Black Friday means more sales in the e-commerce industry. Therefore, every selling platform needs to be prepared for increased website traffic. Otherwise, in the case of slow loading or even non-functioning service, users will look for a place to shop elsewhere.
Let’s start with the obvious thing
The e-commerce platform and its infrastructure are prepared for budgetary reasons and a standard level of traffic on a website. The thing while getting e-shop ready for Black Friday is to check the stock in advance and try to answer whether that stock is sufficient. If you have detected potential bottlenecks, you should take action to eliminate or minimise them. Several key actions of this kind are described in the paragraphs below.
An efficient database server is necessary (but more is needed) for the smooth and stable operation of an e-commerce service. As part of the preparatory activities before Black Friday, verifying whether your server is sufficient in terms of resources to handle the expected web traffic is essential.
Performance tests will help determine whether the server should be replaced with a more powerful one. It is worth providing the database with excess power even if there is no need for it for the rest of the year – the absence of problems with the database performance will have a direct impact on the stability of the service during Black Friday and, consequently, on sales conversion.
When we talk about the database, we mean not only the server but also the efficient and stable use of the base. As the service develops, as functionality is added and the amount of data increases, it is necessary to monitor processes related to the database constantly, particularly to verify whether SQL queries to the database are still optimal.
One of the critical preparatory actions for Black Friday should be a thorough verification to determine whether SQL queries are efficient and do not need optimisation. It is also essential to verify any optimisation changes in case of increased traffic. Performance tests will be helpful here.
A well-designed e-commerce service allows caching at least some of the results of SQL queries. The platform runs smoothly under standard conditions, but with an increased number of queries, it needs support. In this case, the cache requires additional services the hosting platform offers.
CDN, or Content Delivery Network
The time it takes a web browser to view a page is the sum of the time it takes to connect to the server, process the request by the service and send the response to the browser. At this point, it is worth remembering that a longer loading time translates into the growing impatience of the user. Various studies show that fast loading of the site is the basis for the customer to maintain interest in buying. Otherwise, we risk that the customer – annoyed by the slow loading of the website in the browser – will decide to use the offer in another e-shop.
In this context, it becomes crucial to reduce the loading time of the service in those areas where possible. We come to the aid of CDN, a cloud service consisting of intermediary points between the client’s browser and the hosting platform. CDN aims to speed up the delivery of the service to the client. It is made possible by optimising network traffic and using cloud resources so the client connects to the closest network CDN node instead of directly to the hosting platform.
As a rule, CDN networks offer additional service packages focused on security or optimisation issues. Depending on your needs, CDN will allow you to use mechanisms for optimising images on the site, mechanisms for optimising scripts, improving network parameters for mobile devices, and, above all, mechanisms for the cache.
Cache in e-commerce websites is a system to optimise the website and its traffic. In short, the more service elements are in the cache, the better it will work. The sources of this fact are two factors.
Firstly, downloading any service element from the cache means that the element will not be downloaded from the service’s hosting platform. Thus, the platform will have to handle fewer requests and thus will have more resources at its disposal. Secondly, as a rule, storing website elements in a cache means that they are delivered more quickly to the client’s browser, which will have a positive impact on the page loading speed.
Of course, only permanent elements could be placed in the cache. It is impossible to store dynamic elements that change in the service after each user activity. All the elements strongly recommended for caching are static, such as product images, graphic style elements, CSS or JS scripts, and logotypes.
All popular CDN networks offer activation of the cache service as part of their launch. Using this solution, you can significantly increase the performance of your website.
Web servers and load balancing
Once we have cached the elements that we could cache, when we are already using CDN, and when we have verified and optimised the database, another potential Black Friday bottleneck is the performance of web servers. In a standard situation, a well-configured web server with adequate physical resources such as RAM and CPU should not be a problem on any site. Sometimes, however, it is worth taking care of additional resources that would be able to handle the increased traffic without excessive load.
One of the possible solutions is load balancing, which distributes traffic to the e-commerce service between more than one physical or virtual server. Depending on the situation and the traffic scale, load balancing between multiple servers is more advantageous than increasing the computing power of a single server. An additional advantage of such a solution is the independence from the failure of a single node.
You should also pay attention to whether other services use the resources – overloading these additional services can lead to an excessive load on the hosting infrastructure and, as a result, slow down the e-commerce service or its downtime.
Ultimately, performance tests should confirm that web server resources are sufficient to handle the expected traffic.
This subject discussion would only be complete with mentioning such an essential issue as performance tests.
Knowing the standard traffic on the website, we can determine the expected number of sessions, users, transfers and transactions during Black Friday. It is necessary to verify whether the infrastructure, after all the modifications mentioned in the previous sections, can handle the expected traffic stably and efficiently.
Performance tests determine how the hosting infrastructure will behave with the expected traffic. They consist of artificially generating traffic with parameters similar to those assumed and observing the behaviour of the service’s elements.
Often, performance tests allow us to highlight in time (and thus fix!) problems that we do not observe during regular traffic. Thanks that we can avoid mistakes during promotional campaigns, for example, on Black Friday.
Although performance tests can be an organisational challenge, they should be a necessary, integral element of an e-commerce good preparation for Black Friday. Regardless of that vast promotion time, regular performance testing of the service can only bring measurable benefits in the early detection of potential problems.
When optimising your service for Black Friday, you can’t forget about the most essential issue: security. Performance and stability are important, but they can not be achieved at the expense of service security. Security is a process, not a state, so you should implement the fundamental security issues on the website. We are talking here about standard issues such as:
– security headers used in the HTTP protocol,
– security of cookies used on the website,
– Web Application Firewall (WAF) for automatic detection and blocking of attacks on the application,
– rate limits to block unwanted floods of requests to the website coming from the same IP addresses,
– broadly understood protection against DDoS attacks.
In many cases, the services offered by CDN networks will be helpful.
As you can see, preparing an e-commerce website for Black Friday is multi-threaded and covers a wide range of areas, starting with application and database optimisation, taking care of the appropriate infrastructure, and ending with additional cloud services. None of these elements alone is a guarantee of success. But their combination will address the vast majority of issues that could have a decisive impact on whether Black Friday is a sales success.
Take care of your e-commerce efficiency. Check out our offer of hosting services.