performance issues.

Peace of mind – for everyone

By taking the above steps, retailers really do stand the best chance of making the most of the online shopping season. After all, the better a website functions and the sooner the retailers can react to issues that occur from time to time, the better the end user experience is. Real-time IT solutions currently exist to manage all of these critical factors, allowing the business owner to focus their attention on growing their revenue. By assuring that applications, online stores and ecommerce portals are fast, responsive and security conscious, retailers can not only sell more products, but buy the loyalty of customers long-term.

Published on Tuesday 29 January by Editorial Assistant

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