Five Steps to a Better eCommerce Digital Experience
Better eCommerce digital experience relies upon performance, but it involves a lot more than tracking uptime and downtime.
Performance is the key to a better eCommerce digital experience, but it involves a lot more than tracking availability. For online shoppers, seamless and quick shopping experience is what matters the most and this cannot be guaranteed by measuring only uptime or downtime.
The holiday season is when most eCommerce site performance is stretched to its limits. Last year Etsy had 400 of its engineers on the frontline to ensure Cyber Monday success. Even after an outage last year the company opts for continuous deployment a la “code slush” rather than the traditional a “code freeze.”
We know speed matters when it comes to securing successful eCommerce conversion, but what we consider to be fast versus slow is more complicated considering the globally distributed architecture. In 2019, eBay realized the need to combat slowness, which can be considered the new downtime, and undertook a year’s worth of testing and optimization which helped improve performance significantly.
What these “code slushes” and “performance cuts” signal is the need for e-commerce companies to rethink performance management practices. Instead of a seasonal code freeze undertaken weeks or months before a high traffic event, Etsy and eBay are finding success with a holistic performance monitoring and testing that can prove ROI for the smallest of cuts thanks to accurate baseline and relevant benchmarks.
Here are five tips for eCommerce companies looking to improve performance management. For even more on the need to rethink performance management don’t miss our upcoming webcast, “Rethinking Ecommerce Performance Management,” featuring experts from WalmartLabs and Akamai.
Monitoring more than just uptime/downtime
Multiple components at every level of the application make it necessary to have end-to-end visibility. You need to track the performance of everything from the infrastructure to the third-party provider including CDN, DNS, and any other services. A holistic monitoring approach is necessary for such a complex application architecture so you should consider each of these points when monitoring:
- Is the application hosted on-premise, cloud, multi-cloud?
- Is the DNS provider self-hosted, single, or multiple managed DNS providers?
- Are there any load balancers?
- Are you using a single CDN provider or multi-CDN providers?
- If there are multiple CDN providers, then how are the different components mapped?
As we found in our Black Friday and Cyber Monday Performance Report, capacity and connection were the root cause of performance problems for Costco, H&M, and Forever21. Having a baseline of performance, from historical, year-on-year data, as well as the normal distribution of traffic, can enable you to better estimate and scale capacity during peak events.
Monitoring end-to-end transactions
End users navigate applications in different ways so monitoring just the homepage will not suffice. Consumers typically search for products, add to cart, continue browsing, and repeat the process multiple times before check out. The check out process may also vary depending on the consumer’s payment type. Performance issues at any point in the user journey can impact the end-user experience, so it is important to monitor processes that are critical to the functioning of the eCommerce site including multi-page, multi-step transactions.
Monitoring complete performance
The perception of your site or application performance is in the eye (or shopping cart) of your end user. If your customers can’t complete a purchase, then you’re not available or reachable to that user as an eCommerce store. This is why so many eCommerce stores are shifting their monitoring strategies from a traditional APM approach to a more modern, DEM-style that monitors from the perspective of end users.
For example, one area APM falls short of eCommerce needs is in monitoring components of an application that are essentially outsourced and managed by different service providers. You are not in control of these components and you do not have visibility into the performance of these components. This creates blind spots in your monitoring strategy; you’d be completely in the dark if there were an end-user impacting incident. You have to rely on the service provider to maintain performance, but this only creates unwanted vulnerabilities within the application delivery chain.
To regain end-to-end visibility of your application, your eCommerce digital experience monitoring strategy must capture data beyond just uptime; it must capture data for all four pillars of digital experience monitoring: availability, reachability, performance, and reliability.
Monitoring metrics that matter
Performance monitoring involves tracking hundreds of different metrics that may not make sense on its own. Each metric provides data that needs to be correlated with other metrics to build a valid hypothesis. Performance data is only effective when it can be validated and acted upon to improve your end user’s experience of your services. This requires capture accurate data on users from across your entire coverage area.
Common mistake eCommerce companies make when deciding on monitoring metrics is to rely on the average performance. The problem with averages is that they don’t provide an accurate view of performance for tail-end users as it does not account for conditions specific to their geographical region. This leads to “unknown unknowns” where you aren’t even aware performance problems exist, which can lead to a host of problems including:
- Low conversion rates / high cart abandonment
- SLA breaches
- Data integrity problems
- Corrupt incoming customer orders
- High-value customers experience degraded performance
Instead, percentile median value can give an accurate view of performance for all end users as well as the global distribution of site traffic enabling you to better prepare for traffic spikes with redundant services.
Performance data on its own cannot yield business outcomes. Connecting the performance metric with business KPIs provides valuable insight into end-user experience and customer behavior. Tracking and correlating performance data with the business KPIs is an important step in improving “customer-centric” digital initiatives at enterprise organizations.
In an interview on the 2019 holiday shopping season, Mehdi Daoudi ranked lack of relevant benchmarking among common problem areas that eCommerce companies must address:
“How do you know you’re doing well technically if there’s no clear point of comparison? This is where the “Amazon Effect” has forced all retailers to be fast and always available. Like Google in search, Amazon.com has created a standard which customers use as their point of reference. Who are your top five competitors? What is their performance like? Knowing answers to these questions will put your digital experience metrics in context.”
Baselining and benchmarking provide reference points and context to performance data that should guide decisions on improvements likely to have the greatest impact on the business. The only thing worse than making decisions without any data is making decisions based on bad data.
It’s time to rethink performance management
Digital experience is crucial to eCommerce and any business looking to grow online must first invest in improving the end-user experience. If you are struggling to improve conversion rates on your eCommerce website or application, then your first step is to evaluate the existing performance monitoring strategy.
Your second step is to attend our upcoming webinar to learn the latest in performance management.