e-commerce

Are celebrity endorsements doing more harm than good to your retail sales?

Online retailers exploring the recent trend of signing up celebrities to endorse them to their millions of followers on social media run the risk of site-melting bursts of traffic, according to Intechnica co-founder Jeremy Gidlow.

In a talk at GP Bullhound’s event “Online Fashion: Where is the smart money going?” last night, Jeremy pointed to a recent example where Kylie Jenner drove an incredible amount of demand to the website selling her range of lipstick. However, because the demand was so great and was directed at a specific time, the systems behind the website couldn’t cope and the whole website was brought down.

This highlighted a common problem retailers are facing today: Sales reduce margins whilst increasing demand, and the technology needed to cope with the increased demand can be very costly – further cutting into profits.

TrafficDefender is a SaaS solution developed by Intechnica in response to this problem. TrafficDefender allows retail websites to remain online throughout large spikes in web traffic without needing to over invest in additional IT infrastructure.

Watch Jeremy’s talk below or find out more about TrafficDefender.

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19 Ways to Guarantee Website Uptime on Black Friday

Black Friday

Make sure you don’t inadvertently close up shop on Black Friday

The predicted £1bn sales figure for Black Friday has made website availability and performance a board level concern for online retailers, with preparations for this year’s event starting as soon as last year’s ended for some. At Intechnica we have been working alongside several leading UK retailers to help them be fully prepared for whatever Black Friday brings.

Without revealing all of our methods, we’ve compiled a quick checklist of things retailers should have done to plan and prepare for Black Friday, along with some last minute checks and actions they might still be able to consider. How many have you thought about and do you feel fully prepared?

Planning – In the lead up to Black Friday

  1. Assign an owner and team dedicated fully to the specific task of preparing the website for Black Friday.
  2. Agree on the budget – performance doesn’t come for free. How much is uptime and speedy response times worth to the business on Black Friday? (We can help you figure this out!)
  3. Find out how much traffic is expected and its nature. Work closely with the marketing department to find these out based on planned activity along with overall trends. This information should include baseline traffic levels, the size of peaks, how fast they are expected to hit, where the traffic is likely to come from and how users are expected to behave on the site.
  4. Measure how much traffic the site can handle and where the bottlenecks are through thorough performance testing and analysis.
  5. Validate that your test results make sense and are realistic!
  6. Identify existing means to scale up the website’s capacity, e.g. capacity planning, cloud hosting, failover capacity, disaster recovery etc.
  7. Optimise performance in quick development sprints, focusing on low hanging fruit and test the results regularly.
  8. Move hits away from the domain using CDNs etc.
  9. Reduce the size of traffic hits, e.g. optimise image sizes, minify JavaScript etc.
  10. Cache content as close to the browser as possible, e.g. on a webserver rather than in the database.

Preparation – Last minute checks

  1. Ask “what could possibly go wrong?”
  2. Ask what the impact of such failures would be.
  3. Ask how you would know if such a failure was about to occur or in progress.
  4. Ask what could be done to mitigate this!

On the day

  1. Make a list of non-essential functionality that could be quickly switched off to boost performance if the site is struggling, e.g. predictive site search, live chat, etc.
  2. Empower team members to be able to deal with problems quickly without needing to wade through red tape.
  3. Make sure monitoring is in place and running (real user monitoring, business metrics, social media etc.).
  4. Know who you can contact in a pinch within the business and with third parties – have a list of numbers and emails at the ready.
  5. Have an insurance policy in place in case all else fails.

What if all else does fail?

Many top retailers suffered very public failures last Black Friday, with sites crashing under much higher demand than anticipated. Fortunately we have developed TrafficDefender, an insurance policy for if websites do reach bursting point come Black Friday.

TrafficDefender removes the risk of complete website outages if capacity can’t keep up with demand, and gives a better experience to any overflow of visitors than a generic error message by placing excess visitors into an orderly queue.

Even if you have followed our checklist from top to bottom, do you have an insurance policy for if all else fails?

Webinar: Preparing for peaks at AO.com

O’Reilly are hosting an exclusive webinar with AO.com on (remember remember) 5th November, which is sponsored by TrafficDefender.

As with every online retailer, Black Friday has posed many challenges to AO.com. Building a platform to serve an unknown number of customers can be an onerous and expensive task. But what if you have limited time or budget? Using the right tools and techniques to produce and understand data can lead to more predictable results whilst delivering the best solution possible for your customers.

Click here to register for this free O’Reilly webinar

Thursday 5th November
6pm GMT | 1pm ET | 10am PT

Key takeaways from this webcast include:

  • The key principles of platforms and how these relate to your overall business goals
  • The relationship monitoring & analytics of customer experience should have with infrastructure planning
  • The must-know checklist of preparing your technology for peak web traffic

About Adam Warne, Director of IT Services — ao.com

Adam Warne, AO.comAO.com is the UK’s largest online white good retailer, supplying more than 4.5m customers, and household names such as B&Q, Boots and House of Fraser. Adam Warne has been with AO.com for 8 years and has been part of its growth into the successful international retailer it is today. Adam’s previous experience includes delivering IT services at EDS and Skipton Building Society.

TrafficDefender helps Poundworld Plus website stay online during BBC One programme

This article was originally posted on our brand new TrafficDefender website over at http://www.traffic-defender.co.ukclick to read the original now.

For the past eight weeks, the BBC One series “Pound Shop Wars” has followed the plight of the pound shop industry. In last night’s episode, “Battles in Cyberspace”, the programme focused on the ecommerce websites operated by the major pound shops, including poundworldplus.co.uk and poundworld.com.

Predictably this caused a huge increase in awareness and interest in the websites mentioned on the programme, driving massive amounts of traffic to each. This was enough to cause problems for the servers at the Poundshop, not giving the best impression to would-be visitors.

 alt=

Thankfully for Poundworld Plus, they had prepared for the TV exposure by implementing TrafficDefender in front of their website.

This meant that the site was able to allow as many visitors in as its servers could comfortably cope with, while placing excess new visitors into an orderly queue. So instead of a screen like the above displayed by the rival Poundshop, Poundworld Plus visitors either got straight through to the site or saw a screen like this (courtesy of Twitter user @Citybird2012):

 alt=

This was a much better result for Poundworld Plus because it meant that they could control the amount of traffic hitting their servers at any given time, so as not to overwhelm them and bring the site down for existing visitors. They could even change the threshold at which the site began to queue visitors on-the-fly if they felt the site was coping better or worse than expected.

As for the visitors themselves, as you can see they had a much clearer idea of what was happening thanks to the custom branded queue page, rather than a garbled error page.

With Black Friday shaping up to be bigger than ever this year, how many retailers are prepared for the unpredictable amount of traffic heading for their websites? Find out more about getting TrafficDefender in time now.

Brace yourself: Black Friday is coming… in 9 weeks. Will your website stay up?

Winter is coming, which means Black Friday is coming. And Cyber Monday… and Boxing Day – the three busiest days of the year for online retail.

Each year more and more shoppers in the UK are becoming aware of the crazy bargains touted by retailers, both in store and online. And if you think Black Friday and Cyber Monday are only relevant in the US, consider these stats from 2013:

  • Last year, John Lewis reported a large rise in online traffic from midnight to 8am on Black Friday – up 323% on other November Fridays.
  • From 7am to 8am, they saw a 1,340% spike in mobile traffic.
  • Even smaller brands are affected: Maternity focused retailer Isabella Oliver saw a 1,200% increase in traffic on Black Friday.
  • Amazon UK reported than Cyber Monday was even bigger than Black Friday, selling 47 items a second.

The Christmas period in general is a big deal for online retail, accounting for 26% of the year’s sales overall, but while eCommerce and marketing teams are plotting the best campaigns and optimisations to capitalise on the season, IT teams are also working hard to ensure everything runs smoothly.

This is very important when you consider that a crashed website can generate no revenue.

So… will your retail website stay up when the traffic starts pouring in?

Won’t elastic, auto-scaling infrastructure keep us going?

There are lots of ways to ensure websites will remain fast and not crash when Christmas shopping fever hits, but eventually it comes down to sheer available capacity. When you have a fixed infrastructure, this looks like the chart below:

fixedinfrastructure

The black line is the capacity of the website, with the blue line being traffic level over time. For most of the time, you’re not using most of your available capacity – you’re balancing having enough overhead and spending on infrastructure you never use. But in the example above, the blue line (let’s say it’s 7am on Black Friday) peaks above the website’s capacity in the red area, which represents downtime – customers unable to use the site. During this time, everyone already on the site suffers slowdown or gets booted off altogether.

One popular solution is cloud-based auto scaling infrastructure, which looks like the below:

elasticscalingexpected

The expected result is that you scale your infrastructure up and down with your traffic levels, which means you only pay for what’s being used and you can scale up to react to spikes and peaks in traffic.

This works well, but in practice the most sudden and extreme traffic spikes look more like this:

elasticscalingspinup

Because the process of scaling the infrastructure up and down is automated and it takes several minutes to spin up additional servers (as seen in the flat line and red area above), there is lag in auto scaling elastic infrastructure. This means that elastic auto scaling is still vulnerable to sudden peaks (say from a TV advert or celebrity/sponsored tweet) and the website can still experience downtime, even to those who came to the site before the traffic hit.

Pulling the rug out from customers’ feet

The trouble with capacity is that once a website is full, it doesn’t only stop more people from getting in; it effectively slows down or throws off everyone already on the website. Even if a customer has spent 10 minutes filling their basket, servers don’t discriminate and the chances are those baskets will be abandoned.

So what’s your plan?

Fortunately, it’s not too late to invest in an insurance policy against your website becoming overloaded and unable to generate revenue. Intechnica have developed a solution that can manage any overflow in traffic, protecting the website from performance issues while delivering a good, consistent experience to new visitors.

The best part for the IT team is that it’s extremely quick and hassle free to implement – no code changes or extra capacity needed – so it can still be put in place in time for that seasonal peak traffic.

Protecting revenue even at full capacity

The solution is called TrafficDefender, and it works like this:

traffic-defender-queue-diagram

TrafficDefender protects existing website visitors by deferring potentially overwhelming traffic away from the website, keeping revenue flowing beyond website capacity

TrafficDefender watches how many visitors are entering and leaving a website (or entering and becoming inactive). Once capacity is reached, new visitors are automatically directed into a queue to get into the website. Instead of getting an error page or nothing at all, they see a branded page showing where they are in the queue, how long they’ll be waiting and whatever else the website owner wants to put on the page (exclusive discount codes, games, product photos etc.)

As soon as existing visitor’s session ends (either through becoming inactive or navigating away), the next visitor in line is taken straight to the website as promised.

This ensures that you are always delivering the clean, uninterrupted experience to existing customers all the way through their visit, even with the site “over” capacity.

Webinars coming up in October

Join us at 11am UK time on any Thursday throughout October to hear how TrafficDefender works and how it can keep your website running, even if Christmas peak traffic would otherwise bring it down.

Click here to book your place now.

Which retailers had the best mobile and tablet performance at Christmas?

As every retailer knows, Christmas is the most critical time of the year (even if “critical” isn’t quite as catchy as “wonderful”). It’s when retailers have the most to gain and the most to lose. You could make an argument that this is even more true in the case of eCommerce and online retail, since it’s so easy for consumers to open another browser window and take their business elsewhere.

Since we know how important this time of year is to online retail, and we know how much impact site speed has on conversion rates, user satisfaction, bounce rate etc, we thought it would be a good idea to monitor the performance of some leading retail sites during December and see how they were doing.

What did we measure?

  • Without revealing the full list of retailers, we had a shortlist of 13 leading sites, mostly in the fashion sector.
  • Since mobile and tablet have a growing market share of sales, we decided to dedicate our monitoring to iPads and Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphones over a 3G network.
  • Rather than looking at just the landing page response time, which is a fairly shallow measure, we looked at a two-page “land and search” transactional journey – the search term being “scarves” (it was cold outside, after all).

What results did we get?

Here is just a quick snapshot of the type of data we got back when we arrived in the office in January.

  • As you might expect, performance largely followed the trends and patterns of demand, with most sites slowing down on busy shopping days and speeding up after the last postal days had passed.
  • There’s a huge gap between the fastest and slowest sites.
  • Sites which are on average slower are also much more erratic and inconsistent (bigger spikes happening more often).
  • More in the full report!
There was a wide rift between fastest and slowest in baseline performance this Christmas.

There was a wide rift between fastest and slowest in baseline performance this Christmas.

Where can you read it?

We thought you’d never ask.

Click here to request your copy of the report.

When tech glitches become business problems

Technology and specifically IT are essential to business growth, but IT can become a double-edged sword. When things go wrong, tech glitches become real business problems.

As people begin to expect more out of technology advancements, and these advancements have the potential to improve our day-to-day lives, more and more businesses are looking to innovations and the next progression to support their growth. As we’ve seen in recent years with the demise of traditional brick-and-mortar high street businesses unable to adapt in time to new digital trends (in the past year alone we’ve seen HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops hit hard, and nearly 2,500 stores affected), embracing technology is more important than ever to thrive, especially in the retail space.

However, as important as implementing new technologies is, it’s just as important to get the technology right first time. The investment in IT is now so high that tech glitches are now business problems in the most real way. IT glitches are now recognised as a mainstream issue reported on the front page of newspapers (and perhaps more significantly, virally spread digital news sources and social media discussions).

Chaos at Argos

An IT glitch caused chaos at one of the new Argos digital stores.

One recent high-profile example in the news concerned Argos’s new ground breaking “digital-only” stores. Argos has been a true trailblazer in the “click and collect” genre of retail, and the six new flagship stores are designed to fully embrace the sleek “touch screen”-y experience of the future. However, a technical glitch meant that orders were placed to be collected from these new stores before they were actually opened, leading to a frustrating experience as customers turned up to collect goods only to find closed or unfinished stores.

But it’s not just innovative new initiatives that can cause problems. Even fairly routine progressions and changes can damage business if not carefully implemented. Take, for example, BrandAlley, who brought ire to customers after delays in orders being processed. The cause was a switch to a new IT platform, instigated to prepare for international expansion. IT advancement was necessary to grow, but ended up causing a real business issue. BrandAlley has since given out vouchers worth £25 each to affected customers to save face.

I’ve written about a lot of performance specific tech glitches that cost businesses a lot of money and lost trust from customers on the blog before – from the Facebook IPO crashing NASDAQ leading to legal action, to the BT Sport app being unprepared for demand on the first day of the Premier League – and since performance issues are typically much more difficult to put right than functional issues (just look at the ongoing Healthcare.gov fiasco in the US), it really makes so much sense to pay close attention to performance. Just look at how much poor performance can damage brand and revenues.

So with the pace of IT advancement ever quickening, and our need to see the next advancements growing at least as quickly, just as important as keeping up with the “wave of the future” is making sure these changes don’t do more harm than good. After all, tech glitches ARE business problems.