Getting your eCommerce business ready for the peak shopping season

There’s no question that retailing is a tough market, and the advent of eCommerce has made it even tougher. The web has levelled the playing field among large and small retailers, and made everyone a potential global business, capable of trading 24/7 across borders and time zones.

In 2016, retail eCommerce sales worldwide were $1.86 trillion, with ecommerce revenues projected to grow to $4.48 trillion by 2021 as we continue to move our shopping activities, particularly our casual and out-of-hours shopping and browsing, away from physical stores towards digital platforms.

it is paramount for retailers that their online presence is reliable, scalable and secure

It’s also how we make many large-capital purchases such as holidays. The traditional travel agency and brochure has largely been surpassed by the ease, convenience and 24/7 availability of a web site. Unlike a brochure, a site can showcase locations in detail, pulling together multiple elements including text, pictures, video, maps, 360-degree immersive visualisation and external reviews.

In the UK, eCommerce now accounts for 17% of overall retail activity. It is paramount for retailers that their online presence is reliable, scalable and secure. That means being able to cope with naturally fluctuating demand, artificial traffic spikes and seasonal distortions. Anything that prevents access to a web site, slows down the loading of a page or the processing of a payment, will see customers abandoning their shopping baskets and going elsewhere.

Fatter pages

Data from Aberdeen Group shows that a one second delay in a web page loading can reduce sales conversion rates by seven per cent. What’s more, it can reduce page views by 11 per cent as people abandon load attempts. Customer satisfaction will also take a 16% hit. All from a one second delay.

The reason why such as small delay can have such a big impact comes down to the complexity of today’s web retail experience. Average page sizes are up (number of elements and their overall size), boosted by better quality images, video and animation.

In 2016, the average page size was 2.3MB, up from 1.8MB in 2014, 1Mb in 2012 and just 700KB in 2010. Images account for the lion’s share, around 1.5MB of the average 2016 page. With a 316% increase in average page sizes, it’s getting harder to get that content effectively to the user across a congested Internet.

The golden quarter awaits

We are getting close to the ‘golden quarter’ of Q4, the most critical time of year for retailers when most revenues and profits are booked. Knowing whether a site can cope with the busiest shopping periods of the year can make the difference between a bumper earning period, or a financial disaster.

stories of sites falling over completely on Black Friday make for retail horror stories

Stories of sites falling over completely on Black Friday (the day after US Thanksgiving that has become a global sales event, renowned for giant sales and discounts), malfunctioning half way through a transaction, or frustrating customers with improvised queueing systems and splash screens to hold back waves of traffic, make for retail horror stories.

But, they are easily avoidable.

Accelerate your content delivery

Key to coping with a massive influx of eager shoppers is effective content delivery. Ensuring that the words, pictures, videos and other components of a page get from retailer to user in the right order and quickly deliver immediate benefits. If content arrives at the endpoint in a disjointed order, it delays the user’s ability to begin their browsing experience.

Proprietary network protocols, such as Dynamic Packet Recovery (DPR), which is aimed at combating packet loss, help get content across inconsistent cellular networks as well as fixed line networks faster and more consistently than relying on conventional IP packet transmission.

Optimise for the target device platform

If a page is not optimised for the device and browser it is heading for, that too will impact customer experience, usability and sales conversion rates.

The use of mobile devices for shopping is substantial. Some 11% of shoppers worldwide use their phone every week for making online purchases, with 9% using tablets and 16% using desktop and laptop computers.

It means that smart retailers need content delivery solutions that can intelligently detect the endpoint making the web page request, and optimise the output returned to them for that screen size and browser.

Scale up when you need it

Milestone shopping days routinely catch out retailers. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Labor Day, Boxing Day and most recently, Amazon’s Prime Day.

All are examples of where surging demand for deals has simply overwhelmed retailers that didn’t have the ability to handle a sudden rise in web site traffic and transactions. Rather than serving a retail site from your own servers, using a content delivery option allows you to scale up globally.

using a content delivery option allows you to scale up globally

It can enable more traffic over more bandwidth, without the capital expenditure associated with multiple global servers, connectivity and other infrastructure.

One major retailer we have worked with, scaling was a major problem. Its retail site simply couldn’t cope with demand on busy days, causing a slowdown in page loading and payment processing. It resulted in abandoned baskets and a poor reputation.

By moving to a content delivery platform it can now scale up to meet demand on sale days. The only potential bottleneck is its own web platform, rather than the ability of users to reach the site in the first place.

Screen out the bad traffic

A Black Friday surge of eager shoppers is one thing, but it’s not the only example of mass traffic knocking over a site. Even the world’s biggest retailers have fallen foul of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, unable to determine or block automated bot traffic from legitimate customers.

Content delivery platforms can do this – acting as a ‘man in the middle’ and able to orchestrate the rejection of rogue and malicious traffic intended to take down a site, while letting legitimate users and good bot traffic through.

Maintaining a consistent and useable ecommerce experience is essential to today’s economic situation. Any time, any place, any device – your site has to look the same, work the same and work quickly enough to keep customers engaged. Content delivery is a significant component that all retailers need to consider as they get their online propositions ready for the Q4 sales surge.

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