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Black Friday – is your website performance ready for the most important day in ecommerce?

Black Friday is just around the corner followed by Cyber Monday and the holiday season. This period promises to bring an insane rush of web traffic and total spend to your site. In fact, according to Adobe Analytics last year BlackFriday online sales grew 20% to $7.4B and CyberMonday sales alone soared to $9.4B, up 19.7% from 2018 with total revenues of US online retail sales for Cyber Week of $35B! Globally, customers had spent more than $40 billion during the 24 hours, according to data from Salesforce. The crucial question here is then, is your website ready for the heavy web traffic load and for the uncontrollable traffic spikes for the most important day in e-commerce? Is there a risk that the site will not perform or even crash under such an extreme traffic load?

 

Black Friday Blog - Image 1

Source: ReadyCloud July, 2020

 

The ramifications of not performing can be dire. The risk is even higher during the “golden hours of retail”. These 4 hours drive 30 percent of all Cyber Monday, as shoppers hit buy before deals run out – that is double the average traffic to the already insane traffic! Not only that, during the peak hour alone (11:00 p.m. ET- 12 a.m. ET), consumers spent $11 million on average every minute! 

 

 

What about the effect of COVID-19? On the one hand, we have seen that the season’s sales are planned to start earlier than before spreading over a longer period of time (e.g. Black Friday Blog - Image 2

Walmart is spreading the deals from 1 day to 3 days), which may have an effect of reducing peak load spikes. On the other hand, with so many places in lockdown and with people being too scared to get out of the house – all are opting to shop online rather than going physically to the store, with the effect of bringing more online shoppers to your site. This is why COVID-19 is often mentioned as the key factor leading companies’ digital transformation. We see companies like Amazon actually doubling their profits since lockdown shopping helped boost revenues by 40% for the ecommerce leader.  A new survey from McKinsey has found that COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by several years (see chart below).

 

Black Friday Blog - Image 3
 

It seems then that the net effect on 2020 Black Friday is that also this year the days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday are going to be by far the most important period for e-commerce of the year! This analysis is further supported by Spendmenot who expects Black Friday sales to increase by more than 20% compared to 2019 Black Friday.

This is great news, right? Yes, definitely.  If your website is ready for this shopping frenzy then a large portion of your annual revenues will come around Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday season. The big question is then – is your website or app ready? The only sure way to know is to test its performance under load, and if you have not yet done so, there is still time to do it, and do it right. Businesses that fail to do that suffer severe loss of revenues. In addition to that it hurts their brand and reputation as customers visiting a site with bad performance are rarely forgiving. Per MarketingBulldog, 79% of customers who report dissatisfaction with website performance are less likely to buy from the same site. In addition, they broadcast their dissatisfaction all over social networks, which can turn a few seconds of downtime into a headline read by millions with very negative brand reputation consequences. As a result, every year we see a series of “headlines” of the latest Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday website crashes and flops. These Black Friday website incidents and resulting headlines serve as a powerful reminder of the negative impact of system downtime.

Even the biggest companies and well known logos sometimes fail to do it right, and instead of having higher than expected revenues, they lose revenues because the website crashed or experienced bad performance. Recent example is last year Costco’s Thanksgiving Day website crash that cost it nearly $11M! It’s not just website crashes that have this effect, also ‘mere’ bad performance results in millions of dollars lost. BBC found that for every second  delay in website load time they lost an additional 10% of their users. Similarly, one second delay in mobile load times can impact conversion rates by up to 20%

Black Friday Blog - Image 4

Source: Think with Google, 2019 (from SOASTA, The State of Online Retail performance)

 

Why are so many websites failing to perform well on Black Friday?

The key reason for it is not being well prepared for the traffic. Black Friday / Cyber Monday are the ultimate stress test for e-commerce and sites that are not prepared for it fail. While the reasons for disasters appear to be different each time (slow e-commerce website, stuck credit card system, bad CDN configuration), the root cause for each disaster is constant: insufficient or inadequate website performance testing. All too often we see that businesses settle for a ‘back of the envelope’ calculations or simply extrapolate from last year Black Friday performance. Some perform load testing, but not for the right use cases or the right scenarios that simulate real users peak traffic on their site. Others fail to analyze correctly the results of their performance tests. All these measures do not guarantee that your website performance is ready for the challenge. In fact, doing performance and load testing, and doing it right, is the only sure way to make sure your site is ready. The reason for this is that it’s much more complex than one would expect, not everyone has auto scaling with Kubernetes, and even those that have, see that auto scaling and cloud infrastructure lead to false confidence. Often the case is that their websites’ bottlenecks lie elsewhere. Misconfigurations, application problems, pages errors, issues with 3rd party integration and a host of other issues may lead to unexpected performance degradation – even when running the most robust enterprise infrastructure.

 

How to avoid bad performance and crashes with load testing?

With proper load testing, you can simulate real users behaviour at the estimated worst/ best case scenario traffic spike, and then simulate the required workload. By doubling and even tripling the ‘best case’ scenario you can ensure that the website won’t fall during the critical times of Black Friday and Cyber Monday such as the four “golden hours of retail” or at the peak hour when consumers spend $11 million on average every minute, rushing to buy the ‘hottest item’ of the year before it runs out. With load testing, you can then add capacity during the test to prove that everything is running as expected. If you plan to expand capacity with cloud machines, do so during the test. That would prove that the hardware and operations staff can do the job. Make sure to try different scenarios while focusing on suspected bottlenecks in the system. In addition, you should use testing platform that enables you to simulate different geographies as your users are expected to shop from different regions.  Make sure to run these tests on both your QA Environment that simulates production environment and actually on your production environment (a.k.a Synthetic Monitoring or Proactive Monitoring), since the production environment may differ from the QA environment.  In addition, with the growing importance of the mobile channel and smartphones, you need to make sure that your load generators simulate both desktop browsers and mobile devices, and under different network conditions.  Only by simulating real users traffic of your website – can you know in fact if you are ready. Not only that, with the right Load Testing tool, you can quickly pinpoint the source of the bottlenecks and fix them.

 

To sum up, even without the COVID-19 effect, the shopping frenzy we saw in previous years during Black Friday / Cyber Monday was expected to be higher this year. Taking into account COVID-19 we should expect even higher traffic and spikes. Since clearly this is the most important time of the year for e-commerce, it’s crucial to make sure you don’t lose sales or customers due to bad customer experience. Slow load time, failed transactions, site down time are just some of the negative ramifications of inadequate load and performance testing, resulting in billions of dollars lost – not to mention the negative implications to your brand and bottom line. With the right Load Testing tool coupled with expert advice and customer support you can ensure that you are ready.  Contact RadView to start testing now with WebLOAD, our popular enterprise-grade performance and load testing solution. You should also check out our special promo to accommodate your load and performance needs especially for these times!