Black Friday Weekend has come to a close, which means the dust has settled, deals were scored, and discounts redeemed. Every year, retailers try to lure more customers with enticing sales tactics; this year, retailers spread the holiday cheer with major deals and discounts that started before Thanksgiving. Ecommerce companies made big money from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday as consumers did not hesitate to take advantage of the huge savings offered all week.

A rather well-organized and incident-free Black Friday and Cyber Monday managed to set even higher records in terms of sales and revenue. Adobe reported a growth of 16.9% in online sales on Black Friday compared to last year. Sales picked up even before the Black Friday weekend with retailers offering deals in advance; there was an 18.3% increase in sales on Thanksgiving Day.

Highlight – Positive Performance

Outages, degraded performance, and downtime due to maintenance were commonplace during the holiday sale season but retailers have not taken the lessons from previous years lightly. This time around, companies were better prepared to deal with the influx of traffic and delivering a better digital experience.

Customers were offered more options to avail deals and discounts. Retailers did not restrict the sale to online shoppers alone; for example, major businesses like Target allowed users to place orders online way ahead of the big weekend with an option to pick up the order in-store. This made it easier to handle the inevitable surge in orders and spread out the traffic without risking a server overload.

Lowlight – Traffic Jams

It wasn’t smooth sailing for all retailers; there were a few major retailers who were ill-equipped to handle the traffic and load.

H&M experienced intermittent outages on Thanksgiving Day that continued into the Black Friday weekend. The red data points in the graph below indicate the outages.

The website was experiencing server issues; the page displayed a Black Friday splash page during the outage.

Lowe’s experienced outages on Black Friday between 9am-6pm ET and another on Cyber Monday between 8:30pm-10pm ET. Both were partial outages; the site was accessible from some locations while it was accessible without issues from other locations.

The page displayed a splash screen to those users who were unable to access the website.

The outages were mainly a result of server overload. The sites were not able to handle the spike in users resulting in 503 errors.

Highlight – Mobile Performance

Smartphones are now used for everything, from ordering food, counting calories to booking hotels and flights. Retailers understand tech-savvy online shoppers and the importance of delivering fast and seamless user experience irrespective of the device used. Mobile websites are expected to be light and easy to navigate and almost all the big players in the ecommerce industry have taken heed. This has pushed up sales from mobile devices; according to Retail Dive, “Mobile accounted for 61% of all website traffic on Thanksgiving Day.”

Mobile sites have improved in performance this year. The mobile version of Internet Retailers top 50 sites managed to keep a page size of 3MB or less. The sites use fewer elements – hosts, third-party tags, images etc., making it faster which has a direct impact on the user experience and conversion rates.

Lowlight – Third-Party Tags

Most websites are inundated with third-party tags that are used to embed tracking pixels, display ads and even monitor site performance and conversion rates. Third-party tags are an additional overhead and add to the page load time. It can be a major blind spot for websites; a website’s performance can be degraded if any of the third-party tags don’t work or have issues connecting to the server.

An example of this is the slowdown that Gap faced early on Thanksgiving Day. One of the third-party hosts “tr.snapchat.com” had higher than usual response time that drastically slowed down the website.

A single third-party host pushed the webpage load time as high as 27 secs. It is important for websites to limit the number of third-party tags used on the page and to monitor the performance of these tags to ensure there is minimal impact to user experience in case of a major issue.

Overall Performance

This year, the ecommerce holiday season started without any major glitches. When compared to the first week of November, there was a minimal increase (about 2%) in page load times for the top 50 IR websites – both desktop and mobile sites loaded within 4 secs. Amazon, Apple, and Walgreens were some of the best performing websites.

From Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, most websites managed to do well mainly because the sales/deals were made available days and even weeks ahead. This strategy helped prominent retailers manage the incoming orders better while maintaining a positive digital experience.

The major challenge that the ecommerce industry faces is the unrestrained use of third-party tags and integrations. Retailers should not ignore the fact that managing third-party tag performance is an essential part of website optimization.

Read about optimization techniques that can help improve your website performance in our latest ebook, The 5 Ways Digital Experience Monitoring Can Save Your Online Retail Business.

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