Just Another Manic Cyber Monday: Are you Ready?

  September 06, 2013

Once September starts to roll around it seems like everyone’s preparing for something, be it returning to school, the fantasy football season, corporate budget planning, or looking for deals on end of model year vehicles. For me, it’s the time of year when I help people prepare for Cyber Monday, which has become the biggest online shopping day of the year. In fact, if the 2012 trend holds true, we are looking forward to a record-breaking 2013. Lelah Manz of Akamai offered the quote below, and accompanying graph, shortly after the smoke cleared in 2012:

"While we expect Cyber Monday to drive the most revenue based on the 3 previous years’ weekend tallies, what wasn't expected was that this 8.5 mm+ peak would be the highest retail traffic peak in history - 13% higher than Thanksgiving - or that it would drive more volume throughout the day - 16% higher than Black Friday."

holiday weekend retail traffic trends

Start Getting Your Website Ready Now

So, is your website really ready to capitalize on all that buying fervor? Think about it. By September, your company is surely finalizing new products and marketing campaigns for the holiday season. But all those preparations will be for naught if your website isn’t up to the challenge of increased holiday traffic – especially if your ops group doesn’t have a system in place to monitor and react to the impact of that traffic in real time. The truth is, if your organization doesn’t have a strategy in place by early September, you have a scant few weeks remaining to put one together. After that is done, you’re at serious risk of becoming ‘that company’ – you know, the one that makes headlines this holiday season for a massive site outage instead of record sales numbers - and the risk increases exponentially with every week you delay. If your company sells products that people want to give as gifts for the holidays, Cyber Monday is likely to be the busiest day of the year for your website. Here are a few statistics to underscore just how big of a year 2012 was for Cyber Monday:

  • 167 million US shoppers made a purchases online on Cyber Monday (53% of the American population)
  • 2012 Cyber Monday sales were estimated at $1.5 billion - a 30% increase over 2011
  • Cyber Monday sales accounted for 2.2 percent of all domestic sales

With all this revenue on the table, the last thing you want is to lose out on your share as a result of customers having a bad experience on your website. But is your site ready? Here are three factors you need to consider as you head into the holiday season.

1. Online Shoppers Don’t Know How Busy Your Site Is

People buy online because they don’t like crowded stores. The thing is, your online store is going to be crowded too. The difference is your customers know a brick and mortar store is crowded before ever setting foot inside - based solely off how difficult it is to find a good parking place - and they adjust their expectations for an in-store experience accordingly. There is no parking lot for your website, so you don’t get the benefit of adjusted expectations from your online customers. Online consumers expect to have the same experience on Cyber Monday as they had back in June when they were checking your site for a gift to send for their third cousin’s wedding.

2. Cyber Monday or Not - Customers Expect Consistent Website Performance

Even more than speed, consistency is what people want from their online experience. Maybe your site isn’t the fastest in its class, but if it’s reliably available and consistently responsive, it won’t make any difference to your loyal customers. Besides, where are folks going to go when their favorite retailer’s website is experiencing one of those sluggish moments or a total outage? If you plan accordingly, they could land on your site. Jupiter Research has shown that site outages result in 9% of online customers permanently abandoning a site and 48% to establish a relationship with a competitor. TRAC Research reports that slowdowns happen 10x more often and a 1-second response time delay can drop user satisfaction by as much as 16% and decrease conversions by up to 7%.  At the very least, you need to ensure that Cyber Monday won’t alter the normal performance of your website.

3. Website Slowdowns and Outages are Big News During the Holiday Season

Along with the increased scrutiny of organizations that monitor and report on web performance, news reporters and journalists are also excessively focused on Web performance between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. With countless, near instant social media platforms readily available to blast announcements of site slowdowns and outages, your customers are likely to know that there is a problem before you do… if you don’t have a solid plan in place. A quick online search of ‘Bank of America outage 2013’ will bring up a host of blogs, news articles and social posts related to their widespread outage in February of 2013, which lasted for several days -- now just imagine the reaction if that same outage occurred during the busiest shopping time of the year?

Considering all of that, if you have even the slightest doubt, now is the time to get your risk mitigation plan and measures in place.  If you wait until the new site is ready to go, it will be far too late to even test it properly – let alone fix what you find. I hope you now understand why you need to start planning for Cyber Monday. Stay tuned for part 2 next week, "A Checklist to Avoid Performance Disaster", on how to prepare your website for the biggest e-commerce day of the year.

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