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The holiday shopping season is almost over as we kick off the Christmas week. Hopefully you took advantage of Black Friday and Cyber week to knock out some of your Christmas shopping for a bargain. Now that the dust has settled from the holiday shopping bonanza, its time to take a look at some of the results and key eCommerce trends to look out for in 2015.

eCommerce Holiday Results 2014 vs 2013

Here some of the key takeaways from IBM’s annual Holiday Digital Analytics Benchmark Reports:

  • Overall Online Sales Grew: Online and eCommerce sales set new records on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday with $1.33 Billion and $2.4 Billion respectively. Cyber Monday remained the busiest day for eCommerce of the year. Cyber Monday sales grew by 8.5 percent over 2013.
  • Big Year for Mobile: Mobile traffic accounted for over 50% of total site traffic this year, an increase of 25%!
  • Desktop is still King: Despite the heavy uptick in mobile traffic, 72% of sales on Cyber Monday and 78% of sales on Black Friday were made from a desktop device.
  • Smartphone vs Tablets: Smartphones accounted for a larger share of traffic than tablet devices (34.7% vs 14.6%), but tablets accounted for more sales and a larger average order value (16% and $126.50 for tablets vs 11.8% and $107.55 for smartphones)
  • IOS vs Android: IOS users were far more active online than Android users. Android users account for just 4.4% of online sales against IOS’s 17.4%.

Key Performance Trends

Third Party Providers 

  • Every year, numerous websites encounter performance and capacity issues on Black Friday and Cyber Week. This is inevitable as record buyers leverage online retailers to make their holiday purchases. This year the root of many issues were tied to the prevalence of 3rd party providers. For example, troubles related to leading video advertiser LiveRail caused over 400 websites to experience performance problems including page load latency, dropped packets, and in some cases downtime.

Large Page Size = Slower Load times 

  • Many have reported on the increasing bloat of web pages. In fact, since 2010 the average page size of the top 1000 visited web pages is up 186%. This trend is seen when we analyze the page sizes of top eCommerce sites on Black Friday 2014 vs 2013. According to metrics published shortly after the holiday weekend, desktop and mobile eCommerce sites were respectively 25% and 88% larger than on Black Friday 2013. This correlated with a a median load time increase of 20% for desktop websites and 57% for mobiles sites over the same time frame.

Optimize for Mobile

  • Despite the record amount of holiday traffic from mobile devices (over 50% of total traffic), less than a third of total online purchases were made on smartphones and tablets.  Could the low conversion rates be a function of the slower load times for mobile sites?

Lesson from the Holiday Season: Prepare for Downtime

While all retailers should  strive to eliminate downtime and minimize performance problems during the holiday season, it is important to have recovery plans in place to mitigate downtime when it does occur. These plans should be cross-departmental and include action items for PR, Marketing, and customer service. Building and maintaining brand equity is more than ensuring a perfect end-user experience at all times. That is impossible. Organizations must have plans to build customer loyalty even when their systems are failing. Here is an example of two retailers that were and were not prepared for downtime:

Examples of Downtime Preparedness

On the left we see Cabela’s error page during Black Friday weekend. experienced extended periods of downtime throughout the holiday shopping season, but the messaging on their error page was never updated. All users were told that the site is “down for updates” and “routine system maintenance” and that orders should be placed via Cabela’s customer service number. Not the best message to be serving to your customers on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Contrast that with Staples’s error message on the right. Staples understood that downtime during the holiday rush was a very real possibility and created an error screen that acknowledged their performance problems and provided a customer service number and the weekly sales ad for customers to peruse during periods of downtime.


It’s clear that eCommerce buyers are trending towards mobile devices and are becoming increasingly comfortable with shopping online. Ecommerce retailers need to focus on optimizing their mobile pages to facilitate a more consistent and expeditious shopping experience. If possible, retailers should reduce page size by optimizing images, reducing the number of requests, and moving non-essential elements to the end of the page load (you can check out this presentation for more page optimization suggestions). Lastly, retailers need to prepare for downtime and ensure that they maintain a level of transparency with their customers to build trust and  maintain customer equity even in times of crisis.



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