So here we are. A scant seven weeks until the holiest of retail holidays, Black Friday. Shoppers will pack the malls, both physical and virtual. And this year, more business is predicted to be conducted entirely on mobile than ever before.
Why am I saying relax? Because if you’ve done your homework and have properly prepared for scale, it should be a day like any other. But for many, it won’t be. There will be outages, unbearably long checkout times, slow page response times and — worst of all — revenue forecast that will never materialize.
Black Friday is about scale, but that only matters if what you’re scaling is actually good. Let’s assume for the moment that your site is good but you haven’t made the investment in scale. For the purposes of this post, let’s call your site “Dude”. People that know me, know that I use that word frequently amongst friends, a surviving holdover of my formative years in 1970’s Denver. With apologies to The Big Lebowski, here’s how a site with scale issues might appear…
A shopper approaches the store. Pulls to open the door, but it won’t budge. Checks to make sure sign doesn’t say “Push”, then tries again. In desperation, the shopper talks through the gap between the two doors.
Shopper: Hey are you guys open? Hello?
Shopper tries door again. The Dude shows up, but is dressed poorly due to the unavailability of a CSS file and blankly stares out the door, embarrassed and ashamed.
Shopper: What the…?
So you’ve gone to all the trouble to make your site responsive and yet the caching and CDN strategy didn’t include all the necessary files to make your site respond well. Oops.
A shopper spent an hour in the store and heads for the checkout line, which is about 20 people deep. They settle in at the back of the line, reluctantly, and talk to the cashier running the register.
Shopper: Dude, you guys need more help.
Dude: Yeah, haha. Some guys called in sick.
Shopper: Is there another register open?
Dude: Yeah, it’s right here. It’s open but no one is working it.
On an eCommerce site, there’s no reason for checkout to take unbearably long. To judge how long is too long, multiple the amount of time you’re waiting online by the “checkout minutes” factor of 45. So if you’re taking 10 seconds to confirm checkout, that’s the equivalent of waiting 7.5 minutes in line in a store. No, there’s no science behind this. It’s my own formula that I derived to justify why I rarely, if ever, want to go to an actual store. Long checkout lines are the reason I stopped going to the mall during the holidays at two particular times: Daytime and Nighttime.
Shopper perusing a rack in the store. Needs to find out details about an item.
Shopper: Excuse me, can you look up some information for me?
The Dude stares at the shopper and doesn’t say a word.
Shopper: Did you hear me? Are you OK? Hello?
Dude: Just a minute and I’ll…
The dude goes quiet.
Shopper: Do you need a doctor?
The dude suddenly perks up.
Dude: I’m good, I’m good! Let me look up that info for you.
The Dude begins typing on the computer behind the counter. Very slowly. Shopper frantically tries to refresh the conversation.
Shopper: “Excuse me? Hello? Can you get that done any faster?”
The dude, nearly catatonic, continues typing slowly. Meanwhile a happy smiling associate from another department approaches…
Associate: Hello! Would you like to take a survey?
Shopper: Actually, could you help me get some info on this item?
Associate: Sorry, I can’t, but I can guide you through this survey to make sure we serve you better in the future.
Shopper: How about making sure you serve me better right now?
Dude: Hey! No info on that, so…there you go!
Checkout is one of the most critical areas of your site, especially for mobile. If the checkout process is slow, or needlessly complex, you will have shoppers abandoning their cart left and right. And nobody wants that.
So before Black Friday gets here, make some last-minute checks on your site’s ability to scale. Make sure the checkout process is clean, crisp, and fast. Test on desktop. Test on mobile. Test, test, test. Make adjustments. Test some more.
The investment you make now in making sure your customers are served well will pay off big between Black Friday and Cyber Monday if your site experiences a heavy load of visitors.
And we all want that. Right, dude?