The holiday season is upon us and with it comes the most crucial quarter for all businesses. This month brings with it an increase in shoppers scouting for the best deals online; these consumers are ready to spend big during the holidays. Retailers prepare themselves weeks and months in advance for the days following Thanksgiving. The annual mega-sale, which starts with Black Friday followed by Cyber Monday, sees record high sales year after year, so it is no doubt one of the most anticipated events for both consumers and retailers.

For us, there is nothing more exciting than poring over data to analyze digital performance and this is the most opportune time for us to keep track of how well some of the top ecommerce websites handled heavy traffic and to determine how many of these sites delivered the best digital experience.

According to our CEO Mehdi Daoudi, there should be no excuse for outages this year:

“Each year, we see at least one notable website crash or suffer an outage during the peak shopping days of Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the like. But it’s 2016 and retailers have been selling online for 15 years or more. There are really no excuses for a major retailer’s site to crash due to the heavy traffic loads the holidays bring.” 

The sale mania has settled down and so far, there has not been any major disruptions or downtime. We noticed a dip in the number of outages this year when compared to the same period last year. Brands like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Groupon, and Best Buy have all learned from past experiences and failures – these websites managed to handle heavy traffic without any significant issues. This doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing for all major websites; there were some failures as well as slowdowns on some desktop and mobile sites.

The incidents we witnessed over the last several days can be categorized into intermittent “mini-outages” due to the sudden surge in website traffic and “Timeouts/Slowdowns” caused by third-party components. This article discusses some of the issues that we tracked over the weekend on the top 50 retail websites.

Heavy Traffic. High Load Times. Overloaded Servers.

Macy’s was the first website to suffer from performance degradation early on Black Friday. The website tried to handle heavy traffic by redirecting users to a page displaying a 10-second counter before sending them to the homepage. This led to a lot of frustration among users who took to Twitter to complain. Victoria’s Secret had intermittent failures during Black Friday and the following Saturday while Zulily and Shutterfly had outages on Sunday.

The chart below compares the document complete time of the best performing sites with those that had performance issues during the sale. The websites of Apple, Dell, Kohl’s, Systemax, and Staples maintained good performance through the weekend and Cyber Monday – the sites took less than 2 seconds to load.

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The mobile version of Macy’s website also faced downtime, shoppers were redirected to a page stating the site was undergoing maintenance and that it would be back up soon.

The Newegg Mobile site was down for a few hours the day after Black Friday between 2 AM and 1 PM ET and the site was returning an Internal Server Error message.

Most of the IR 50 mobile sites performed well except for a few that had intermittent issues. The top 5 sites including Rakuten, Apple, Amway Global, Amazon, and Victoria’s Secret loaded within 1.5 seconds.

Failing Third-Party Components. High Load Time. Mini-Outages.

The impact of third-party components needs to be stressed; Multiple sites were affected during Black Friday when third party tags and scripts failed to load. Walmart, Williams-Sonoma, and Jet were some of the sites that were impacted.

Jet  had slowed considerably with intermittent failures a day before Black Friday.

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A similar issue was reported on Cyber Monday. Barnes and Noble, Lenovo, Walmart, Newegg, and QVC were some of the sites that were affected.

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Lesson Learned

Retailers understand the importance of delivering a seamless digital experience for every user visiting the site. Websites were offering “pre-black Friday” coupons/deals days before the actual event in a bid to spread out the influx of traffic to the site. Many websites had planned downtime in the days leading up to the sale to ensure the servers were ready to handle the load without compromising performance or speed.

The takeaway from the incidents reported this year is that analyzing the performance of third party components is absolutely necessary. Websites tend to add many tags and scripts to track user behavior, conversion rates and to embed widgets or other components on the page; these can compromise performance significantly so it is best to cut down on the number of third party components and services used on your website.