Preparing e-commerce sites for seasonal overload

e-commerce omnichannel
Retailers need a plan for website overload and outages.

Website load times are critical for retailers during the busy holiday season, and the demands on sites are 10 times those of any other time of year. 

But just because demands are higher doesn't mean consumers are more forgiving. According to a recent Google study, 53% of mobile site visits result in a user leaving a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. 

Tricentis, a leader in software test automation, says that there is a strong correlation between conversion rates and the amount of time it takes an e-commerce page to load. In fact, optimal load times for peak conversions ranged from 1.8 to 2.7 seconds across desktop, mobile and tablet.

RELATED: Most e-commerce sites 'disturbingly slow'

What can retailers do to avoid a slowdown during heavy holiday traffic?

Load testing is the best way to mitigate production risk, according to Tim Koopmans, co-founder of Flood, which was acquired by Tricentis in July. 

"Load testing should not only focus on planned/estimated production workload models but should also take into consideration likely game-day scenarios. Ideally, the site should be load-testing for scenarios such as high availability, dynamic scaling, DDOS, cross-region failover, and surge or spike scenarios. Some of these are extremely difficult to test in isolation or behind the corporate firewall (e.g., on controlled networks), but there are platforms (such as Flood IO) that can simulate production loads across real infrastructure for different scenarios," Koopmans told FierceRetail. 

Still, a temporary web outage can occur even under the best circumstances. If this happens, Koopmans says that retailers should keep consumers apprised of the situation on social media. A retailer's incident management tool should allow for customers to subscribe for updates. 

If an e-commerce site loses service, a retailer needs to focus on getting back customers in a priority fashion. Resuming business after a high-volume outage can mean the system is again overloaded when services are restored. Therefore, retailers should have the ability to control load scenarios for prioritized customer segments or regions.

RELATED: Mobile redirects reduce conversions

"Still, if a customer tries to complete a transaction but loses his connection to the e-commerce site because of a high-volume outage, that customer may not try again," Koopmans said. 

Finally, Koopmans offers these four tips to help retailers prepare for heavy site traffic:

1. Scalable infrastructure. Implement code that can be altered in real time to respond to surges. "The infrastructure needs to be thoroughly load-tested prior to implementing scaling policies, lifecycle hooks, automatic code deployment, health checks and target tracking," he said.

2. Cross-region failover. This can be used for scanners that involve regional overload or outages. 

3. Varying levels of caching. "Most CDN providers will provide the facility to increase the level of caching in front of origin servers, beyond just simple static assets, and can provide sophisticated rules for page-level caching," Koopmans said. Load testing needs to ensure that changes to caching levels do not break application functionality.

4. Third-party queuing. For some retail applications, Koopmans says third-party queuing is ideal for insulating origin servers from too much demand. This offloading on a customer-friendly holding page is ideal for retailers to then control the throughput back to origin servers.