E-retailers: How to absorb a load increase without compromising the customer experience

Following the closure of non-essential physical stores, people's consumption in France has naturally turned towards e-commerce websites. This sudden load increase does not seem to be troubling major websites, but this is not always the case for smaller platforms. 

Major e-commerce players are well equipped to handle this situation and ensure a smooth purchasing experience for their customers. However, when their back-end IT fails and their platform is not scalable, smaller e-commerce players can rapidly find themselves in trouble. For some, it is not too late to plan ahead for increased traffic, which will probably spike again, and take on board the following advice:  

1. Look into the possibility of upgrading

While the current load increase is due to exceptional circumstances, subsequent increases will not be accidental. In addition to major recurrent events, such as sales and 'French Days' (France's answer to Black Friday), they can be due to specific marketing campaigns, special offers involving some or all of your products, or a news item published on a high-profile media platform. These are situations that you can plan for.  

The first step involves checking available upgrades of your hosting solution, and which conditions are applicable in order to anticipate load increases well in advance. Small e-commerce players often prefer the ease and security provided by a shared plan, which can rapidly show its limits in the event of huge flows, leading to bugs and slowdowns on your website. Opt instead for a forward plan that is determined in the early stages and linked to your business KPIs, which should not only be financial, but also focussed on website redirection types, for example.   

2. Install a CDN

According to the type and geographical zone of your website (ultra-local or international), don't hesitate to use a content delivery network (CDN). This tool, which can be deployed fast, will enable you to put your website, or at least some of its pages, on cache in several locations around the planet, so that the desired pages load faster than others, regardless of where your website is hosted or viewed. 

While a CDN may initially seem to be a tool reserved for major e-commerce websites, and can rapidly become costly, there are free solutions available, as long as you do not necessarily want to host your entire website on it. Choose your most strategic pages, such as the homepage or pages related to products with special offers.   Along with this CDN, caching plug-ins can be very useful and help you improve navigation on your website according to the technology used (WordPress, Shopify, etc.) 

3. Optimise visuals

Failure to optimise images is a frequent and easily avoidable mistake, which can be fatal for your buyers' navigation experience. Large image files, sometimes several megabits in size, are frequently the Achilles' heel of content and e-commerce websites, while visitors are seeking a smooth and fast experience.  Working on these images can help you optimise your website and reduce loading times, without having to review the whole structure.

There are free and easy-to-use optimisation tools out there, sometimes in the form of simple plug-ins, which you can use to simply and effectively compress your visuals. Initially, if you do not want to review the whole catalogue, focus on images of products on special offer and visuals used as additional content.  In order to ensure the effectiveness of optimisation carried out, it is a good idea to conduct performance tests, looking at the various types of mobile network (3G, 4G, 4G+, etc.), as 70% of connections today are via smartphones and only a lightweight website will get through the obstacle of a weak mobile network.  

4. Organise stress tests

If you have not yet experienced visitor spikes, but you expect to over the coming days, it is essential to know how your website reacts in various scenarios, in order to more effectively identify flaws and improvements to be made rapidly. Put your website through a stress test to measure web performances and scalability, under the pressure of heavy traffic loads, by simulating hundreds or thousands of visitors.

You will then be able to measure the performances of each request, page and HTTP transaction. By carrying out stress tests before and after the optimisation of your website, you will also be able to identify points of comparison and determine the right KPIs to measure its performance and monitor improvements. 

5. Monitor you web performance

If your website is growing or you own a lot of brands, active performance monitoring will provide you with more accurate analysis of potential areas for improvement, according to the KPIs you have defined. You will then simply need to develop these areas before the expected increase in traffic.  

6. Secure your website

While monitoring fraud, which is a major concern for both online retailers and buyers, involves complex tasks that are rarely directly managed by small and medium-sized e-retailers, there are several ways to secure your website at a relatively low cost. You can begin by building privileged relationships with the payment service providers that you deploy on your website. They will help you understand anti-fraud rules, according to various purchase types, and will be able to explain the rules to be established at the outset in order to provide a minimum level of security for purchases, such as 3DS2 compliance. They will be your best advisers. 

7. Organise penetration tests 

All websites are vulnerable and can be hacked. Work with a partner that can carry out penetration tests on your e-commerce website for you, in order to identify and secure existing flaws. In this way, you can avoid a third-party taking control of your website, or inserting code in your forms, to avoid malicious behaviour that could endanger your business and the security of your customers' data (particularly banking details).  

Published in LSA