How the changing Black Friday landscape heightens eCommerce performance risks
Black Friday 2017 was a bumper year for online retailers who were able to accommodate the increased demand. With 2018’s pre-Christmas sale event just a handful of months away, it’s the right time to implement a realistic and effective performance testing plan. We take a look at the changing landscape, the implications for UK online retailers and what you can do to reduce the risk.
Black Friday may feel like a permanent fixture in the British shopping calendar, but it’s tradition that’s, perhaps surprisingly, just five years old. Amazon flirted with offering Black Friday discounts to UK customers as far back as 2010 but it was only when Asda turned this US import into a retail occasion in 2013 that other high-street shops cottoned on to the potential benefits. Fast forward to 2018 and the landscape has changed considerably:
Shoppers shun high street stores in favour of online bargains
Last November’s Black Friday wasn’t quite the near-riot phenomenon everyone remembered from previous years. But, despite disappointing numbers of customers visiting bricks and mortar stores, overall spending actually increased, thanks to the proliferation of online transactions – up by 11.7% to £1.39bn, according to data from IMRG. Whilst the shift provides an exciting opportunity for online stores, it also increase the financial risk of poor website and/or app performance.
Spreading the load leads to performance gains
The 2017 figures are even more impressive, given that retailers are increasingly extending the Black Friday discount period beyond the original 24-hour span, often to more than a week in duration. This move away from a specific Black Friday event, to an extended pre-Christmas sale window delivers performance benefits, too, as web traffic was spread over days, rather than hours. That said, those retailers who prepared for spikes in demand with realistic load testing programmes were those able to maximise sales.
Mobile’s firmly in the driving seat
One of the most striking statistics was that a whopping 39% of transactions were completed on a smartphone over the Black Friday weekend, according to retail strategist Summit. Traffic in general continues to be dominated by mobile, which is why it’s more important than ever to undertake realistic load testing and monitor performance across a range of devices. Online retailers must be prepared to meet the increasing demands for mobile performance – it’s well documented not least by Google, that mobile consumers are both impatient and fickle.
Top three tips for minimising the Black Friday performance risk
It’s too early to predict the winners and losers for Black Friday 2018 but it’s definitely not too early to start preparing for the traffic you’d like to handle.
It’s all in the planning
Make life easier for your business and tech teams by allowing enough time to test performance and fix problems well before code lockdown. Cutting it too fine will increase the pressure, the likelihood of errors and the cost to fix them. Build a load test model based on last year’s traffic so you have a realistic facsimile of customer journeys and start off establishing a baseline measurement for current performance.
Test early and often
A single test won’t give you enough data. Test to expose any weaknesses, make necessary changes to improve performance and test again to make sure your improvements are effective and haven;t impacted performance elsewhere. If you repeat this testing loop, you can verify each change before moving to the next stage, ultimately saving time, money and resources. It’s best to lock down code a couple of months prior to the big day, before a final test in the live environment.
Simplify the process
Your site will run more quickly and responsively if you strip back the bells and whistles. This might include reducing the range of products available and keeping pages small, so they work optimally on mobile devices. To ensure customers enjoy a smooth browsing experience, make sure you monitor performance across devices and test the full extent of their journey, right up to choosing the delivery option and checking out.
Preparing your ecommerce site for Black Friday … what next?
We recommend starting the evaluation process several months in advance, especially for clients who have the kind of complex, sophisticated websites that meet consumers expectations. You can find out more about best practice and follow our free 7-point Black Friday preparation plan here. Alternatively read through our Black Friday blogs, or get in touch for more information about thinkTribe’s unique approach to performance testing and monitoring.