With holiday shopping season around the corner, eCommerce companies are devoting countless hours to testing, optimizing, and retesting in order to make sure their sites are running properly. IT Ops teams are tasked with taking steps to prevent the issues that often occur during Black Friday Weekend as a result of a rapid increase in traffic; however, the unfortunate truth is that, with so many elements of modern website in the hands of third party vendors, some failures are impossible to avoid regardless of how thoroughly you prepared.
For this reason, devising a failure plan should be a focal point of your holiday shopping preparation strategy. Whether you are plagued by transaction failures, latency, or outages during prime sale hours, performance issues are always a possibility—how you handle those issues is what determines your survival.
Build a Contingency Plan
If you experience an outage or user experience has been significantly impacted, having a contingency plan in place can save you from the costly impact of downtime during a shopping holiday.
The first step is identifying the various components of your site that could be brought down. This would include your network, servers, load balancers, applications, DNS provider, CDN, acceleration services, mobile optimization vendors, and other third party vendors. An in-depth analysis of these areas will help streamline the troubleshooting process in the event of an outage.
Building redundancies within your first and third party infrastructure, and having the ability to turn off or replace third party vendors will provide you with ample backup to maintain positive user experiences and prevent major losses in revenue.
Keeping your customers in the loop when an outage occurs is also a good way to encourage brand loyalty. Prepare a messaging plan with your marketing and social media managers that will act as a communication guide with your users. When The New York Times suffered a complete outage, they demonstrated a communication system that was simple, yet effective in notifying their users when they were experiencing issues in real-time.
Keep a Creative Error Page Handy
Errors are to be expected during maniacal shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Insane traffic spikes can have your customers go from browsing and filling up their shopping carts to staring at an ugly error page in a matter of a few clicks. Taking a little extra time to create a funny page with some CSS styling or interactive traits can be a simple way to keep your customers from ditching your site altogether and heading over to a competitor.
Your page should contain a message to the user that will convey your concern for the issue and assure them that your team is working to resolve it. It’s also important to consider creating an offsite page with a different provider—this way, if you suffer a major issue within your infrastructure, you can still reach your users.
When it comes to an error page, a little creativity can go a long way. An effective error page message will fit into a current marketing campaign, ultimately strengthening your brand’s reputation. Keeping your PR and marketing teams updated throughout the event is critical to proactively protect your brand and profits.
When in Doubt, Offer a Coupon
Latency, timeouts, and other issues can happen for reasons that are beyond your control. Nevertheless, customers often consider these interruptions compelling enough to shop elsewhere. So instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that a performance issue doesn’t affect your sales, entice your customers to come back when the problem is fixed with a coupon or gift card.
All it takes is a simple discount off a purchase or some spending credit to keep your customers happy and the costly damages to a minimum.
The best way to deal with a performance disaster is to always be prepared. While testing and optimizing can help fill in the gaps, ensuring that you have a sound failure plan in place will help minimize the consequences when the inevitable crisis strikes. Utilizing an external monitoring tool to keep a close eye on your performance before, during, and after sale hours will allow you to catch performance issues early and immediately deploy your contingency plan.