How to Be Ready for the Online Holiday Shopping Season

Mark Sarbiewski

This holiday season, Web site performance will be more important than ever. Web retailers have already previewed a flurry of deals, discounts and online incentives as they look for strong sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the busiest online shopping days of the year. Forrester Research recently forecasted that Web sales will be more than $156 billion in 2009, representing approximately 6 percent of the total U.S. retail pie.
Retailers need to be equipped to handle the increase in Web traffic that holiday sales bring to their sites. Poor Web site performance or security vulnerabilities can create significant losses, including shopper dissatisfaction, site abandonment and missed sales.
Will your eCommerce site be able to handle the increase in traffic as the holidays approach? And even though it's too late to prepare for Black Friday, don't despair. Software-as-a-Service testing solutions can get you up and running quickly and cost-effectively to prevent the further loss of sales throughout December and prepare for future peak seasons next year.
IT professionals should check this list before going live to find out if they are ready for the rush:
Analyze traffic patterns and proactively prepare for growth

Analyzing last year's online holiday traffic patterns will help identify peak dates and times in advance.  Does your site peak on weekdays, weekends or holidays? Will it change over time? How large was last year's holiday peak?  What growth rate do you anticipate? Plan your site's capacity so that it can scale to the predicted volumes with a reasonable buffer.
Validate functionality

Can your users easily order products and check shipping status? Can customers find out about specials and promotions? Are there places where users are getting stuck and abandoning your site? Make sure everything functions as planned with quality management software, and if necessary, improve the usability to increase the likelihood of obtaining customer orders.
Thoroughly test enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM)

For your ERP and CRM systems, test all the pieces individually. Validate that all Internet gateways, Web servers and e-mail servers are working properly and at their peak performance. If the front-end is bringing in the business, can your back-end execute it? Just as important, however, is to do robust end-to-end testing of the business processes that these systems are meant to support.
Validate the security of your connections, passwords, and user input fields

Is your site secure?  Make sure your site is safe by testing for security vulnerabilities with application security software. Be sure to encrypt credit card numbers and other customer private information.  It's also important to make sure customers can login easily-by testing the login scripts and making sure that customers can easily obtain their passwords if they have forgotten them or if they change them periodically to ensure security.  And finally, validate all user input to prevent against the most common hacker attacks like cross-site scripting and SQL injection.
Test from both inside and outside the firewall

Check the functionality of your system from both inside and outside your firewall to ensure that it is working correctly. Testing inside the firewall can reveal many performance issues, but only by testing outside the firewall can organizations be assured that all performance bottlenecks have been eliminated from their Web-based applications.
Validate partner performance

Can your partners match your speed, or will they stall your business? These connections are often overlooked because they work today and worked yesterday, but do not forget that a new front end or different business mix can make yesterday irrelevant.
Validate capacity

How many users can your site currently accommodate? Will it be able to handle the holiday rush? Find out with load testing software. Determine the expected increase in user loads. What hardware or software modifications can you make to increase your site's capacity? Perform diagnostics to help tune your application and system configuration - that alone could double performance and capacity. 

Monitor all business processes from the end-user perspective

You are probably already monitoring your entire infrastructure (boxes, routers, CPU utilization, memory, disk space, I/O rate), but you should tie it all together by monitoring from the end-user perspective with end-user monitoring software. Focus on the transaction speed, throughput and how real users traverse your site.   
Monitor the site's traffic 24x7

Observe site activity as it happens because learning of problems immediately gives you the opportunity to react quickly. Real-time monitoring software will alert you when upcoming problems are approaching a level that will start to affect your customers.  Always remember, it's better to be notified when an issue is about to occur than after things have already blown up.
Anticipate problems and fix them on the fly

There is one thing you can always count on with your Web site-problems will happen.  Be prepared for them and make sure you are able to fix them as they happen. Use monitoring software to create an early warning system and make sure everyone follows the right processes if problems arise. You need to have the ability to correct performance problems live without having to shut down your site.
Sit back and relax

Now that you have tested and tuned every single aspect and component of your system and have established robust monitor and alerting capabilities, you can rest assured that you have done everything you can to ensure the proper functioning of your site. Enjoy the online shopping season!

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 30, 2009 8:11 PM JPatil JPatil  says:
Do you know is unable to handle CyberMonday's traffic? This site was down at 13.30 when I checked it last. Reply
Dec 1, 2009 9:12 PM Joseph Adeo Joseph Adeo  says:
I don't know about sitting back and my experience problems start happening AFTER you think you've prepared for every possible scenario! Still, this is an excellent list, especially the point about internet protection -- the studies are showing that consumers are more concerned about phishing and other scams than in previous years, probably due to past ID theft (I work for VeriSign, so I follow these trends about as much or more than those with ecommerce sites). It's the perfect time to jump on the extended validation ssl bandwagon (the phish proof green url bar) and other higher quality safety technologies. Reply

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