The predicted £1bn sales figure for Black Friday has made website availability and performance a board level concern for online retailers, with preparations for this year’s event starting as soon as last year’s ended for some. At Intechnica we have been working alongside several leading UK retailers to help them be fully prepared for whatever Black Friday brings.
Without revealing all of our methods, we’ve compiled a quick checklist of things retailers should have done to plan and prepare for Black Friday, along with some last minute checks and actions they might still be able to consider. How many have you thought about and do you feel fully prepared?
Planning – In the lead up to Black Friday
- Assign an owner and team dedicated fully to the specific task of preparing the website for Black Friday.
- Agree on the budget – performance doesn’t come for free. How much is uptime and speedy response times worth to the business on Black Friday? (We can help you figure this out!)
- Find out how much traffic is expected and its nature. Work closely with the marketing department to find these out based on planned activity along with overall trends. This information should include baseline traffic levels, the size of peaks, how fast they are expected to hit, where the traffic is likely to come from and how users are expected to behave on the site.
- Measure how much traffic the site can handle and where the bottlenecks are through thorough performance testing and analysis.
- Validate that your test results make sense and are realistic!
- Identify existing means to scale up the website’s capacity, e.g. capacity planning, cloud hosting, failover capacity, disaster recovery etc.
- Optimise performance in quick development sprints, focusing on low hanging fruit and test the results regularly.
- Move hits away from the domain using CDNs etc.
- Cache content as close to the browser as possible, e.g. on a webserver rather than in the database.
Preparation – Last minute checks
- Ask “what could possibly go wrong?”
- Ask what the impact of such failures would be.
- Ask how you would know if such a failure was about to occur or in progress.
- Ask what could be done to mitigate this!
On the day
- Make a list of non-essential functionality that could be quickly switched off to boost performance if the site is struggling, e.g. predictive site search, live chat, etc.
- Empower team members to be able to deal with problems quickly without needing to wade through red tape.
- Make sure monitoring is in place and running (real user monitoring, business metrics, social media etc.).
- Know who you can contact in a pinch within the business and with third parties – have a list of numbers and emails at the ready.
- Have an insurance policy in place in case all else fails.
What if all else does fail?
Many top retailers suffered very public failures last Black Friday, with sites crashing under much higher demand than anticipated. Fortunately we have developed TrafficDefender, an insurance policy for if websites do reach bursting point come Black Friday.
TrafficDefender removes the risk of complete website outages if capacity can’t keep up with demand, and gives a better experience to any overflow of visitors than a generic error message by placing excess visitors into an orderly queue.
Even if you have followed our checklist from top to bottom, do you have an insurance policy for if all else fails?