Don't Let Mom Down: Provide Great Website Performance During Peak Holiday Shopping

By Tom Fisher, Borland Portfolio
at Micro Focus

Mother's Day, like every date on the calendar where gifts have become part of the celebration, will put a strain on retailers as consumers spend more of their time shopping online for the right present. Online retailers need to be certain that they won't lose revenue, not to mention disappointing Mothers, through poor website performance.  Make no mistake about it, the shoppers are coming. The latest survey released by shows that one in four will shop online for Mother's Day this year (read PDF), which means that retailers had better prepare for the peak traffic volumes sure to be driven by dedication and devotion to Mom.

For many retailers however, this is not the case. According to research conducted by Vanson Bourne, while 79 percent of 590 global chief information officers (CIOs) confirmed they are aware of seasonal events that drive Web traffic, 44 percent do not test their websites to see if they could handle the increase in traffic.  Here are four things to keep in mind when preparing your ecommerce site to handle the rush of Mother's Day traffic or any other holiday.

Think like an end-user

Even minor online store changes can break something or cause content to be formatted poorly.  A routine change such as a promotion or ad insertion may work fine on the browser or mobile device it was designed for, but work poorly on untested browsers and devices. Be sure to take the time to test any website changes from the end-user's perspective. Some common areas all e-retailers should test when heading into any key shopping holiday include:

- Text, headline, image or banner changes

- Checkout features such as payments and cart with checkout promotions

- Lines that break if an item is removed or a promotion expires

- Landing pages added or removed

- Ad campaigns that point to specific landing pages

Coordinate with marketing to handle the load

While changes to the site may have been adequately tested, site performance can still degrade as access volume increases beyond what the e-retailer expected. Know the maximum volume of traffic your system can handle. Build a test environment that is able to simulate real-life scenarios - such as thousands of users, from multiple geographical locations. Any time users unexpectedly increase site activity and the site can't scale to meet the demand, you will have unhappy shoppers and potentially, a loss in revenue.

Prepare for how they shop

The National Retail Federation's Mother's Day Consumer Spending Survey (read PDF) reveals that among 18-24 year olds, 46 percent are most likely to use smartphones and tablets to research products and compare prices for gifts this Mother's Day.  Across the board, customers will use a variety of devices and platforms to access information and it's vital that your website is accessible from any smartphone, tablet or desktop. Teams must be able to performance test mobile web and mobile native applications for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry and consider testing the bandwidth of mobile network connections, including support for mobile phone standards like GPRS, 3G and 4G. The capability to isolate a test that targets high traffic originating from one state, from a specific carrier type like 3G, is important to increase end user experience across all markets.

Learn from the past

Regular website monitoring provides a wealth of information as to how your site performs in normal daily shopping as well as under pressure.  A robust monitoring strategy should include daily updates and reports, which can help to determine where an issue occurred to prevent it from happening again. Studying these metrics and applying lessons learned can help you to be prepared for the next big shopping event. It is especially true with ecommerce, that those who don't learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.