Halloween marks the opening of the peak holiday season, when retailers have to be on top of website performance.

Halloween is here, and this marks the beginning of a daunting time of year for online retailers. This has little to do with spooky costumes and decorations, but everything to do with the fact that once Halloween fades into the rear view mirror, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the holiday season will soon be upon us. For the unprepared retailer, this can be more frightening than any Halloween, zombie or vampire movie.

It’s not uncommon for digital business owners to go through most of the year under the impression that their site is perfectly fine, and thus not be overly spooked at their prospects for success from Thanksgiving through the New Year. However, the associated traffic spike puts a whole different kind of pressure on websites and mobile apps, and can reveal issues that only organizations who have implemented a culture focused on digital performance would be on top of.

There are a number of specific issues that the holiday season often sheds an unfriendly light on, so in the spirit of Halloween we are happy to demystify. Optimizing digital performance to a high quality experience isn’t easy, especially if you’re struggling with some of the top five fears like:

1.  Being Unprepared

“Be prepared” sounds like a broad piece of advice that, while obviously a good idea, isn’t actually all that helpful. So the message here is to test well in advance of peak events like the holiday season. Test from an end-user perspective to make sure you get an idea of what they will experience. And make sure your tests actually reflect the circumstances of peak load time.

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Too many digital business owners wait for something to go wrong before they worry about making improvements and optimizing performance. But the goal here is not to spend all of Black Friday and Cyber Monday just trying to survive the firefight. If you can get out from underneath this kind of technical debt and focus on innovation, you can drastically improve how your customers interact with your brand. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before taking action.

2. Sampling

There’s nothing more frightening than knowing that you don’t know something. So from a performance management perspective, looking at an aggregate traffic analytics of your daily, weekly and monthly visits isn’t enough. Counting on a sampling of what users experience only gives you a vague idea of what your users are going through, and thus makes it very difficult to gain any real insight.

It is important to load test in advance of peak shopping events like the upcoming holidays, but it is no substitute for real user monitoring. You need a comprehensive strategy that includes load testing, synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring to ensure you’re prepared for every visitor. Relying on sampling not only limits your understanding of what’s happening across the app delivery chain, it leads to the next major scare that organizations face.

3. Discovering Customer Experience Degradations After the Fact

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In today’s digital world, your apps ARE your brand. Quite possibly the worst Halloween nightmare is waking up to an angry call from your boss asking what is wrong with your web and mobile sites or your mobile app. “Our conversions have fallen through the floor, the call center is getting slammed with questions from customers who can’t check out online, and we’re trending on Twitter – Fix It!” It is the nightmare scenario that keeps digital business owners up at night, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Staying ahead of the performance game means having a digital performance strategy that delivers real user monitoring on every single transaction. This will ensure you will see any and all issues as they develop and before customers do. Without this ability your customers become your ‘early warning system,’ which means that by the time you learn about an issue they are already frustrated and abandoning transactions. At that point it’s likely only a matter of minutes before they vent on social media. This is not only damaging to your bottom line, but it can also have a negative effect on your brand equity and reputation going forward.

You will lose revenue and customers to the competition, and you lose the trust of your customers which takes a long time to earn back. This can be avoided by staying on top of your customers digital experiences at all times, and proactively addressing issues as they happen, before your customers are impacted.

4.  Lack of Actionable Insight

Gettting alerted to problems is all well and good. After all, knowing you have a problem is the first step toward solving it. However, a digital performance solution that alerts you to issues but doesn’t tell you exactly what to do about it has limited value. Ignorance is bliss, but not when you are aware of an issue but blind to the root cause.

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The more time spent between identification and resolution, the more conversions you lose, and the more money gets flushed away. So a digital performance management solution that doesn’t include root cause analytics makes the whole idea of addressing an issue before your users are affected is very difficult to execute.

Digital business owners don’t just need more raw data; they need answers. They need insight into the exact digital experience they are providing in order to identify conversion road blocks. The good news is that today synthetic monitoring allows businesses to not only detect, but classify, identify and gather information on root causes of performance issues, and provides instant triage, problem ranking and cause identification. ‘Smart analytics’ reduces hours of manual troubleshooting to a matter of seconds.

5. Being Blind to Third Parties

In a perfect world, third-party services can improve end-user experiences and deliver functionality faster than standalone applications. However, there is a potential downside. Modern applications often call on a variety of third-party services (Facebook widgets, pop-up chats, etc.) that are outside the view of traditional monitoring systems. Known unknowns like this should be enough to scare the socks off of any digital business owner. Hinging your site or app’s performance on a service that you don’t have any insight into is a frightening proposition.

But it gets worse – even though you often don’t have insight into third parties, when they experience issues it can still have a dramatic effect on your site. The issue is not your fault, but when Facebook crashes, that “like” or login button can still hang up your entire site. Your users don’t know that it’s Facebook’s problem not yours. All they know is your site is not meeting their expectations – suddenly Facebook’s problem is your problem.

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Digital business owners can solve this by making sure they can see these services from the get-go, map any performance issues to them and act within minutes to negate the problem.

Overall, there is a great deal to worry about heading into the Holiday season. Development, IT and digital business teams should be nervous – and they need to be prepared now. Optimize your site well ahead of time, focus on delivering great customer experiences across web, mobile web and mobile apps – and be prepared to beat back the demons with a comprehensive digital performance management strategy.

Dynatrace provides web performance monitoring services to 123 retailers in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 500.

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