Blog Post

Back to school sales effect on retail web performance

While Black Friday is considered to be monumental for eCommerce websites, preparing your site for back-to-school sales is imperative for performance too.

The world of eCommerce is a never-ending string of challenges that must be met. As soon as one major sale is over, online retailers are already looking ahead to the next one. And from a DevOps perspective, that means making sure that the site can handle the next traffic surge by learning from the lessons of the last one.

It’s with that strategy in mind that we take a break from our holiday shopping series to look back at the last major eCommerce initiative: Back to School sales. While web performance teams are doing capacity testing, functional testing, and other activities to prepare for the onslaught of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers, we want to see who was prepared for the biggest summer shopping season, and who has some work to do to ensure that they put forth a better performance the next time around.

Clothing and apparel stores see the bulk of activity from the Back to School shoppers, as parents are spending money on new clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc. to outfit their kids for the new school year. These sales generally run from the end of July through Labor Day Weekend, so we collected over 24K samples of data from each of a variety of 26 different retail sites from July 26 through 9/2 from 10 different cities around the country. Here are the top performers from those samples:

Apparel/Accessory Retailers:

BtS clothing

Gap came in with the best overall performance, as they not only had the best webpage response times (the time it takes for all of the objects on a page to be rendered), but also the best availability performance among all of the sites tested, even while having one of the heavier pages (2.4 MB compared to the average of 1.8). That’s an impressive feat to pull off, and the Gap DevOps and engineering teams deserves a pat on the back for handling all of that traffic with aplomb.


Mass Merchant Retailers:**

BtS mass merchants

A common theme among the mass merchants is that they are consistently more available than the smaller retailers, with all 11 sites coming in comfortably above 99 percent, with the best being Costco’s 99.948 mark. But they were hardly alone at the top, as five sites registered scores better than 99.9, a mark that none of the smaller apparel and accessory companies reached. Such high availability rates suggest that these companies made a significant effort to limit the amount of third-party tags that can be a drag on performance.

Speaking of Costco, the wholesale giant also registered the fastest webpage response times, and the second-fastest response times, behind only Kmart.

Office Supply Retailers:

Of course, Back to School shopping includes more than just shoes and clothes; new pens, pencils, notebooks, and folders are also needed before the first day of school, so we kept an eye on the major office supply retailers as well.

BtS office suppliers

Though a smaller sample of sites, OfficeMax emerges as the winner in both webpage response and availability.


Ultimately, benchmarking performance is vital to the overall health of a site, as it gives DevOps an indication of what is working and what’s not, which is information that can then be incorporated into future endeavors. With the frenetic holiday shopping season approaching, now is the time for those DevOps professionals to be testing their sites’ capabilities and running drills for what to do when failure does happen, and results like these are a great indicator of what challenges they have ahead of them.

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