Strong Uptime for Online Retailers as Holiday Shopping Kicks Off

The kickoff of the holiday shopping season revealed several key trends: people are shopping earlier, and are more comfortable shopping on mobile devices. There were some performance hiccups, mainly on Cyber Monday.

Data Center Knowledge

December 3, 2013

4 Min Read
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There were no major outages during the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, but  several trends emerged. People are shopping earlier and increasingly using mobile devices for their purchases.

A lack of page optimization across three screens, as well as slowdowns during particular parts of the transaction process were the major problems with some retail sites, according to monitoring firms Keynote and Compuware APM.

Some Hiccups on Cyber Monday

There were some performance hits on Thanksgiving night. Retail sites were, for the most part, prepared for the rush on Black Friday going into Cyber Monday. According to Keynote, Cyber Monday was when some retail sites began to see some hiccups. Sites were experiencing hiccups on specific devices, suggesting that they weren't optimized for three screens: mobile, tablet and desktop

  • HP desktop performance began slowing down significantly starting at 3:00 AM Pacific, according to Keynote.  Transactions slowed 30 percent compared to 24 hours earlier. The problems occurred during Search and with the Add to Cart steps; two integral points in a transaction. Keynote noted the same problems with Search and 'Add to Cart' on the HP smartphone site.

  • Sony Style on the desktop also had a major performance slowdown from about 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM Pacific.  In this instance it was the Product Details page that suffered a performance hit, taking upwards of 80-90 seconds in some cases. The Sony Style tablet measurement began having a higher error rate on Cyber Monday as well, primarily attributed to timeouts at the 300 second mark. The Sony Style webpage wasn't optimized for tablets, and were being served the full desktop page.

  • Overstock on the desktop had a big performance drop around 9:15 AM Pacific. Any user trying to use the Category and Product Details pages would have suffered from the slow response time.

  • The performance of Office Depot’s smartphone site took a hit at roughly 8:00 AM Pacific. There was no clear pattern to identify a particular page or app call being responsible, according to keynote.

  • Best Buy tablet pages delivered a very high error rate this morning into this afternoon due to timeouts. Again we are seeing a desktop-optimized site trying to load over a mobile network. Interestingly, the Best Buy smartphone site is not seeing these issues with timeouts.

Mobile Device Optimization Needed

The big performance hit, according to Compuware APM, was with mobile devices. While web pages were optimized, many retailers weren’t as prepared to deal with spikes in mobile traffic.

“With traffic spiking early on Black Friday and again around 8:00 pm, the average page response times remained around 8 seconds,” said says Steven Dykstra of Compuware APM's Benchmarks Division. “Our data shows that an average page response time over 6 seconds increase page abandonment rate from 12% to over 20%, which will significantly impact many retailers revenue this holiday season.”

Black Friday

Retailers were, for the most part, ready for Black Friday traffic. The only notable outage was Sears, according to Keynote. The Sears site returned a message stating it is too busy on the desktop and iPad. The outage started around 1:15 PM EST.

Site performance actually improved compared to the week leading up. According to Keynote:

  • Average performance for Black Friday through 2pm EST on desktop screen was at 15.822 seconds, improvement from the weekly average of 16.56 seconds leading up to Black Friday.

  • Smartphone performance  averaged 28.48 seconds, also slightly better than the weekly average.

There were no major outages, apart from Sears. There were some mild performance impacts:

  • There was an overall 10% performance slowdown between the hours of 6-7 am EST, and around 10:30 am EST, according to Keynote.

  • The Sony Style site experiences a 10 second, 30 percent slowdown between 2:30-3:30 am EST, with performance returning to normal by 5:30 am EST. The performance issues were related to searching.

Compuware APM noted huge increases in mobile device (tablet and smart phone) traffic beginning on Thanksgiving and continuing into Cyber Monday. During Black Friday, iPad traffic was up as much as 90 percent compared to last year (during 6:00-12:00pm ET). During that same time frame, iPhone traffic was up 117 percent respectively from Thanksgiving. iPad traffic outpaced iPhone 72 percent to 28 percent. From Keynote and Compuware APM's data, we can assume that it was tablet traffic, and lack of tablet specific-optimization that caused a good portion of performance hits.

Cyber Monday – Losing Relevance?

Given the increasing comfort with shopping on mobile devices and the busy shopping season starting earlier and earlier, is Cyber Monday becoming less of a big deal? “One theory is that it’s becoming a bit more irrelevant," said Dykstra. "People used to hop on their work PCs on Monday – now it’s not necessarily the case. There’s bigger acceptance, as people have had experiences with mobile shopping, That anxiety of giving information over the web is dissipating.”

While online shopping is becoming less confined to Cyber Monday, and less confined to the desktop, it's not a case of Cyber Monday disappearing. The traffic reports suggest that online shopping is spreading over the course of the holiday. Taking Thursday-Monday into account, the amount of online shopping traffic that occurs each year is growing. As to the actual shopping figures, the same might not be true, as some are reporting a drop off. From a traffic perspective, better optimization across devices is needed on the part of major retailers, and traffic spikes are occurring earlier than years prior, beginning on Thanksgiving itself.

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