For millions of people (154 million in 2016, in fact), Black Friday weekend is all about snagging great deals on gifts for the upcoming holidays. For a much smaller subset of that population, that weekend is more about making sure their website can handle the rapid influx of online traffic so their businesses can thrive.
Black Friday weekend can make or break an ecommerce company’s revenue for the year, which is why so many of their IT teams start preparing months before the sale takes place. The techniques for web performance optimization have evolved over the years, but the goal has remained the same: provide the best user experience possible. As user expectations continue to climb, the threat of the competition puts a premium on performance; yet, even though this is common industry knowledge, many sites still fail on this fateful, several-day span and suffer the consequences.
A tried-and-true way of preventing any incident from reoccurring is examining the past. Below is our recap of last year’s Black Friday weekend and a few tips to help you avoid the same mistakes this year.
Black Friday Weekend 2016: Heavy Traffic, Elevated Load Times, Overloaded Servers
Macy’s was one of the first digital retailers to suffer from a performance degradation early on Black Friday last year. Their website attempted to manage heavy traffic by redirecting its users to a page that displayed a 10-second counter before sending them to the homepage.
Victoria’s Secret also experienced intermittent failures on Black Friday and the following Saturday, while Zulily and Shutterfly had outages on that Sunday.
The chart below compares the document complete time of the best-performing sites with those that had performance issues during the sale. Apple, Dell, Kohl’s, Systemax, and Staples maintained good performance through the weekend and Cyber Monday – these sites took less than 2 seconds to load.
The Macy’s mobile site suffered some downtime, whose shoppers were redirected to a page stating the site was undergoing maintenance and that it would be back up soon.
The Newegg Mobile site was down for a few hours the day after Black Friday between 2 AM and 1 PM ET and the site was displaying an ‘Internal Server Error’ message.
Most of the IR 50 mobile sites performed well except for a few that had intermittent issues. The top five sites which included Rakuten, Apple, Amway Global, Amazon, and Victoria’s Secret loaded within 1.5 seconds.
Failing Third-Party Components, Elevated Load Time, Mini-Outages
The impact of third-party components needs to be stressed; many sites were affected during Black Friday when third-party tags and scripts failed to load. Walmart and Williams-Sonoma were some of the sites that were impacted.
Similar issues were reported on Cyber Monday. Barnes and Noble, Lenovo, Walmart, Newegg, and QVC were some of the sites that were affected on this day.
By now, most online retailers are aware of the importance of delivering a seamless digital experience for every user visiting the site. Some sites were offering pre-Black Friday coupons and deals days prior to the actual event in an effort to spread out the traffic flow. Many had also planned downtime in the days leading up to the sale to ensure the servers were ready to handle the load without compromising performance or speed.
Analyzing the performance of third-party components is absolutely necessary before and during a shopping holiday of this magnitude. Websites tend to add a lot of tags and scripts to track user behavior and conversion rates and to embed widgets or other components on the page. These elements can significantly affect performance so it’s best to cut down on the number of third-party components and services used on your website.
To learn more about how you can optimize your site for holiday shopping season this year, download our ebook, ‘Your Guide to a Seamless Holiday Ecommerce Shopping Experience.’