Maintaining your Christmas presence

The temperature is dropping. The nights are drawing in. It must be time to start thinking about Christmas…

At least, it is if you’re a retailer. If you’re expecting sales to peak in the run-up to the festive season, then frantic preparations are no doubt well under way.

And those preparations are increasingly likely to include load testing: making sure your website can cope with the Christmas rush.

Considering the phenomenal growth in ecommerce revenue, this is hardly surprising. According to the Centre for Retail Research, UK online retail sales increased by nearly 17 per cent in 2013 and are set to grow by another 16 per cent in 2014. Failing to make sure the website is ready for the busiest trading period of the year is therefore just not an option.

What is load testing?

In case you didn’t know, load testing involves subjecting a website to a high level of traffic in a controlled way. The idea is to see how it responds. At what point does it slow down? When does it stop working altogether? Where are the weak links in the chain? Doing this in a controlled environment means you can take remedial steps to ensure things don’t go wrong in the real world. Instead, you test, amend and retest until you’re sure your site will handle whatever the festive season throws at it.

Preparation

This throws up the first challenge – how do you know how much traffic you need to be able to deal with? You have to consider not just the number of visitors, but also what they will be doing. What kind of pages will they be browsing? How long do you expect them to stay on each one? This requires a lot of trawling through analytics and a little educated guesswork. But it’s important to spend some time on it, so that your test models the likely reality as closely as possible.

You should also think about building in a safety margin. Being able to handle the upper limit of your expected traffic should be the bare minimum. It’s also a good idea to plan for the unexpected – the new craze that takes the nation by storm, for example. Perhaps you’ll be the only one with sufficient stocks to satisfy demand … but only if your website can deal with all those additional visitors.

Before testing gets under way, it’s important to make sure, as far as possible, that you’re testing the best possible version of the site. A pre-load test audit will help you identify optimisation opportunities that will make your site more resilient in the face of an increase in traffic (as well as potentially cutting costs – you could reduce bandwidth costs, for example).

Start early

If you’re expecting traffic to peak in November or December, start planning now. You’ll never know exactly how much time the process will take, since you won’t know in advance what (if any) changes you’ll need to make after testing. But the earlier you start, the easier it will be.

Protecting revenue – and peace of mind

This is why load testing really matters. It’s all about avoiding those heart-stopping moments when an IT failure snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. When, instead of enjoying record sales, an organisation is forced to issue contrite statements and apologetic press releases (ahead of the inevitable internal recriminations). Even a moderate slowdown under load could cause an unexpected drop in sales.

So, whether you’re gearing up for Super Thursday, Cyber Monday or Black Friday, there’s still time to book in some pre-Christmas load testing to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of the extra traffic.

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