Preparing Your Website for the Holiday Rush

Preparing Your Website for the Holiday Rush

The recent crash of the H&M website after the debut of the Versace collection was just one of many examples of how sites are ill-equipped to handle the surge in traffic generated by marketing activities.

As marketers gear up for what they hope to be a booming holiday season, communication strategies that have been honed throughout the year are now in full effect, as brands seek to maximize their transactions as one last fourth quarter sales push takes over.

But if the digital epicenter of these efforts crashes, or slows so considerably that customers drop off, all of the resources spent in acquiring the consumer’s dollar is lost.  Especially in the online world, where a customer is faced not with a couple competitive stores (as they would be if they were in a brick and mortar mall), but instead by tens, hundreds or even thousands of alternative retailers, this is an even bigger problem.

Though the causes for crashes (and solutions) are technical in nature, it’s not uncommon for the shrieking to come from the VP of Marketing’s office when a website crashes or drags. We spoke with Uri Foox, president at , a New York based development team centered on using new technologies to pioneer solutions for companies. Pixafy helps clients around the world with the development of sites, online stores and mobile applications. By following the guidelines below, they have even increased their clients’ monthly online sales three times over. Marketers should ensure that they have a handle on these steps going into the holiday season, but really before any major spike in traffic, or as part of their overall optimization strategy.

1. Let your developers know that a traffic spike might be coming. Communication is key: if you happen to know that a big traffic spike is on the way, let your web guys know. For example, you should give your developers a heads up if you just purchased a Daily Deal, expect a significant PR piece to come out about you, or if a high profile person is about to wear your label, etc.

2. Scale up for a small fee.

With cloud computing, what used to cost $20,000 can be achieved for $3,000. Consider renting from AWS (Amazon Web Services).

Uri mentioned that included in the perks of AWS is that it’s cheap, fast, easy and scalable.

3. Speed things up…

One way to increase the speed and functionality of your site is to set up a Content Distribution Network or CDN, which is made up of servers in various parts of the world and can make your site faster by hosting content (like an image or a CSS file) from a server that is geographically closer to you. Moving unchanging content to a CDN means you are taking a greater load off your server and your site will be able to handle more people at a time. Amazon S3 and Cloudfront are two great services that are cheap and also easy to integrate and use.

Too many requests happening at once is what causes sites to slow considerably, or to crash entirely. For ecommerce in particular, the ease and speed of completing a transaction is a critical determinant of whether a user purchases with you or elsewhere. To give you an idea, by simply doing this one step, Pixafy was able to double one client’s orders.

4. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.

Small businesses will often move all of their services onto one server, sharing their web server and database server on one computer. This means that if any service (let’s say your database server in this example) starts acting up, it can take down your whole site. Distribute the workload and make your site safer. As an added bonus, you’ll typically see a marked performance improvement by separating your services.

5. Simulate a traffic spike.

Web traffic is like a highway. It can handle many cars but not always all at once. Asking your technical team to simulate a traffic spike to make sure you’re ready for the big day will ensure you know which parts of your site might need better functionality. In particular, ask them to use load testing, which simulates increased web activity and measures the utility of your website. How does it perform? Through load testing you’ll be able to identify slowdowns yourself.

6. Don’t lose the sale, coordinate with your fulfillment providers!

The stakes are high for fashion companies to get this right. We recommend that our e-commerce partners team up with a fulfillment provider like efulfillment or Quiet Logistics, which uses robots to automate the whole process.

Some last general suggestions:

Don’t launch new campaigns on a Friday, or late in the day any day of the week. Wait for a time when all of the relevant teams are likely to be in the office and expecting to dedicate the necessary time and resources to monitor the site.

Know all of the appropriate information. This includes the name of your hosting provider and technical lead. Have a direct line to them and have logistics, like your account number, on hand. Also good to know are the type of server you’re on, its bandwidth, and the type and specs of the infrastructure.

 Photo credits: Peggy Fox

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