The Pressure is on Retail Sites to Provide Top Performance This Holiday Season
November 21, 2011

Steve Tack

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Over $40 billion is expected in ecommerce sales this holiday season. Last year online shoppers spent $1 billion on Cyber Monday and Cyber Monday 2011 is on target to be the single highest online shopping day in history. This peak shopping period is a time when seconds can really make the difference between customers completing a transaction or abandoning the site to shop elsewhere.

Website speed and reliability is of critical importance during the upcoming 2011 online holiday shopping season. A slow or non-performing site can easily mean tens of millions of dollars in lost business with consumers taking their online dollars elsewhere.

Whether you’re an offline or online store, it is also important to consider the impact of mobile as it will be a critical tool in all facets of shopping this holiday season, from price comparison to purchases happening directly from consumers’ mobile devices. Not only will consumers use mobile to research products but, over 21 million plan to make purchases directly from their mobile devices.

There are several major performance challenges that online retailers must be prepared to meet on Cyber Monday and throughout the 2011 holiday shopping season:

Scale or Fail

Websites must scale to meet demand and remain stable under load. Insight into performance must be in real time, and organizations must be able to identify issues immediately to resolve them before sales are lost.

According to Forrester Research, online shoppers expect pages to load in less than two seconds, and 40 percent of them will abandon a site if pages take more than three seconds to render. This means that even a slight disruption or slowdown can translate into millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Understand Each Customer

It is no longer enough to monitor application performance; today’s online retailers must be able to view and understand the user experience from the user’s perspective. Without this insight it is impossible to ensure that customers are having smooth shopping experiences from browsing to final check out and delivery of products.

Organizations must have the ability to understand and manage actual user experience from a browser-click, through the web- and application-tiers, to the database, and back—for all users, all transactions 24x7. After all, if the customer is king, a system that ignores the customer’s experience is ignoring a critical need.

Application Performance Matters

Retail sites are more intricate than ever before. Customer- and partner-facing applications are exploding, applications are becoming increasingly complex, infrastructures are being virtualized and endpoint diversity, including smart phones and tablets, is growing. Online retailers must have continuous insight into third-party services and business transactions; they need more than just uptime stats and page views from which to make informed decisions.

Business owners need to know if all application components are meeting service level targets for each customer, how performance is affecting revenue, and how marketing campaigns are affecting usage. They should have a transaction-centric approach with precision visibility down to code-level of each business-critical transaction in order to spot the true root-cause of issues and resolve them immediately. After all, it only takes one application failure to destroy overall performance.

If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will

Regardless of how well prepared online retailers think they are, the fact is that stuff happens. Application errors, database performance, incomplete transactions, slowness in third-party services, bottlenecks in garbage collection, slow memory leaks, JavaScript errors – and many more issues – all stand ready to disrupt 2011 holiday sales.

The only true defense against these threats is a good offense. Organizations must monitor all transactions in real time, end-to-end, from user click, across all tiers, to the database of record and back. Exact, “deep atomic level” detail, with the ability to identify the root-cause of issues immediately, is the only way to truly be prepared.

Steve Tack is CTO of Compuware’s Application Performance Management Business Unit.

Steve Tack is Chief Technology Officer of Compuware's Application Performance Management (APM) business where he leads the expansion of the company's APM product portfolio and market presence. He is a software and IT services veteran with expertise in application and web performance management, SaaS, cloud computing, end-user experience monitoring and mobile applications. Steve is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and his articles have appeared in a variety of business and technology publications.
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