Black Friday 2018 is just weeks away. And with the holidays a struggle for even the world’s top online retailers, we talked to Adam Morris, CEO of Redstage, a Fulcrum company that has collaborated with over 700 eCommerce sites across 5 continents, to understand what type of problems online retailers need to be on the lookout for during the holiday season, and what can be done now to prevent those issues from happening in the first place.
Adam, what are the biggest challenges you see eCommerce sites facing during the holidays?
First and foremost, the preparation. The holidays are a time of increased profits, but that comes with a huge load on websites. Meaning stress on things that haven’t been tested all year. So if you haven’t done things like proper stress testing in advance, you just won’t know how your online store is going to react.
And when downtime occurs, or things do go wrong during the holidays, the effect of those issues is compounded because you’ve probably expanded your customer service team to make up for higher demand, as well as increased marketing budgets to attract more holiday spending. So when things go wrong, those marketing dollars are lost, and support may suddenly be relegated to a more junior team with less experience and a lower quality of service.
That actually leads me to my second point. Customer service is a key challenge, period. Whether something’s gone wrong, or a customer has a question during the buying process, good service can be the deciding factor in whether a sale is made or not. So making sure your teams, who are often seasonal, are well trained and that processes are clearly documented can make a big difference as stress levels rise. And in every situation you want to make sure the people representing your company are equipped with the tools to do it properly.
Your team has extensive experience working with major online retailers. Can you share any real examples of severe issues you’ve seen or caught during the holiday season?
Definitely. Increased load during the holidays impacts even the best of sites. To name a few, here are some of the most common our team has seen:
- Slow Site Speed – This becomes a major issue as traffic increases. To improve performance you need to optimize your code, debug slow running queries, tune databases and consider adding a CDN or upgrading your server setup.
- Price Caching – When this happens, your customers are basically seeing the wrong price… An incredibly frustrating experience for them where discounts don’t appear when they should vice versa. This happens when indexing isn’t working as it should, or values are cashed when they shouldn’t be.
- Broken Checkout – This is a worst case scenario that causes checkout to freeze or fail completely, and can be due to many different issues, so the first step to fixing it is reviewing the error codes received. Common causes of broken checkout also include very strict fraud prevention requirements, invalid API tokens, and even user error.
- Sites Overload and Crash – When servers are hit with unusually high traffic, they can crash. And depending on both timing and budget restrictions, you may need to get creative to find a solution. Ideally, you want to plan in advance and make sure your site can scale. There is a client we work with that needed an alternative option in a very specific situation. They were featured on Shark Tank, and while their site normally needs to support 5K concurrent users, each time the episode airs they are inundated with between 60K-90K users. To handle this dramatic change, we use a protocol that sends customers through a queue system before they hit the server. This sort of emergency protocol only works best for situations such as a timed sale, or during a large email blast, when there is a huge surge in traffic numbers as it can slow site performance, but prevents it from crashing.
- Add to Cart Features Failing – Add to cart bugs prevent customers from adding products to cart, and are more common with configurable products. Whether caused by inventory issues or configuration problems, making sure this key step functions within the shopping process is a must.
If online retailers aren’t yet ready for Black Friday 2018, is there still time to prepare? What are the must-complete steps to get holiday ready?
There is absolutely still time. You want to make sure to complete load testing, and prepare for a dramatic change in traffic numbers. Make sure your customer service teams are ready and familiar with the company policies and procedures. And, finally, make sure you’re monitoring your website so that you can catch all of the problems I mentioned earlier, before they affect your sales.
Where does website monitoring come into play for a major shopping event like Black Friday? And why do you choose to work with a solution like Shoppimon to cover these events?
Without monitoring in place, you’re not going to be able to catch website issues in time. During Black Friday 2018, and the holiday season, if you have ghosts in your machine, they’re going to come out. So make sure you have the insights you need to have a successful start to the holiday season.
I think the most important thing about a solution like Shoppimon is that it’s not just monitoring the experience and functionality of your site, but your business uptime. Without that insight, you might believe your whole system is functioning properly, but actually have an entire catalogue of images that isn’t showing as it should. With Shoppimon you always know what’s going on in your site, so you can provide customers with a smooth experience.
Any recommendations for eCommerce managers that aren’t using automated monitoring to control site health and performance before Black Friday 2018?
Get automated monitoring. Automated monitoring is one of the solutions in your toolbox that you need to have to maximize special sales events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season.
With 10 years of experience and having collaborated on more than 700 eCommerce sites, Redstage is an eCommerce powerhouse. As a Fulcrum company, Redstage is supported by a global infrastructure comprised of more than 800 employees across 5 continents. We specialize in B2B & B2C digital platform services from eCommerce development and customer experience design to integration, conversion optimization, strategy & support. Redstage is a Magento Enterprise Partner, Big Commerce Elite Partner, and Shopify Plus Partner.