Blog Post

Back to School Performance Results and Preparing for Black Friday

Back to school sales welcome huge traffic surges and create many performance problems. Check out this year's results and tips to prepare for Black Friday.

Back to School sales are more than just a harbinger of doom for children and a shining beacon of light for parents who can’t wait to get them back out of the house. They also serve as a valuable benchmarking resource for eCommerce DevOps teams, as the web traffic during Back to School sales doubles as a precursor for the upcoming holiday shopping season, which of course doubles as the most trafficked time of the year for eCommerce companies.

Part of the problem with sale periods is that they often mean a lot of images and graphics on the page to advertise items that are discounted, yet which also dramatically increase the amount of downloaded bytes, and by extension the webpage load time. Sites need to slim down and minimize the number of objects on the page – as well as the amount of third party hosts that must be contacted for the page to load – that will help them weather the traffic increase.

This year, Staples seems to have gotten that message better than anyone else. The office/school supply retailer made concerted efforts to reduce the amount of bytes, objects, and hosts on their pages prior to Labor Day Weekend, and saw significant performance boosts as a result:

Back to School - Staples

Office Depot also saw a performance boost for over a week in August due to a slimming down of page weight, but it wasn’t intentional. The dip and subsequent rise in bytes, hosts, and page speed that you see in the charts below was not the result of optimization, but rather an error in the loading of the software which drives the product recommendations that you see on their page:

Back to School - Office Depot

Meanwhile, Walmart took the opposite route by dramatically increasing their page weight on the Friday before Labor Day weekend thanks in large part to a 5 MB image, but employed optimization strategies to ensure that they wouldn’t see a corresponding spike in their pages’ load times:

Back to School - Walmart

Obviously eCommerce retailers’ IT Ops teams have been planning for the holiday rush and making appropriate code changes all year long. Yet by analyzing their site’s performance during Back to School sale period (which typically runs from mid-August through Labor Day Weekend), Ops pros can ascertain areas that they can improve upon and last-minute changes that might be made before the code freezes go into effect next month.

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