E-commerce businesses can learn a lot from 2020

Ecommerce, like most sectors of the economy, has been impacted by the pandemic

The virus, and the restrictions imposed by authorities to prevent its spread will likely have long-lasting effects. In the retail industry these lockdown measures have placed a greater strain on those selling their wares online than ever before, bringing into sharp focus the importance of web performance for survival.

But despite the pressures, many businesses have adapted well to this ‘new normal’. With the busy Black Friday and the Christmas sales periods not too far down the road, there are several lessons retailers can take from lockdown, to help them maximise their sales in what will likely be the busiest online shopping season ever.

Even as many of us made conscious decisions to support smaller, independent or local retailers throughout lockdown, the lure of Amazon is tempting when faced with a slow, or poorly configured webpage. For brands selling something that can also be found on Amazon, it is crucial to not only have competitive pricing, but to have sub-second loading times. Consumers won’t hesitate to abandon a page that won’t load and make purchases elsewhere.

There have been numerous examples of sites being lambasted by shoppers in recent months after website errors left them unable to complete a purchase. On the other hand, there have also been plenty of examples of websites and streaming services that have held up remarkably well. These examples have shown that optimal page load times can be achieved even at peak traffic, and that getting your technology stack in good order, ensuring optimal web performance for your customers can create a significant competitive advantage.

With things as they are, it’s unlikely we’ll see levels of high street footfall anywhere close to usual levels on our high streets and in major retail venues this year. However, many of those fortunate enough to have been able to work in a relatively normal way through this period – without the same levels of expenditure on travel, childcare, and other expenses – may well have more disposable income available to them going in to this seasonal shopping period.

That, coupled with retailers keen to stimulate sales to make up for a slow start to the year, means that more likely to see a Black Friday and festive season that will be very different to what we’ve seen before.

We won’t see the meme-able images of customers being trampled as they rush to grab deals as soon as shop doors open. Instead, retailers will be forced to think more about their online presence this year as shoppers either won’t be allowed, or won’t be fully comfortable with visiting brick and mortar stores.

All of this means that websites are going to be put through their paces. The risk of traffic-related failures and slow page load times will be higher, and with that the risk that customers who have a sub-optimal experience of your online store, choosing to turn to a competitor to make their purchase to avoid missing a deal.

Knowing all this, retailers with an online presence should be using the time ahead of the busy period to get their (virtual) shop front in good working order. Quick and simple software upgrades, coupled with a reliable content delivery network (CDN) with a caching layer can help ensure that websites can serve rich content and engaging shopping experiences to large numbers of concurrent users without compromising on page load speed or functionality.

With a good CDN set up and a high performance caching layer, retailers can dramatically accelerate their site speeds and ensure their websites have the stability needed to deliver excellent web experiences for users at scale.

By locating cached content repositories closer to the user at the edge of the network, the CDN ensures the origin server doesn’t get inundated with requests from the entire concurrent user base, slowing downloads for everyone. This not only allows the retailers to build sites able to deliver highly personalised or dynamic content, it can reduce the number of backend servers needed to deliver content to customers, minimising operating costs as well as the energy and emissions associated with running the site.

With the right CDN solution, retail brands can capitalise on the heightened interest during their busiest periods and maximise sales opportunities. With the fourth quarter rush fast approaching, brands should be reviewing their back-end technology, to make sure their set up is fit for the future and everything it brings.

About the Author

Lars Larsson is CEO at Varnish Software. Varnish Software’s powerful caching technology helps the world’s biggest content providers deliver lightning-fast web and streaming experiences for huge audiences, without downtime or loss of performance.

Featured image: ©martinholv