Several years ago (2005, to be exact), in response to the craziness that was occurring on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the brick-and-mortal retail industry, it was discovered that a similar impact was occurring in online sales on the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend. Enter Cyber Monday, which is simply stated, the busiest ecommerce day of the year.
Not all sites will find that this is the busiest day of the year. Certain other sites with seasonal impacts may find that they are an exception, and their busiest day of the year is another day. The key here is recognizing the value of the “busiest day” on your site as compared to the “average day.”
And while it seems a bit surreal writing about best practices as we continue to endure the challenges of the U.S. healthcare.gov website, there’s a lot to be learned from that endeavor as we embark on the holiday online shopping season.
In the realm of systems management, there’s a generally held principle that relates to planning future system loads around baselines, which is baselines are based on the typical load, and it’s an acceptable consolation if occasional (unpredictable) spikes in load have a transient impact on the performance of that system. However, customers who are attempting to make an online purchase will be very intolerant of decreased performance, and can result in lost sales.
For ecommerce systems there needs to be a flexible performance response plan in place, which has two fundamental objectives:
- Maintaining the minimum necessary level of performance to handle the typical load of the site on any given day. The purpose of this objective is to minimize cost of operations.
- Providing the optimal level of performance necessary to handle the maximum possible load of the site in predictable special-case scenarios, such as Cyber Monday. The purpose of this objective is to maximize sales by ensuring that no sale is lost due to perceived performance issues.
I bet you’ve never considered this impact! There’s no sales organization in the world that wants to consider the impact of returned sales, but the truth is, this is a significant aspect of holiday sales. People buy things as gifts. The gift recipient doesn’t care for the gift. Stuff gets returned.
Brick-and-mortar stores have addressed this situation through the use of gift receipts and very liberal return policies, but how do you handle this scenario with online purchases?
- If you’re a seller with both online and brick-and-mortar establishments, it may be as simple as honoring online purchases at your physical locations. (But how does the receiver get a “gift receipt”?)
- If you’re exclusively an online seller, how you deal with returns and exchanges may significantly impact your ability to capitalize on the impact of Cyber Monday in your organization.
Both of those scenarios are things for an online seller to plan for. Even though Cyber Monday will be quickly upon us, there are still many days left in the online shopping season, and those days can still make or break your year. Ensure you have a viable returns policy that will not discourage gift shoppers from using your site, and make sure that you have adequate resources available to handle the peak demands of a holiday ecommerce website.