Black Friday’s digital stampede: how retailers can cope with massive traffic

A shopping cart logo on a laptop screen.
(Image credit: One Photo / Shutterstock)

Black Friday once conjured images of tents in store parking lots, crowded checkout lines and frantic shoppers metaphorically (and at times literally) battling one another for that year’s hottest holiday toy. But while the excitement of doorbuster deals remains, one thing has changed dramatically: 68% of customers now bypass the physical chaos, turning to the digital realm for their Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other holiday bargains.

While this shift presents many opportunities to reach more customers and increase sales, it can also spell disaster for retailers whose websites aren’t prepared to withstand the deluge of eager consumers.

Today’s buyers expect exceptional shopping experiences – whether it’s in store or online – and website performance now directly translates to revenue. Over 50% of users expect load times of three seconds or less, and a staggering 90% of customers abandon slow loading carts.

When three seconds could be the difference between a completed sale and an abandoned cart, do you have time to spare?

Critical features like inventory, carts, payments, and order systems must work seamlessly in real time, despite unpredictable traffic surges. And that’s not to mention adding the complexities of personalization. But accomplishing this doesn’t have to be costly or complex.

By implementing a few practical, accessible strategies, any retailer can ensure their online storefront not only survives, but thrives during the busiest shopping season.

Adrian Herrera

CMO at Varnish Software.

Stretch your IT dollar for peak performance

Navigating the tightrope of improving site reliability and managing IT costs is a common hurdle for e-commerce platforms.

Whether it’s a small site with a limited budget or a large organization dealing with departmental silos and fragmented priorities, every team today must do more with less. Regardless, there is immense pressure to ensure sites work perfectly without long load times or crashes.

Investing in more hardware, pre-packaged commercial services or major cloud providers can enable immediate resilience but become costly as a website’s needs grow. It’s not efficient or sustainable.

Rather than adding more infrastructure or third-party storage unnecessarily, many businesses should first focus on implementing well-crafted software to enhance what’s already in place without significant extra investment.

For example, optimizing load balancing, traffic routing and data compression in HTTP can ensure content is delivered more efficiently from the optimal location.

Optimize for mobile and beyond

In 2022, up to 73% of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales on major ecommerce platforms were made via mobile.

Due to the rapid rise of mobile and IoT usage, many vendors' previous investments in desktop shopping may no longer suffice. But this doesn’t mean they have to rip and replace everything.

The key to staying ahead in the rapidly growing mobile and IoT commerce sectors is flexibility.

Retailers should focus on accommodating the vast array of devices, resolutions, and networks used by consumers. To accomplish this, vendors may want to consider utilizing software that is easy to integrate, highly customizable or open-source.

Opensource solutions can help retailers avoid vendor lock-in to proprietary technologies that may become outdated, while allowing them to maximize the performance of existing infrastructure.

Balance personalization and performance

E-commerce platforms are increasingly using data analytics to provide personalized shopping experiences. This includes personalized recommendations, targeted marketing and tailored customer service.

Personalization increases customer engagement; however, it can come at a cost: more unique assets to load and process. Retailers must find ways to implement personalization without compromising speed. One way to do this is by using more efficient caching.

Caching enables websites to reuse power spent retrieving or computing data. Many online storefronts can benefit by targeting what elements must be uniquely personalized and what can be reused. Then, they can implement intelligent caching policies, preferably closer to users at network edges, to ensure the right balance. This can be done with free, open-source tools available to all IT teams.

Shield against digital threats

Black Friday and Cyber Monday see spikes in cyber threats, from phishing schemes to impersonated websites, all aimed at unsuspecting shoppers. Even more concerning are the DDoS attacks that seek to disrupt services and steal customer data.

In response, e-commerce sites must bolster their defenses, ideally with non-disruptive solutions situated as close to the threat as possible. Adopting a Zero Trust security framework, which validates every access request, is crucial. Equally important is deploying a robust Web Application Firewall (WAF). This firewall acts as the first line of defense, intercepting and neutralizing threats at the network's edge.

This proactive approach to cybersecurity is not just about protecting transactions; it's about maintaining customer trust and ensuring a safe shopping experience amidst evolving digital threats.

Looking beyond Black Friday

Retailers are expanding their sales strategies, initiating discounts before Black Friday and extending them past Cyber Monday. This trend doesn’t just underscore the need for proactive preparation to fortify websites during the holiday months. It’s also a peek into the rapidly evolving future where maintaining top website performance year-round is increasingly essential - not just to compete but to flourish long term.

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Adrian Herrera is CMO at Varnish Software.