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December 21, 2016updated 28 Mar 2017 5:24pm

Peaks and troughs clouds and servers

Black Friday is a marketing tradition imported from the US. Across the pond it marks the first day of sales after Thanksgiving.

By John Oates

It was brought to the UK and Europe by online retailers looking to get consumers to start their Christmas shopping early. In the last two years it has been enthusiastically embraced by High Street shops too.

But beyond the marketing hype the Christmas period still plays a massive role for all retailers and provides most with the lion’s share of profits for the entire year

The weeks before Christmas are just as vital for web retailers and accounts for £24.4bn out of total online spending for the year of £126bn, according to IMRG.

For online retailers this provides the first serious stress test of their systems in the run up to by far the busiest period of the year.

Although analysts like Verdict Research are predicting relatively weak growth this December it is still the biggest test for ecommerce systems.

Getting systems through this tough period means stopping any changes to software at least a month before.

It means load and performance testing in September. Online shoppers will be even less inclined for webpages to resolve than at other times of the year – they’re in a hurry and will simply go elsewhere.

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Using analysis of last year can help you estimate when your highest load will be and how many visitors your systems will need to deal with. If possible you want to push testing beyond your best, or worst, guess at how heavy loads will be in order to see what cracks first.

Alongside core systems you also need to think about extra load elsewhere like helpdesks and email requests. This might mean extra bodies as well as extra capacity.

Equally you need to think about partner organisations – you need to ensure their infrastructure is solid and tested too. Think holistically about everything from bandwidth to power supplies and cooling. Just as important as testing core infrastructure is getting the most detailed picture you can of what the experience is like for the user – there are lots of specialist tools to help you do this.

The big change predicted this year is that sales via mobile devices to exceed 50 per cent for the first time.

This makes testing the end user experience a far more complex matter.

The good news is that it is now much easier to almost instantly scale up infrastructure using cloud services and pay-what-you-use server deals. But make sure you’ve had the conversations you need to have long before the rush starts.

Retail whether offline or online is about more than just fulfilling a purchase. You need to provide a great service which will have people wanting to come back again.

That means thinking beyond just completing the purchase.

Customers at Christmas are likely to use tracking systems more frequently than at other times of year. As the big day approaches you will see more demand on text updates and customers repeatedly checking their delivery status – make sure these systems are solid.

It means being ready for the inevitable returns too.

Of course any good plan will include a plan B. That means testing your back-up systems just as rigorously as you test your main systems.

There’s some useful advice for etailers here:

https://www.worldfirst.com/uk/blog/selling-online/improve-customer-experience-at-christmas/

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