In the run up to the peak Christmas Holiday shopping season, retailers typically pull out all the stops to ensure that their systems are thoroughly optimized to handle big and prolonged spikes in traffic and purchasing activity. That’s necessary, but we advocate for retailers to be in a continuous state of peak readiness if they want to deliver the best possible experience for shoppers.

The Customer Service team at Demandware, a Salesforce company, focuses on (among other things) peak traffic preparedness and identifying and implementing best practices for scalability and performance. Experience shows that the primary reasons retailers experience site problems, which are more likely to occur during peak times, boils down to three things: slow pipeline runtimes, ineffective caching, and external integrations.

Let’s examine each one.

Pipeline runtimes

Retailers should strive for a pipeline average runtime target of about 500 milliseconds. Anything under this threshold is considered “safe” while anything approaching or over one second is a red flag indicating that the site is not scaling properly. How do you know what’s causing slowness? A pipeline profiler shows a processing breakdown by site and pinpoints problem areas and allows you to monitor performance after a code deployment, which is common around peak selling times. And to dispel the myth, pipeline profilers do not degrade performance so, really, there is no reason not to use one.

Caching

Retailers should strive for 50-70% caching rate on product detail pages and about 90% on the homepage. The more data that’s cached, of course, the faster it’s available to users as it avoids making a trip to the server. In fact, a web service call lasting more than two seconds is considered poor and will likely frustrate your shoppers and drive them away. So how can you determine why something isn’t being cached? One way – limit the amount of custom or unique iterations for a landing page from a large email campaign. While a more personalized web experience may seem ideal, a shopper will definitely appreciate site speed more when clicking through a promotional email, especially on a mobile device.

Integrations

Many times, poor performance has nothing to do with the retailer itself but is the result of ineffective planning on the part of a third party provider. It is therefore critical when preparing for peak traffic to ensure that third party vendors can effectively handle additional stress. The retailer should always have a way of shutting off the third party integration and still have a functioning site here.

All third party integrations should have explicit and appropriate timeout values defined. For retailers on the Demandware Commerce Cloud, third party providers should maintain a complete list of outgoing IP addresses in their firewall.

Finally, here are several obvious (but sometimes neglected) tips for ensuring peak performance during holiday, and year-round:

  • Keep a clean house; purge old data, set object retentions and be cognizant of system quotas
  • Optimize backups, imports and exports, indexing and custom jobs
  • Perform performance testing after each release
  • Perform load testing to determine visit numbers and traffic patterns

To learn more about optimization and preparedness, download the Framework for Retail Transformation ebook.