5 Areas Every e-Commerce Business Should Monitor Using Log Data
Log Management Tips from the Chief Architect and Development Manager at Speedway Motors
March 10, 2015
Aaron Remaklus
Share this

If you're responsible for an e-commerce website, I guarantee you've been asked about, told about, or wondered about what kind of information and events you should be logging. Important things are happening all the time, and you need to know what's going on. Right? Are they bad things, good things, or “nobody cares” things?

So what do you do? Log all the things! Right?! If you've ever found yourself awake at 3:00am wondering why you decided to become a software engineer instead of [insert any job that lets you sleep during the night here], chances are it's because you decided to log everything. Having said that, guess who has two thumbs and logs all the things? This guy.

You need to focus. It’s okay to log all the things, but you need to focus your attention on the stuff that matters the most, and a simple tool for aggregating IIS logs isn’t enough. A scalable and easy-to-use service that will alert you and provide an interface for surfacing the events that matter the most is critical to ensuring a constant revenue stream and the best possible experience for your customers. Yes, there are lots of components and potential events that really matter when it comes to developing or hosting an e-commerce website. So where should you start? I’m going to break this down into the top five areas that should be the initial focus of your logging efforts. You should not only log these types of events but also put an alerting system in place so you’re aware about things that require your immediate attention.

1. Checkout

We’ll go with the lowest hanging fruit first. If you’re an e-commerce website, your job is to convert customers. Conversion means pushing your customers through the checkout funnel and completing an order. All checkout errors should be logged, and you should instantly be alerted if any part of the checkout process fails.

This seems obvious, but it’s important you focus on each minute piece of the process including:

■ Address data collection

■ Inventory availability checks

■ Payment processing (Even if you use a third-party service, you need to log any events in addition to protecting yourself from service failures – more on this later.)

■ Authentication and authorization logic

■ Shipping estimation

■ Tax calculation

... and the list goes on. Not all checkout failures will prevent your user from physically completing the checkout process if you’re doing it right, but many of them decrease the probability that your customer will complete their order. Any squeak in the cog of the checkout process can result in revenue loss.

2. Add-to-cart

You can’t place an order if you can’t add products to your shopping cart or bag. This is a huge duh(!), but there are cases where shopping cart issues are intermittent and aren't completely preventing people from adding products to their carts. The bigger danger lies in these occasional or even moderately frequent product adds that fail without your knowledge because orders continue to flow through your website. Causes might include bad inventory availability checks, bad data, or an intermittent bug that’s difficult to reproduce. Protect yourself by logging all add-to-cart failures when they occur, send out an alert, and investigate the problem ASAP. Honorable mention goes out here to logging Wish List and Favorites errors as well. These features are about customer experience, but they’re also proven winners when it comes to converting customers.

3. Online Catalog/Product Page

Your customers can’t add items to their shopping cart if they can’t find your products. Similar to adding to their shopping carts, the danger here is the intermittent problem that doesn’t always rear its head in an obvious manner. The larger your online catalog, the greater the chance you’re going to miss errors with specific product lines, markets, or other logical groups of products. Bad data is a likely suspect here, especially if you’re dealing with very old data and/or integration with legacy software that has forced you to compromise a bit on data storage constraints. In addition to product and category pages themselves, consider logging issues with suggested, related, and recently viewed products. You’re missing out on impressions and potential revenue if any of these processes fail.

4. Email Signup

Any marketing director worth their salt will stress the importance of collecting email addresses at every opportunity. Sometimes an email address is the only thing you know about a potential customer, and sometimes it’s all you need to turn a shopper into a buyer. Any break in this process should be identified and fixed immediately. If your website gets a lot of traffic, it doesn’t take much to lose out on collecting a significant number of email addresses and a significant amount of potential future revenue. The trick here is that much of your business logic for presenting email signup to customers may exist client-side. Don’t forget to catch and log those exceptions as well as server-side issues.

5. Login & Registration

Well, you want to get to know your customers much better, right? Of course you do! All the better to turn wonderful customers into wonderful repeat customers by providing additional features and more relevant content. Failures here can lead to frustration and exits from your website as well as a degradation in your ability to provide a more personalized experience. Pay attention to your authentication and authorization logic as a whole, meaning you need to go beyond evaluating simple form data submission and validation issues. Social media login errors, out-of-sync authentication and authorization cookies, and errors generated by any additional authentication checks should be logged.

I’ll wrap this up with a short discussion about third-party services. They’re not specifically called out in my top five areas listed above, but they can definitely impact the performance and user experience of your website. There’s a good chance you’re using at least one or more third-party services as a solution for different business problems your company needs solved, and it’s likely these third-party services are an integral component of critical website features. Whether you're using a third-party service for calculating shipping, sending emails, or finding and displaying the cutest cat GIF of the day, the success of your site is depending on something that’s outside your control.

Protect yourself from these services. You should know their unscheduled "maintenance" periods better than they do. Chances are you're in the position to decide which third-party services your company uses or you have significant influence over that decision. Either way, be informed as to how they perform and have data to illustrate where their services are falling short. Are they reliable and worth the eleventy billion dollars they cost, or should your company be looking elsewhere for that cute animated kitty GIF service? It’s likely you’re already protecting yourself from failures here with some fallback business logic, but make sure you’re logging and alerting yourself when exceptions occur. They can have a serious impact on your customer’s experience and could prevent shoppers from becoming future buyers. That’s especially true if these services play in the five areas I describe above (e.g. shipping, tax, payment, personalization, etc.)

And my last parting thought: The same considerations regarding third-party services apply when your e-commerce platform becomes more of a distributed solution where those distributed services and applications are your own. You will almost certainly have other performance monitoring and metrics in place for your own services, but you still need to log, aggregate, alert, and protect yourself from yourself!

ABOUT Aaron Remaklus

Aaron Remaklus is Chief Architect and Development Manager for Speedway Motors, Inc. He leads agile development teams building high availability, extensible e-commerce platforms. A Nebraska Wesleyan alumnus, Remaklus taps into a diverse background in business, marketing, training, and software development in tackling large-scale problems.

Share this

The Latest

May 23, 2019

The first word in APM technology is "Application" ... yet for mobile, apps are entirely different. As the mobile app ecosystem is evolving and expanding from pure entertainment to more utilitarian uses, there's a rising need for the next generation of APM technology to stay ahead of the issues that can cause apps to fail ...

May 22, 2019

For application performance monitoring (APM), many in IT tend to focus a significant amount of their time on the tool that performs the analysis. Unfortunately for them, the battle is won or lost at the data access level. If you don’t have the right data, you can’t fix the problem correctly ...

May 21, 2019

Findings of the Digital Employee Experience survey from VMware show correlation between enabling employees with a positive digital experience (i.e., device choice/flexibility, seamless access to apps, remote work capabilities) and an organization's competitive position, revenue growth and employee sentiment ...

May 20, 2019

In today's competitive landscape, businesses must have the ability and process in place to face new challenges and find ways to successfully tackle them in a proactive manner. For years, this has been placed on the shoulders of DevOps teams within IT departments. But, as automation takes over manual intervention to increase speed and efficiency, these teams are facing what we know as IT digitization. How has this changed the way companies function over the years, and what do we have to look forward to in the coming years? ...

May 16, 2019

Although the vast majority of IT organizations have implemented a broad variety of systems and tools to modernize, simplify and streamline data center operations, many are still burdened by inefficiencies, security risks and performance gaps in their IT infrastructure as well as the excessive time it takes to manage legacy infrastructure, according to the State of IT Transformation, a report from Datrium ...

May 15, 2019

When it comes to network visibility, there are a lot of discussions about packet broker technology and the various features these solutions provide to network architects and IT managers. Packet brokers allow organizations to aggregate the data required for a variety of monitoring solutions including network performance monitoring and diagnostic (NPMD) platforms and unified threat management (UTM) appliances. But, when it comes to ensuring these solutions provide the insights required by NetOps and security teams, IT can spend an exorbitant amount of time dealing with issues around adds, moves and changes. This can have a dramatic impact on budgets and tool availability. Why does this happen? ...

May 14, 2019

Data may be pouring into enterprises but IT professionals still find most of it stuck in siloed departments and weeks away from being able to drive any valued action. Coupled with the ongoing concerns over security responsiveness, IT teams have to push aside other important performance-oriented data in order to ensure security data, at least, gets prominent attention. A new survey by Ivanti shows the disconnect between enterprise departments struggling to improve operations like automation while being challenged with a siloed structure and a data onslaught ...

May 13, 2019

A subtle, deliberate shift has occurred within the software industry which, at present, only the most innovative organizations have seized upon for competitive advantage. Although primarily driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI), this transformation strikes at the core of the most pervasive IT resources including cloud computing and predictive analytics ...

May 09, 2019

When asked who is mandated with developing and delivering their organization's digital competencies, 51% of respondents say their IT departments have a leadership role. The critical question is whether IT departments are prepared to take on a leadership role in which collaborating with other functions and disseminating knowledge and digital performance data are requirements ...

May 08, 2019

The Economist Intelligence Unit just released a new study commissioned by Riverbed that explores nine digital competencies that help organizations improve their digital performance and, ultimately, achieve their objectives. Here's a brief summary of 7 key research findings you'll find covered in detail in the report ...