November is here, and this marks the beginning of a challenging time of year for online retailers. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the Holiday season will soon be upon us. For unprepared online retailers, what should be the most rewarding and profitable time of the year can spin badly out of control. Retailers prepared for the digital onslaught can and will benefit by delighting customers at every digital touchpoint and every moment of the customer journey.
It’s not uncommon for digital business owners to go through most of the year under the impression that their site is perfectly fine, and thus not be overly concerned at their prospects for success from Thanksgiving through the New Year. However, the associated traffic spike puts a whole different kind of pressure on websites and mobile apps, and can reveal issues that only organizations with a culture focused on digital performance management would be on top of. The holiday season often sheds an unfriendly light on some specific issues. In the spirit of giving, we’re happy to demystify these for you. Optimizing digital performance to deliver high quality customer experiences at every turn is challenging, but you can prepare for every holiday marketing moment. Here are five steps online retailers must take now.
1. Test, Test, Test!
“Be prepared” sounds like a broad piece of advice that, while obviously a good idea, isn’t actually all that helpful. So the message here for business and marketing teams: test well in advance of peak events like the holiday season. Test from an end-user perspective to make sure you get an idea of what they will experience. Make sure your tests actually reflect the circumstances of peak load time. Too many digital business owners wait for something to go wrong before they worry about making improvements and optimizing performance. But the goal here is not to spend all of Black Friday and Cyber Monday just trying to survive the firefight. If you can get out from underneath this kind of technical debt and focus on innovation, you can drastically improve how your customers interact with your brand. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before taking action.
2. Forget Sampling
Nothing is more disconcerting than knowing you don’t know something. From a performance management perspective, looking at aggregate traffic analytics of your daily, weekly, and monthly visits isn’t enough. Counting on a sampling of what users experience only gives you a vague idea of what your users are going through, and thus makes it difficult to gain any real insight. It is important to load test in advance of peak shopping events like the upcoming holidays, but it is no substitute for real user monitoring. You need a comprehensive strategy that includes load testing, synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring to ensure you’re prepared for every visitor. Relying on sampling not only limits your understanding of what’s happening across the app delivery chain, it leads to the next major challenge…
3. Monitor Every Transaction
In today’s digital world, your apps are your brand. Quite possibly the worst holiday “gift” is waking up to an angry call from your boss asking what is wrong with your web and mobile sites or your mobile app: “Our conversions have fallen through the floor, the call center is getting slammed with questions from customers who can’t check out online, and we’re trending on Twitter – fix it!” Discovering customer experience degradation after the fact is a scenario that keeps digital business owners up at night, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Staying ahead of the performance game means having a digital performance strategy that delivers real user monitoring on every single transaction. This will ensure you will see any and all issues as they develop, before customers do. Without this ability your customers become your “early warning system,” which means that by the time you learn about an issue they are already frustrated and abandoning transactions. At that point it’s likely only a matter of minutes before they vent on social media. This is not only damaging to your bottom line, but it can also have a negative effect on your brand equity and reputation going forward. Playing catch-up after users are abandoning your sites and apps means you will lose revenue and customers to the competition, and the trust of your customers, which takes a long time to earn back. This can be avoided. Stay on top of your customers’ digital experiences at all times. Proactively address issues as they happen, before your customers are impacted.
4. Uncover Actionable Insights
Getting alerted to problems is all well and good. After all, knowing you have a problem is the first step toward solving it. However, a digital performance solution that alerts you to issues but doesn’t tell you exactly what to do about it has limited value. Ignorance is bliss, but not when you are aware of an issue, but blind to the root cause. The more time spent between identification and resolution, the more conversions you lose, and the more money gets flushed away. So a digital performance management solution that doesn’t include root cause analytics, makes the whole idea of addressing an issue before your users are affected difficult to execute. Digital business owners don’t just need more raw data; they need answers. They need insight into the exact digital experience they are providing in order to identify conversion roadblocks. The good news is that today synthetic monitoring allows businesses to not only detect, but classify, identify and gather information on root causes of performance issues and provides instant triage, problem ranking and cause identification. “Smart analytics” reduces hours of manual troubleshooting to a matter of seconds. With today’s modern digital performance solutions, business teams don’t need to be IT experts. Dashboards show business stakeholders how customers are experiencing their services, in real-time, across digital channels. This enables stakeholders to make clean and simple handoffs from technical counterparts to address potential issues immediately.
5. Be Alert For Third-Party Performance Issues
In a perfect world, third-party services can improve end-user experiences and deliver functionality faster than standalone applications. However, there is a potential downside. Modern applications often call on a variety of third-party services (Facebook widgets, pop-up chats, etc.) that are outside the view of traditional monitoring systems. Known unknowns like this should be enough to scare the socks off of any digital business owner. Hinging your site or app’s performance on a service that you don’t have any insight into is a frightening proposition. But it gets worse. Even though you often don’t have insight into thir d‑parties, when they experience issues it can still have a dramatic affect on your site. The issue is not your fault, but when Facebook crashes, that “like” or login button can still hang up your entire site. Your users don’t know it’s Facebook’s problem and not yours. All they know is your site isn’t meeting their expectations – suddenly Facebook’s problem is your problem. Digital business owners can solve this by making sure they can see these services from the get-go, map any performance issues to them, and act within minutes to negate the problem.