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How To Handle Website Traffic

As part of our Education Series, we chat to our partner Queue-It about how brands can prepare for spikes of traffic in 2019. Forewarned is forearmed, so let’s take a look at their recommendations on how to navigate your peak sale days.

With Click Frenzy events fast approaching, and the 2018 holiday shopping season in the rear-view mirror, it’s a perfect time to step back and assess website and app performance. 2018 was a year of record ecommerce sales. So how did websites deal with the high traffic that led to the record sales numbers?

Unfortunately, like every year, there were big-name website crashes. J. Crew, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, and Lululemon all experienced downtime.

The fact that ecommerce crashes happen every year doesn’t make it any less painful for retailers. 98% of enterprise businesses incur costs of more than $100,000 during server downtimes. And damage to brand reputation results in lost sales down the line. 79% of customers who encounter poor website performance avoid purchasing from that retailer in the future.

As Kate Taylor of Business Insider points out, the website crashes show “the core problem seems to be that many retailers were unprepared for the increased traffic.” According to Criteo, U.S. web traffic to online retailers was 187% higher on Black Friday, compared to an average October day. And in Australia, 108% more shoppers headed online during Black Friday 2018. These traffic numbers, especially when concentrated during peak events, push websites and apps past their breaking points.

It’s common to underestimate how severely web traffic spikes can strain website or app infrastructure. But why?

Here are 3 main reasons we’ve found for why online retailers fail to manage website traffic.

1. Account for the distribution of the users on your site

Think of a supermarket. Supermarkets are big and have room for lots of shoppers if they’re spread through the store. Some people are in the dairy section, some in produce, others at the deli. The crucial bottleneck is at the checkout counters. There are only a fixed number of cashiers. But only a few of the shoppers are there, so the cashiers can keep lines flowing and people happy.

Now, imagine if everyone in the store makes for the checkout counter at the same time. The number of shoppers in the store hasn’t changed. But suddenly the cashiers are overwhelmed, and the customers are frustrated.

When thinking of website capacity, either for load testing or server scaling, many people neglect to consider the distribution of shoppers on a site. The common Number of concurrent users or Active users right now metric, as shown in tools like Google Analytics, only indirectly indicates the potential strain on site infrastructure. If you think you can handle 1,000 concurrent visitors, great! But if all shoppers are simultaneously in a bottleneck like your payment page, your site is liable to slow or crash.

Instead, approaching website traffic capacity from a flow-based approach considers how customers are spread throughout the shopping stages. This gives a more accurate picture of capacity thresholds.

2. Conduct Load Testing

There’s an adage that says, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Load testing is one of the best preparations you can make ahead of a large online sale. Load testing is a type of performance testing that involves using simulated traffic to put demands on your website or app. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for your peak traffic periods.

Load testing provides data on the traffic levels your website or app can realistically handle. It lets you analyze website response time and robustness, highlighting when, where, and why your site begins to break down. By alerting you to bottlenecks in your customer flow, you know where to focus your website optimization efforts.

It’s important to start this early. To get meaningful results, landing pages and other parts of the customer flow will need to be finalized before you can start testing. You’ll also need to fix issues that come up. But if you make any code changes, the tests will need to be run again. That’s why it’s critical to allow enough time for several iterations of testing.

Luckily, there are several open source tools like Apache JMeter or Gatling that can be run inexpensively on the cloud with tools like Redline13. There really is no excuse for not conducting load testing.

3. Consider the thresholds and capabilities of your 3rd party plugins

The visitor flow through an ecommerce site involves several touch-points with third-party systems. These include anything from payment gateways to stock control extensions to shipping integrations. Such systems have traffic overload limits of their own and can just as easily become bottlenecks outside of your control.

What’s worse, during big online sales, they not only experience higher traffic from your site, but are also inundated with requests from other websites, too.

It doesn’t matter how much your servers can scale, or how many performance optimizations you make. Payment processors and other third-party systems have capacity limits of their own—out of your control. Your site is only as good as its weakest link.

That’s why having a way to manage website traffic inflow can be such a crucial tool in your ecommerce toolkit. Managing traffic inflow lets you keep visitor levels where your site performs best. A virtual waiting room is one such solution.

Is your website or app ready for the huge online traffic surges of Click Frenzy, Black Friday, Boxing Day, and other seasonal promotions?


If you want to discuss any of the above points in further detail, reach out to MindArc and let us help you navigate your sales period by leveraging these tried and tested techniques.

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