Preparing for Q4 – Managing Server Load and Promotions Calendar

Leaves are turning orange, there’s a chill in the air, and although it feels like autumn has just arrived, the holiday season is right around the corner.  Q4 is packed with promotions, from Black Friday and Cyber Monday to holiday season ad campaigns, making it a critical time for eCommerce.

preparing for Q4

Image via Flickr by marcoverch

Famously, November is the time of year when many businesses go into the black, and estimates suggest that eCommerce sales will increase by 15.3% this upcoming holiday season.  According to Magento’s data, Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year for eCommerce sites, with Cyber Monday running a close second.  Q4 is therefore a key time for increased traffic on your site.  But increased site traffic can make your site slow to load or unresponsive.

If your site isn’t prepared for a major influx in traffic, your customers may have a poor experience, leading to a loss in your revenues.  One study found that 79% of online shoppers won’t return to sites that load too slowly.  Sites with slow load times also risk falling in the search engine ranks, since Google recently announced that page speed on mobile sites is now a factor in their algorithm.

Here are our suggestions for preparing for Q4 in order to maximize your potential revenue.

Invest in a Load Balancing Solution

When site traffic increases, you risk overloading and crashing your servers.  So, when preparing for Q4, Investing in a load balancing solution can help evenly balance your site’s traffic across multiple servers.  This will prevent any individual server from becoming overloaded.

Balancing the load will also reduce network latency and improve your customers’ experience overall.  Load balancing can also help you to implement a multi-cloud strategy to increase redundancy.  This also helps with disaster recovery, should something happen to the original.

Prepare an Error Message Alternative

Error messages can lead customers to abandon their carts and make them less likely to return to your site, threatening your Q4 revenue.  Creating an alternative can improve customers’ experiences and keep them around through the checkout process.  There are two main strategies to consider here when preparing for Q4.

First, a CDN, or a content delivery network, pulls and caches content from your server on an ongoing basis, and then distributes it to secure servers in different geographic locations.  If a traffic surge occurs, individual customers will be pulling information from the server located closest to them, rather than from wherever your server is located.  This puts the burden of additional traffic on the CDN network and means that your site will load faster for your customers.

With a CDN, you can then create a “waiting room” feature.  When the process server is struggling, an interstitial page will be displayed with words you choose such as “Our apologies for the delay,” or a fun holiday-themed message.  The page could also display the total wait time or show animations to encourage the customer to stick around.  It would also refresh periodically, and let the customer continue through as soon as the demand on the processing server declines.

Second, you might consider implementing a “fast lane” for certain shoppers, such as VIPs or returning customers.  These customers would be rerouted to a specially reserved processing server and moved through the checkout process more quickly.  This would help shepherd high-value customers through the queue and reward them for loyalty to your site.

Cache It if You Can

Different types of content will be absorbed by your CDN differently.  Static content that doesn’t change frequently or changes in predictable ways, such as JavaScript, images, or CSS, is cacheable, while more dynamic content, such as heavily personalized content related to login information, sports scores, or stock prices, is often uncacheable.  Identifying the types of content on your site will help you to create a caching strategy for high traffic periods in Q4.

Ultimately, the more you are able to cache, the more preparing for Q4 you do the more you will able to deal with traffic surges during the holiday season and beyond.

Scale as Needed

Your current server setup may be optimized for normal levels of traffic, but it may not be up to the task of dealing with sudden surges in traffic.  IronPlane’s custom Hosting architecture is built around the needs of each individual client, and is scalable for higher traffic periods, giving you the flexibility to scale up or down as needed.  Additionally, IronPlane’s team provides 24/7/365 monitoring and emergency support to deal with any unforeseen issues during this volatile quarter.

Test, Then Test Again

Running tests of your current setup is a critical component in preparing for Q4, and will ensure that your site stays up and running throughout the holiday season.  A few small changes to plugins or caching could help optimize your customers’ experience.  IronPlane’s experts can help you test your site in anticipation of holiday traffic surges, and develop a plan to optimize it for increased traffic.

 

Your Q4 promotions calendar will likely result in unpredictable traffic to your site through the end of the year.  Having it go down due to traffic surges will turn customers away, and is one of the worst-case scenarios during this busy season.  Fortunately, there are steps you can take for the high traffic surges that accompany this type of busy period.  Preparation is critical to making this season (and beyond) a successful one for your eCommerce site.