It’s about that time again…the holiday shopping season is the make-or-break time for most online retailers, where they see the greatest volume of traffic and greatest stress on their website and backend support systems. The 2011 shopping season saw another round of records set for online sales, ranging from $35 billion according to ComScore to more than $60 billion based on Forrester estimates, up 15% from 2010. While estimates for 2012 are not out yet, everyone expects the trend to continue and for online sales volumes to increase.
There is a lot that can go wrong and turn a retailer’s visions of sugarplum sales into big lumps of coal. For the past several years, we have been studying online retail performance using Panopta’s monitoring system to check on more than 130 major sites every minute throughout the holiday season. In both 2010 and 2011 we found that less than half of these sites survived with no outages, and many had more than three hours of downtime during this critical period.
Even if a site stays up, there’s still a measurable impact on performance on the busiest days, which tend to be Black Friday (November 30th this year) and Cyber Monday (December 2). Looking at the best performing sites, we saw a response time increase from an average of 375 ms to nearly 800 ms for these heaviest days. For sites that weren’t in the top tier, these performance problems were even worse, guaranteeing to drive visitors to competitor sites.
While the big sites such as Amazon, Walmart and eBay see traffic spike, this is true for smaller online retailers as well, which makes it crucial to begin preparations now to ensure the biggest return on your holiday season. Even if you don’t have a huge IT team backing up your site, there are four simple steps you can take to prepare:
- Move images, videos and other static content to a CDN to get the best load times and lessen the load on your main servers.
- Use speed test tools such as Google’s PageSpeed to measure and then optimize the load time of your site.
- Setup a lighter-weight mobile version of your site to give mobile visitors quicker access.
- Make sure you are actively monitoring your site so you can solve any problems that do come up as quickly as possible.
We can help with the last item – the Panopta monitoring offer that is part of the Speed Awareness Month performance package is just what you need to get started. Setup of monitoring is quite simple – our configuration wizard automatically analyzes your website and discovers what services should be monitored.
Then our systems start checking each service every 60 seconds using our network of monitoring servers around the world. That’s like having an army of people keeping an eye on your site 24×7, even when your sleeping. Checks can be as simple as making sure the server is responding or as complex as performing a transaction against your server and verifying the results that come back.
Once we detect a problem, whether it’s a service that is not responding, is responding slowly or giving other errors, we send alerts to you by SMS, email, or a phone call. We also provide troubleshooting information that we have gathered, which gives you a headstart in solving the problem.
Beyond alerting, we have a robust reporting system that lets you review trending information so you can get a sense of how your servers are performing and how your hosting providers are meeting their service level agreement obligations.
With our streamlined system, you can be fully setup with monitoring in a matter of minutes, allowing you to relax and focus on the other core aspects of running your business.
Jason Abate (@jasonabate) is a Chicago-based entrepreneur and founder of Panopta, offering advanced monitoring services to online businesses and service providers. Having worked in the hosting and infrastructure world since before the first Internet boom, he has designed and operated infrastructure from individual websites to globally-redundant systems distributed across three continents.