In 2016, for the first time in history, Americans spent more money online on Black Friday than they did in retail, avoiding the trampling crowds searching packed department stores for the best deals in retail.
A full 108.5 million customers did their shopping online, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation: nearly 10 million more than the 99.1 million that braved the weather and crowds to do their shopping in person.
Those kind of numbers are as tasty to eCommerce business owners as the last piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, but what’s the surest way to for eCommerce managers to get sick to their stomachs on Black Friday?
A website that can’t handle the traffic of customers easy to snatch up merchandise (and ensure Christmas bonuses for everyone in the office).
Having your site go down due to too many requests at one time, or even just slow down due to a lack of available bandwidth, can be the death knell of your profitability on Black Friday. It’s even worse than a department store having a power outage because its customers can’t leave that store and instantly teleport to another like online customers can.
Did your website perform less than perfectly on Black Friday? Here are some musts to check off your website’s list before the clock strikes midnight on Turkey Day 2018.
Did your server handle the load capacity?
Before addressing other problems, start with the big one: Did your website handle the increased traffic of holiday shopping? Hopefully, you have robust enough analytics to estimate how many customers might be coming to your site from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Do yourself a favor and overestimate so you know you have a safety net if your site turns out to be more popular than you thought. If you use Shopify, load tests aren’t necessary, but if you’re on your own, websites like Blitz.io and Loadimpact.com can be a tremendous resource to give your site a test run before the big day.
Another option is to move your website into a private cloud environment, either permanently or just for the big weekend. Having your site in the sort of flexible, scalable environment that cloud computing can provide enables you to grow and shrink your capacity to handle traffic as demand changes.
Was your site running fast enough?
You might have had the best prices and products in the industry, but if your site took forever to load the information for customers, what did it matter? Slow-running websites produce perhaps the most damning statistic of all when it comes to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to a CNN case study, a two-second delay in your site’s load time during a transaction can translate into an 87% abandonment rate. That’s 20% higher than the baseline rate of 67% and could be absolutely catastrophic for your business. The critical point is not to worry about every single page but to concentrate on the pages that were used on Black Friday the most, such as the shopping cart or checkout pages.
So how do you get your website’s speed performing at top-notch levels? An image compressor is one place to start – it’s an online tool that can rapidly reduce the size of images on your site without reducing the quality by a noticeable amount. Often eCommerce managers upload images to their websites at maximum resolution only to see them inhabiting a 500×500 pixel space, resulting in a scaled image that must load at the highest resolution, thus slowing the site. If that’s still not doing the trick, online tools like PageSpeed and YSlow are designed to help you figure out the weak link in your website that was slowing down the page load. They won’t solve the problem for you, but both sites are geared towards both tester and non-tester users, meaning even if you’re an amateur, there’s a good chance you can take the results and put them to good use.
Another great way to cut down on speed bumps for your site is to suspend all third-party content from your site during the high-volume hours of Black Friday through on into Cyber Monday. We all love having business partners, especially the kind who we can trade advertisements with and get referral bonuses from. But the pop-ups and distracting advertising can not only incense a customer who is trying to get your products and get offline, but also rapidly decrease your site’s speed as links have to be pulled from places other than your own infrastructure.
All hands on deck
You might have the best IT crew in the world, but Black Friday and Cyber Monday are completely different animals. Operating an eCommerce website over this shopping holiday is akin to owning a bar with two bouncers who never have a problem handling the crowds during Open Mike Night, but one Friday evening the Rolling Stones show up for a jam session.
The increase in visitors to your website, which likely started around 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time on Thanksgiving night and lasted through 11 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Cyber Monday night, represents an unprecedented tidal wave of page views, clicks, visitors, transactions and bandwidth usage. Things slowed down, got frantic and potentially failed. You need every IT-savvy member of your team online or remotely available at the drop of the hat to ensure that the website is functioning correctly, or if it isn’t, to dive right in, plug leaks and get technology back to where it should be before customers decide they can find what they are looking for elsewhere.
Depending on the size of your company, this can mean offering payment bonuses, paying overtime wages or even bringing in outside help – in the form of freelancers or even a paid service group – to help steer the ship. This can be a heavy burden on your budget – particularly when you go outside your own company. You’ll either have to get the newcomers on board early to show them how your system works or run the risk of them not doing an optimal job when the chips are down, as they aren’t 100% familiar with your system.
This is another spot where moving our business into the cloud not only can be a smart move economically but also a great way to increase your peace of mind and your website confidence come next Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A move of your website and infrastructure to a cloud computing environment puts those concerns in the hands of the cloud company’s IT team. A good cloud computing firm stakes its entire reputation on its ability to keep your website up and running and your business available to you 24/7/365.
For a cloud computing company, every day is a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday. These organizations employ legions of IT professionals who are assigned to your account for the singular purpose of keeping it functional at all time. And many offer their services by the day, the hour, the minute, or even the second – allowing you to put your site online for a set number of days or even hours during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend for peace of mind and durable external support.
While Black Friday might sound ominous to outsiders, going into the black for the year is every company’s fondest desire. On this make-or-break weekend, it’s imperative that your website be ready to face the challenges ahead.