With Christmas just weeks away, retailers are preparing for one of the biggest internet shopping events of the year, Black Friday, which marks the start of the Christmas trading season. As UK consumers are increasingly choosing to shop online, and Black Friday promotions are set to encourage this even more, retail bosses must ensure their websites are up to scratch. Not only should they be quick to load and reliable, but the user experience on Black Friday should be the same as or better than any other trading day.
As with any internet shopping event, retailers are likely to experience an increased volume of site traffic. This can put a huge strain on sites, putting them at risk of slowing, or worse, crashing altogether. It was revealed by Barclays that this is the biggest fear among retailers this year, with 51 percent of retail bosses dreading their websites crashing during the Christmas trading season*. It’s not hard to see why, given that company profits and reputation are at stake, but mitigating the risk of a poorly performing website is possible, if not vital.
Preparing for Black Friday
Retailers must have a performance test and monitoring strategy in place so that they can ensure a smooth and responsive customer experience during the Christmas trading season. It’s important to regularly test the site’s ability to handle expected and unexpected volumes and there are two monitoring approaches that should be considered; synthetic and real user. Synthetic monitoring is reliable, consistent and provides a historical view that reveals repeating patterns over time. Real User Monitoring, on the other hand, gathers volumes of data and provides useful insights to real-time engagement similar to active traffic patterns. Using either of these tools can be hugely beneficial, but a combination of the two enables site owners to see exactly how site performance is impacting the business, for example, by telling retailers exactly how many shoppers are impacted by a problem. This will ensure that all shoppers are able to view content exactly how it should appear, and transactions are completed without a hitch.
In particular for Black Friday, when there will be an inevitable increase in site traffic, site owners should ensure they are prepared by carrying out load testing. This allows them to see how a site deals with a big increase in site traffic, enabling them to weed out any loading problems or features of the page that impede the shopping experience. After all, if a site crashes in the middle of a transaction, the customer will only go to a more reliable site to purchase their gift, which is likely to be a competing retailer.
Performance on mobile
Mobile sites should also be considered by retail bosses, as they are increasingly being used for online shopping and browsing. The size of site can be an issue, for example, as it can often be too ‘heavy’ to accommodate the smaller screen size and slower download speeds on mobile devices. One way to reduce the size of sites, and therefore help improve availability and load speed on mobile devices, is to remove any unnecessary features that are likely to cause performance issues. When purchasing a gift on a traditional site, for example, shoppers may browse detailed images of the items they are purchasing. On a smartphone, however, it’s far more likely that high resolution images will slow down site performance and cause loading errors, so fewer images with lower resolution may be more appropriate. By optimising sites for mobile like this, companies will ensure a quicker and more reliable site and, therefore, a better experience for their customers.
Ultimately, website performance – whether on desktop or mobile – must be top priority during the Christmas trading period. With the right monitoring and testing tools in place, retail bosses need not worry about the possibility of an under-performing or crashing site. Not only will they ensure a consistent quality customer experience and repeat customers, but it could be the decision-maker when it comes to where to shop in the January sales.
By Jose Talavera, solutions consultant at Keynote.
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