Last year, Cyber Monday spending hit $1.25 Billion, setting the record as the heaviest U.S. online spending day in history. This was a 22% increase in spending over 2010, and retailers can only hope that even more impressive records will be set in the upcoming holiday season. However, also last holiday season, 61% of customers reported a poor experience on a retail site. Although e-retailers saw great sales success in 2011, many missed the mark when it came to delivering the optimal customer experience. The bright side to this downfall, is that e-retailers have room for improvement and greater revenue gains as they prepare for Cyber Monday 2012.
For those of you ecommerce retailers looking to make the most of the 2012 holiday season, here are some tips to consider as you prep your site for the upcoming peak traffic periods:
1. Testing, testing and more testing
The last thing an e-commerce retailer wants is to experience unexpected performance flaws, especially during peak shopping periods. The best way to ensure that you won’t encounter any unpleasant surprises this year is to conduct load testing that gives you a concrete understanding of your site’s benchmark capacity, performance at load and breaking point. Testing these points will give you the insight you need to make changes that will improve performance under load and increase your site’s peak load so that you can have confidence in your site’s ability to handle Cyber Monday traffic. Lastly, all testing should be conducted from the customer’s point of view, rather than from inside your own datacenter, so that you can ensure the best possible user experience.
2. Get your grade
Running a speed test that gives your site an overall performance grade is a quick and free way to identify the easiest and most effective strategies for improving your site before the holiday season hits. In addition to designating an overall speed score to your site, The Rigor Web Performance Grader grades individual items and ranks them by priority, so that you know which improvements will have the greatest impact on performance. That way, if you only have the resources to make a limited number of improvements, you’ll be able to focus on the items that matter most.
3. Cache for speed
Caching can speed up page response times and reduce the amount of work your server has to do to generate and serve your site. When impatient users don’t have to wait as long for a page to load, they are not only more satisfied with the online experience, but they are likely to spend more time on your site viewing and shopping on more pages. This can result in an increased average order value on your site and significant revenue gains.
4. Evaluate your 3rd-parties
While third-party components can add value to your site, they can also complicate performance management. Today’s websites have large amounts of content, and it can be difficult to identify which particular components may be causing performance issues and latencies. However, although 3rd-party components come from outside your firewall, they are not entirely out of your control. Evaluating CDNs, tracking pixels, analytics, and other 3rd-party components and eliminating any items that could cause site latencies or failures will help you to ensure flawless performance when holiday traffic hits.
5. Pinpoint and eliminate bottlenecks
Performance bottlenecks are essentially speed killers on your site. Some performance bottlenecks, such as serving images at the wrong size or not leveraging a CDN, can be easily mitigated and can improve the speed of your site. Using a 3rd-party testing platform to help you identify architectural bottlenecks can help you achieve optimal performance and scalability.
6. Step into your customers’ shoes
Importantly, there is a difference between the technical performance of your site and the perceived performance of your site. Perceived performance is what the user experiences on your site and it’s what matters when it comes to delivering customer satisfaction. This means that testing and monitoring from inside your datacenter cannot give you an accurate understanding of what your customers will experience. Conducting 24×7 monitoring from the customer’s perspective will give you the insight you need to avoid unsatisfactory customer experiences this holiday season.
7. Know your backup plan
Even after you’ve followed the aforementioned six steps to prepare your site for holiday traffic, occasionally something can go wrong due to factors that are out of your control (like storms at your AWS datacenter). The best thing you can do in these scenarios, is create a solid reaction plan. Practice going through hypothetical problem situations with your team and decide what team members will be responsible for damage control and what actions they should take so that they can react quickly if disaster does strike. You can never be over prepared when it comes to performance.
As you prepare your site for the holidays by adding promotions, new inventory, and other flashy features, don’t forget performance preparations. These 7 steps can help you ensure that your site won’t contribute to the 61% of poor customer experiences during the online holiday shopping season. Don’t let poor performance prevent you from reaching your revenue goals; start making improvements now so that you can deliver a satisfactory shopping experience when it counts.
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