Video: How to Prepare for Peak Traffic Days
Is your commerce site ready for the big time? We're talking about Black Fridays, product launches, back-to-school weeks, and any other time you are going to get exponentially more traffic than you would normally get. A lot of people just assume their site/server/staff can handle such increased volume, but unless you've tested it by running 10 or 20 or 50 times the traffic through it, you really don't know.
The problem is that scaling doesn't work in a linear way. Let's say you're currently using 10 percent of your server's capacity. Simple math would indicate that you could handle 10 times as much traffic and be at 100% of capacity, so you should be fine.
But it doesn't necessarily work that way in the real world. It could be that there is some sort of hidden flaw that flares up when that volume of traffic comes through: maybe you hit some sort of race condition, or a caching system starts to cycle too fast, or you get a database bottleneck and everything gets backed up behind it. It could be some little glitch that's easily fixed and everything goes back to normal—but if you fix it halfway through the biggest sales day of the year, it's too late.
So how can you get ready?
1. Do performance testing.
Your goal should be to mimic live as much as possible. You don't just want to run the test on your local server. You want to spin up a similar environment, or maybe spin something up at 1/10th of the scale and hit it hard with lots of capacity. Or do it through Amazon and only run it for an hour or something to save on cost.
Once you have your environment, you have to try to simulate actual traffic. You don't want to just hit the home page repeatedly, because that's not how your customers interact with your site. They go through the checkout, and click around on product pages, and search, and log in to their account. They do a whole bunch of random stuff, and you have to try to mimic that. You can't do it perfectly, but you want to hit all the parts of your site and throw a bit of randomness in there to try to get as close to the real experience as possible.
In a perfect world, you would have gone through a similar event like Black Friday already and learned from it. But maybe you're a first-timer. Or maybe you're launching a big new product unlike anything you've had before, and it's backed by a TV spot, and you're expecting a massive volume of sales to follow. So test your site and be sure.
2. Prepare for stock issues.
Stock problems can obviously be much worse in a high-volume situation. On a slow day, if an order goes through when you are out of stock, maybe you could just call that person and say oops, sorry, but it's going to take a couple days to fill that order.
But if you have a huge burst of traffic, you might sell 20 items when you only have two in stock. And you can't even get 18 on your next order, and it's going to take six weeks to get that many, and now you have a real problem.
So if that happens, what do you do? How are you handling out-of-stock issues? Do you have messaging to say this is going to be delayed? Are you going to shift customers to alternate recommended products? These are all things you need to consider.
3. Set staffing levels appropriately.
You don't want to be in a situation where your website can handle the traffic, but your human workers cannot. In a physical store, everyone knows they need to up the number of sales staff to deal with a huge crush of shoppers. But when it comes to the website, sometimes people forget that someone still needs to put 10 times as many items in boxes, and deal with 10 times as many email complaints, and talk to 10 times as many customers via live chat.
How does your current process scale? How fast does it take you to do an order? Maybe you need to think about automated shipping, or standardized box sizes, or any one of a number of other things that will make your staff's lives easier during high-volume times.
As you can see, there are quite a few things that you can do to make sure your opperating smoothly during those peak sales days throughout the year. Some of these things you can do yourself. Some of them you might need some technical support. If support is what you need, or you'd like to discuss this further, contact us. We've been through it all before and can share our experience.