A guide to testing retail websites to ensure they can meet peak demand on the big online shopping holidays around Thanksgiving weekend.

Robert Hamilton, director of product marketing for the Incapsula service at Imperva

Robert Hamilton, director of product marketing for the Incapsula service at Imperva

Are you ready for the upcoming Black-Friday-to-Cyber-Monday weekend and the rest of the shopping season?

If you’re one of the ever-growing numbers of online shoppers, you’re undoubtedly looking forward to the sales, discounts, incentives and premiums offered on these days.

As an e-commerce vendor, however, are you fully prepared for the increased traffic and challenges the holiday season brings? Industry experts predict that on average, individual consumers will open their purses to the tune of $743 during the frenetic weekend. That’s a 47 percent increase from last year’s record-breaking total. For e-commerce sites, taking advantage of the holiday rush means you need to be ready for the huge spike in online traffic when customers start comparing prices and shopping.

How does Amazon Web Services Prepare for a Big Sale?

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For a little perspective, the teams responsible for Amazon Web Services spent a year to prepare for the Amazon Prime Day shopping event last July. It took that long to make sure the infrastructure was ready to scale for a massive influx of activity.

The online holiday shopping season is longer and more far-reaching than Amazon’s mid-year, 30-hour sales event. In fact, some experts say the “season” actually begins with back-to-school sales in August. The ensuing five-month sales period also includes Halloween (Oct. 31), Thanksgiving (Nov. 23), Black Friday (Nov. 24), Small Business Saturday (Nov. 25) and Cyber Monday (Nov. 27).

A Shift in Buying Behavior

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both part of a general shift in worldwide buying patterns. No longer do people want to fight holiday crowds at large megamalls. And mail-order catalog businesses have had their share of setbacks, too. With each passing year, consumers are more comfortable using their personal electronic devices (laptops, tablets and smartphones) for shopping. After all, the convenience can’t be beat.

Malware-infected botnets can drive away human visitors by slowing down your site’s performance.

With all this consumer activity rushing toward online vendors, the holiday season has become a critical period for e-commerce retailers. In this age of large data breaches, can websites promise worry-free security assurances? A reliable platform? An efficient and intuitive shopping and checkout experience? Data suggests that online shoppers are impatient and will only wait five seconds for a web page to load before skipping to another site. And worse: 68 percent of visitors will most likely never return to a poor performing site.

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WebOps teams need to balance consumer demand, security and provide a seamless user experience. The ultimate goal is to maintain a highly responsive, highly scalable, and “fault-tolerant” web service. A recent article from ITProPortal listed a few important things to consider.

  • Make sure your site’s infrastructure can scale well beyond expectations
  • Employ load balancing to prevent debilitating downtime
  • Do your best to achieve zero downtime
  • Use web application firewall technology to shield your apps
  • Upgrade infrastructure/architecture as needed and ensure patches are applied
  • Commit to a long-term maintenance schedule

Building a Resilient Single Stack Infrastructure

Tom Barker who teaches at Philadelphia University and is the author of “Full Stack Web Performance” says that we are in the midst of a “tidal change in the software engineering and IT industries.”

With the shift to cloud platforms and the availability of tools and libraries, WebOps teams can build a scalable infrastructure for web performance and capacity planning. The focus Barker says should be on these three areas.

  • Client-side: Performance testing tools are valuable to establish a best practices criterion.
  • Infrastructure: Using a content delivery network (CDN) and a corresponding cloud service greatly helps reduce latency issues.
  • Operations: For ongoing performance issues, an application performance management tool (APM) is critical.

With bots representing a significant amount of total website traffic (51.8 percent) and malicious bots representing 28.9 percent of total traffic, e-commerce sites can come pay a performance penalty or come under DDoS [distributed denial of service] attacks that make them unavailable.

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For example, malware-infected botnets can drive away human visitors by slowing down your site’s performance. In addition, they may scrape information and attack your core network. During the holiday season when online consumers will be spending over $1 billion a day, latency issues and downtime should be at a minimum.

Now is the time to take a look at your web infrastructure to ensure good performance, a solid user experience and protection from malicious bots before the coming shopping deluge. If you haven’t recently tested your site’s response time take some time to do it now—a small investment before the holiday shopping season begins can yield big returns once it starts.

Incapsula is a cloud-based application delivery service provided by Imperva designed to protect websites and improve their performance.

 

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