Holiday shopping makes up a large chunk of yearly ecommerce sales, with over 20% of total retail sales happening over the holidays and peak demand period of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
And while a select few ecommerce website crashes from increased seasonal traffic turn out to be a blessing in disguise, the vast majority have cost retailers millions of dollars over the years. And the worst part? Many could have been prevented.
This year, take your uptime and conversions seriously with help from a trusted product discovery vendor. Here’s how your vendor should help you prepare for the most important selling period of the year.
How Your Product Discovery Vendor Should Prepare You for the Holidays
True partners in product discovery understand that conversion optimization and product discovery benefits are only as good as your uptime and site performance. For this reason, they have a robust process of performance validation and monitoring in place months before the holiday season hits.
Here are initiatives they can help you maneuver ahead of increased holiday traffic:
1. Automate alerting
Automatic alerting should be set up year-round to help ecommerce teams navigate all periods of traffic surges — from the holidays to new product launches to overall business growth.
This measure ensures teams are aware of incidents across important metrics within seconds. Some metrics to flag are:
- Queuing times. This is how long it takes to send, store, and receive messages between software components. The quicker the queuing time, the more quickly your customers will ultimately find their intended products.
- Per-service latencies. This is the time lag between computing operations in your ecommerce tech stack. A high volume of traffic can increase the probability of issues, such as search performance degradation.
- Memory and CPU consumption. High resource consumption can lead to slow website performance and a worsened user experience, causing delays in page loading, product browsing, and checkout processes.
For increased effectiveness, coordinate how your team will handle the alerts, including who’s accountable for which metric and appropriate response times.
2. Scale out performance testing
Imagine a sudden increase of highway traffic by 80% — which happens to be the average percent increase in ecommerce traffic over the holidays. It’s only natural for there to be an increase in accidents, slowdowns, and other issues if proper preparations (i.e., road expansions) weren’t made ahead of time.
This is similar to the back-end product discovery experience. Just like a road supervisor would recommend opening up more lanes to facilitate the flow of more traffic, proactive product discovery vendors can help you anticipate periods of increased site traffic so you can make the necessary adjustments to your site ahead of time.
They’ll scale out testing to over 500% of current average daily traffic volume based on historical patterns to validate the continued performance of:
- Database connections
- Monitoring infrastructure
- Networking infrastructure
- Response latencies
- Data ingestion SLA times
And the best product discovery vendors have infrastructure that automatically expands and contracts based on traffic volume year-round — without costing you extra.
This means if your team forgets to tell your vendor about upcoming traffic increases, your system won’t be slowed or brought down. And forgetting to tell your vendor to scale back in doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying for additional capacity you don’t need after the higher traffic period is over. (Cheers to one less thing to keep track of!)
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3. Perform chaos and anti-fragility testing
But what happens if despite all the highway planning, a car does break down and clogs up traffic, or a bridge is out? What if someone drives down the wrong side of the road?
With chaos and anti-fragility testing, these events are introduced artificially so solutions surface that ensure traffic continues moving (i.e., cars are re-routed to a different highway if a bridge is under construction).
In product discovery, this translates to verifying that critical features — think search, browse, recommendations, collections request/response times, etc. — aren’t impacted. To prevent downtime, testing works to validate good outcomes in the event of:
- Disabled MySQL
- Disabled index builders
- Disabled personalization queues
- Disabled supplemental ranking engines
- Availability zone and data center failures
4. Perform special holiday on-call procedures
During the months leading up to the peak season, your vendor will help you confirm the following teams are coordinating closely:
- Front-end and client teams
- Data science and result quality teams
- Core platform and response performance teams
Best practice is for the entire account and product team to monitor processes throughout the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period, with elevated focus for other holiday periods as well, like the day after Christmas (Boxing Day).
In addition, your vendor should recommend you double on-call rotation and solidify fallbacks and clear contingency plans in the case of site crashes. (Remember to loop in key stakeholders to develop and test the plans before they’re needed!)
5. Code freeze during critical time periods
Have your product discovery vendor freeze all deployments except for the most critical fixes from Black Friday through to Cyber Monday.
This ensures that the ecommerce site remains stable and minimizes the risk of performance issues or downtime while customers are shopping. Implementing a code freeze also allows developers to concentrate on monitoring and addressing any issues that may arise, rather than spending time on coding and implementing new changes.
Just as is the case with the on-call procedures, best practice is to plan ahead, complete any necessary updates, and test them well in advance of the holiday rush. And during the code freeze, closely monitor site performance while keeping all relevant stakeholders informed. This allows for timely identification and resolution of any issues that may arise.
Other Ways You Can Prepare for Increased Holiday Traffic
As your product discovery vendor is helping you manage back-end holiday preparations, your ecommerce team can advance on further adjustments to your platform:
- Get creative with your cart abandonment strategy. Use retargeting campaigns or abandoned cart emails infused with humor and discounts to address incomplete orders. (Check out how to reduce cart abandonment rates in the first place.)
- Ramp up your marketing presence. Plan and schedule social media events, holiday promotions, and other festive initiatives at least one to two months in advance. For increased brand awareness, consider partnering with micro influencers with more engaged audiences.
- Make product discovery easier for shoppers. This includes offering predictive text when searching, dynamically re-ordering category pages according to user behavior, and enriching attributes with ever-changing buyer trends, among other solutions.
- Embrace omnichannel. Integrate online and offline data to provide a seamless, cohesive shopping experience for customers. This can mean allowing mobile shoppers to buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), and then retargeting them with relevant email campaigns.
See how else you can optimize your holiday sales strategy to streamline the purchasing process, increase buyer confidence, and hit key business goals during the busiest — and most lucrative — time of the year.
Holiday Readiness Starts Today
Delivering exceptional customer experiences — no matter the season — starts with taking uptime, performance, and service stability seriously. After all, the best conversion optimization and machine learning technologies are moot if you can’t deliver fast and stable service consistently.
That’s why you should partner with a product discovery vendor with strong site reliability practices and holiday-readiness procedures.
Find out other criteria on which to judge your product discovery vendor in our RFP template.
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