How to Scale Enterprise eCommerce: Managing Peak Traffic Times
You’re most likely here because your eCommerce business is achieving scale, and it’s time for you to start thinking about how to grow the business strategically and effectively. In part one of this conversation, we walked through a few specific ways to prepare for long-term growth. But you can’t stop there.
A growing eCommerce business means more traffic to your shop, particularly during peak times like Black Friday and the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. Managing traffic at the enterprise scale is profoundly more challenging than with a smaller brand.
“You work hard to increase sales and build a strong brand, so seeing rising sales is fantastic,” writes Tom Shackleton at Statement Agency, which specializes in eCommerce solutions. “However, handling demand spikes poorly can be potentially damaging to your business. You don’t want to disappoint customers with a slow site or slipping delivery estimates, so you need to handle demand spikes effectively.”
In short, learning to manage peak traffic times is critical as you grow.
Even some of the biggest brands sometimes struggle to keep up with traffic. In 2017, for example, the Lowe’s website crashed on Black Friday. And even if demand doesn’t bring your shop to a standstill, peak traffic can slow load times. That’s not good because, as John Stevens at Digital Commerce 360 points out, a one-second delay can cost eCommerce sites up to 7 percent in conversions.
Your site doesn’t have to suffer the same fate — as long as you are adequately prepared. Here are three tips for managing peak traffic times as you scale your enterprise eCommerce business.
1. Make Sure Your Server Can Handle Increased Traffic
For eCommerce sites, the server is the foundation of everything else. If your server is lacking, your site could get bogged down or even crash during peak traffic times. There are a few things to cover here:
- Exploring the option of dynamic scaling.
- Testing the performance of your site.
- Considering other elements of performance by choosing a scalable software solution and integrating systems.
First, you should be testing the performance of your site.
Writing at DZone, Claire Mackerras says it is extremely difficult to accurately predict the traffic your eCommerce site will receive. “There are ample cases where the website either gets no traffic or a surge of traffic which it can’t handle. In both cases, visitors leave the website because of the poor performance,” Mackerras writes.
She gives the example of HP, when the site was 30 percent slower on Cyber Monday because of a spike in search and Add to Cart transactions. Instead, you should be prepared with performance testing. That means testing not just page load speeds but also different types of transactions.
That said, testing page speed is a good indicator of whether your site is ready to handle a spike in traffic. Still, you will want to drill down further. Be sure you take this performance testing past your homepage and main landing pages, writes Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of digital experience company Catchpoint.
Be thorough in this assessment. Test calls to action, specific conversion paths and product pages.
Then, explore your options for scaling server capacity when needed.
Some servers can create more capacity when necessary by automatically watching the traffic trends of your site. Anthony Garone at Melt Media says this capability, called dynamic scaling (or sometimes auto scaling) may just be necessary if your site faces variable traffic levels.
Nikki Smith at Sevaa Group says that if your shop might not be able to handle a traffic spike, then one of your best bets is to find a flexible hosting plan that can scale vertically when high traffic hits. “Be sure your host can scale available server resources when needed and return to using a typical amount of resources when traffic goes back to normal,” Smith concludes. For a self-hosted store, this means building scalable architectures.
After all, Sara Hicks at Digital Commerce 360 says the eCommerce sites that will crash this holiday season will be those that haven’t implemented a basic architecture designed to scale up during peak traffic times.
2. Look for Scalable Software Solutions
While performance testing is important, page speed is not the only consideration when preparing your site for peak increased traffic during peak seasons. As Ana Gotter at Disruptive Advertising puts it, “Your site may look great, but how well does it function?”
This is a question that speaks to your shop’s entire back end, from the CMS to servers. In short, handling increased traffic also has a lot to do with your content and how you manage it. Chris Wraight, director of industry marketing at Akamai Technologies, points out that page speed is not the only factor affecting UX or bounce rate. Getting conversions means a top-notch customer experience from beginning to end.
“Providing visual content optimized for both desktop and mobile devices, and combating security threats will help you drive traffic and improve conversion rates during the holiday shopping season and beyond.”
To handle these aspects of the shopping experience, you’ll need an eCommerce software solution (and connected content management system) that can scale with your business. That software must be able to handle new pressures on the CMS, site traffic and more. A lack of scalability and speed is one of the main reasons to replatform your eCommerce shop.Learn more about how Scalefast’s Commerce Cloud Infrastructure provides flexibility for growth.
As you invest in a scalable software solution for your shop (or decide to replatform based on your growing needs), don’t forget about the importance of mobile for performance. In early 2018, Lisa Lacy at AdWeek reported that smartphones were expected to be used in over a third of total US retail sales that year.
That number applied to the whole buying journey, from research and price comparisons to actual purchases. As far as pure traffic goes, Tonya Garcia at MarketWatch reports that mobile drives 60 percent of eCommerce traffic. Your shop needs to be able to handle ever-increasing amount of mobile traffic, and the right eCommerce solution should take this need into account.
3. Consider the Integration of Your Systems
So far, these tips have had to do with keeping your site fast and responsive during increased traffic. But peak traffic doesn’t just mean an influx of visitors to your eCommerce site. It also means increased sales, customer support needs, order fulfillment, transactions and more.
All of this can quickly become overwhelming when you have different platforms supporting different parts of your business.
Integrating your eCommerce systems can not only keep you afloat during peak traffic times; it can also help you grow more efficiently across channels. Building flexibility into your shop’s back end systems through integration is to creates a truly scalable environment. For example, Alexander Pirinsky at Forbes writes that integrating an enterprise resource planning system with your eCommerce stack has two major benefits:
- The integration consolidates your operations and data flows, especially important with peak traffic.
- The ERP can then play first fiddle in everything except what is presented to the shopper.
This lets you put on a great public face with your eCommerce software while maintaining a strong, organized system on the backend.
Integrating software and systems may not be your first concern in your preparation for handling peak traffic to your eCommerce site, but it should be a major consideration as you continue to scale your eCommerce business.