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How e-commerce managers can prevent website overload this holiday season

By Phil Godfrey, Solutions Architect, Park Place Technologies.

Speed and ease of transactions are essential components of any effective e-commerce site and are key considerations of retailers from the site design outset, but what happens when peak demands are far higher than anticipated?

Trading across Christmas 2020 – largely locked down in most parts of the world – offered the pinnacle of online conditions and with it came many e-commerce sites that were publicised casualties of being overwhelmed. This season the volume of online transactions is predicted to be slightly less as we revert some transactions back to bricks and mortar stores.

But whether it be the convenience of 24×7 shopping, or the prospect of avoiding the crowds in a Covid-era, this high volume e-commerce trading window stretches from Black Friday into the January sales. That’s over six weeks for online retailers to offer an optimal, always-on, highly performing customer experience for online transactions. Failure likely means that transactions, and repeat transactions, will be abandoned.  

Problems that occur through this critical trading window usually happen when sluggish performance hits – usually because peak demands are far higher than anticipated and the supporting network itself is lagging. Throughput suffers and consequently, fewer transactions can be made, and the user experience is compromised to such a degree that they shop elsewhere. 

Larger retail organisations invariably run their e-commerce in-house using e-commerce managers and infrastructure leads to support. Their challenge is to optimise the infrastructure in time and avoid sluggish performance or worse, downtime, while upholding the principles of successful e-commerce design. Notably, a successful retail user experience always hinges on speed. 

Even Google themselves use speed loading times as a ranking factor. When e-commerce pages take over 4 seconds to load, 25% of visitors lose patience or confidence and leave. To ensure performance, infrastructure leads need to work closely with their e-commerce team and plan for all trading eventualities. 

On the infrastructure side, retail environments and especially those with a shared instore retail presence, need network management software that can detect changes holistically to ensure that the entire retail network environment is working to its optimum in real time across the estate. Critical systems need to be functioning as expected with minimal errors. 

A trusted third-party maintenance provider (TPM) can be quickly deployed to assist with network monitoring and control, often hosted remotely, and using AI for predictive analysis before impact and e-commerce interruption occurs. Failure of servers or networking switches that hosts warehouse, stocking and inventory levels, can have a devastating impact on abandoned online shopping carts and instore in shopping trolleys. 

Indeed, an asset doesn’t need to be deemed as ‘failed’ to have a knock-on impact on network performance; processing may take longer because of increased latency and lack of responsiveness. Network flow analysis software can further help monitor responsiveness, as well as leveraging network fault monitoring for alerting and diagnosing problems. 

Software updates also takes on great importance in an e-commerce scenario. Security-related patches from the original equipment manufacturer for instance, should be monitored and installed. Sensibly scheduling hardware replacement and upgrade activity alternatively should be assumed within quieter trading windows. 

On the e-commerce side, e-commerce managers can also work alongside suitably experienced TPM’s to identify load crippling factors during traffic peaks that can include: – examining performance patches on the Content Management System; minimising embedded links to YouTube, twitter feeds, checking redirects and links; deploying caching and image compression; checking mobile site and omni channel effectiveness; and critically ascertaining if additional servers are needed at peak times via a Content Delivery Network (CDN). 

As with all critical infrastructure, planning is essential and ongoing whatever the time of year. With the TPM on hand, a lot of the aspects that cause slow e-trading can be transferred. Infrastructures are complex, inter-related, diverse, and often the best policy is to transfer the network management overhead, leaving in-house resources to focus on the next stage of digital innovation and an increased customer retail experience.

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