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Michał Kloczkowski

How to ensure your online store stability during Black Friday and Christmas shopping?

E-commerce platforms, especially those operating in the B2C sector, sometimes fall victim to their own success. At times they do something so well – e.g. a Black Friday/Cyber Monday campaign or a holiday promotion – that their servers cannot withstand the pressure of visitors and simply crash. Or in some cases swarms of users follow an unexpected recommendation by an influencer and severely challenge the stability and durability of an online store, a website or a mobile application.
What can you do about it? How do you prepare your online store for increased traffic?

You have two options to choose from: picking the right technology in advance and ensuring that the source code of your website is of high quality, or taking care of everything beyond the quality of the code, including working in accordance with the DevOps approach. The latter option often turns out to be less time-consuming and labor-intensive, and also brings tangible benefits to online stores. This is why we will focus on it in this article.

1. See Where You Are Standing.

Start your preparation to face a server load by estimating how big a traffic you can expect. First of all, try to determine how many users can be in your e-store at the same time. This is where analyzing data collected in your Google Analytics will help – as will tracking of industry trends in this area.

Secondly: assess whether it is profitable for you at all to handle all the traffic that will come to your eCommerce store during Black Friday or Christmas promotion. Determine at what traffic size it makes economic sense to invest in the infrastructure used by your online store or website.

Third: find out how much pressure your current technological environment can withstand. To do this, analyze server logs to see how much power it is currently using and run special performance tests. In extreme cases, it may turn out that improving the environment alone will not be enough to handle the expected traffic. Too much of a technological debt will simply not allow for it. In this case, it will be necessary to set up the website from scratch.

2. Strengthen Your Weaknesses.

Once you are clear about the possibilities and limitations of your current eCommerce store, you have the following options to improve your readiness:

  • Increase the cache size used by your e-store. This memory stores preloaded and prepared page elements that are displayed to users. The rule is simple: the larger the cache memory (and the more appropriately selected, ‘cacheable’ elements in it), the lower the load – and therefore more power reserve – of your server.

  • Increase the power of the server on which your e-store or service is running. We mean such parameters as processor power, RAM size or disk speed. The principle here is the same: the greater the power, the greater the load the server will be able to withstand in a hot period.

  • Set up additional servers for your online store without increasing their power. Simply increase their number and spread the increased traffic evenly over several machines of the same class.

  • Consider designing a queuing solution. If your website becomes crowded, a special system will direct customers waiting for the finalization of purchase to a virtual queue.

  • Take care of the speed and efficiency of the application installation procedure when, for example, due to a sudden increase in traffic on your website, it is necessary to transfer it in a very short time to a new, more powerful server. An autoinstaller such as Ansible can help you in this situation.

  • Make sure you follow good practices for backing up and storing your data in case there is a real disaster. Remember: the data you collect in your eCommerce store is your most valuable asset!

3. Monitor the Situation.

If you have taken care of proper preparation of your online store or website for the Christmas shopping fever, then you can relax – but do not let it lull your vigilance. Do not neglect security measures during the holiday peak – remember that most of the traffic comes in the evening or even at night, if, for example, your sale starts at midnight.

What do you have to remember?

  • Make sure there is an IT guy on duty to react to possible technical problems in real time, also at night.

  • Take care of the relevant provisions in the Service Level Agreement with your server provider in advance. We are talking about parameters such as availability, bandwidth, delays, the number of network errors and the response time to a reported failure. Inform your provider about the expected load in advance so that he is additionally mobilized to provide you with quick assistance.

  • Regardless of that, also make sure that your IT department monitors your website 24/7.

  • Plus, have someone from the marketing department on standby to, in the event of technical problems, manage communication with users, for example in your social media.

4. Learn from Experience.

When your store overload from e.g. Black Friday wears off and hot campaign time is over, take a look at what went wrong.

  • First of all, identify any bottlenecks, i.e. places operating at the limit of throughput or performance.

  • If your e-store encountered any technical problems, specify their nature – logs from the aforementioned IT monitoring will help you here.

  • Also remember that the infrastructure reinforcement made for the hot season will no longer be needed, so reduce the power of servers or give up replicated ones as soon as the peak ends. This is possible in flexible cloud hosting services, e.g. on Amazon Web Services (AWS) or when hosting on physical computers located in your own server room, which you can simply disconnect.

  • Finally, share knowledge and conclusions related to the operation of your eCommerce store in hot periods with your marketing department, which is responsible for preparing communication with users before and during such campaigns.

5. Have Aces Up Your Sleeve.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, use the period of increased traffic to take a closer look at:

  • The efficiency of your store's or website's source code and the technology it uses.

  • Its UX – customers attracted by a promotion may visit you for the first time and this is a great opportunity to see if your store is well designed, i.e. if there are any obstacles or errors affecting shopping and finalizing transactions.

  • Errors that occur – it is worth monitoring and fixing them on an ongoing basis, especially the critical and important ones, so as not to waste sales potential resulting from an increased traffic on your website.

  • Making your website mobile-friendly – in hot periods the percentage of traffic from mobile increases, so it is worth checking both your e-store’s UX and loading speed. Remember that frustrated users will not leave their money with you.

Is Your Online Store Ready for Black Friday and Christmas? Check It Out!

Before the peak:

  1. Estimate the size of expected traffic (including the number of parallel sessions) based on your Google Analytics.

  2. Estimate the profitability of additional infrastructure investments.

  3. Check how much load your current technological environment can withstand (log analysis, performance tests).

  4. Increase the cache size used by your e-store.

  5. Increase the server power.

  6. Add more servers without increasing their power.

  7. Consider designing a queue solution.

  8. Take care of the speed and efficiency of the application installation procedure in the event of an urgent need to move the website to a new server.

  9. Make sure you follow best data backup and recovery practices.

During the peak:

  1. Have an IT guy on duty in case of technical problems, also at night.

  2. Take care of the relevant provisions in the maintenance contract with your server provider and inform him about the expected load.

  3. Make sure that your IT department monitors your website 24/7.

  4. Have a person from the marketing department on hand to manage crisis communication.

After the peak:

  1. Identify all bottlenecks, i.e. places operating at the limit of throughput or performance.

  2. If your e-store encountered technical problems, determine their nature.

  3. Reduce the power of the servers or give up the replicated ones.

  4. Share conclusions related to the peak with your marketing department.

Aces up your sleeve:

  1. Check the efficiency of the source code of your store or service and the technology it uses.

  2. Take a look at how intuitive the UX of your store/website is for new customers.

  3. Monitor and fix errors as they occur.

  4. Make your website mobile-friendly.

Good luck!

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