A dark day for ecommerce
Black Friday is a fairly new concept in the UK but like Halloween, we have adopted a tradition from across the pond and embraced it as one of our own. This year, the UK based retailers all decided to follow the Apple and Amazon lead and really got behind the idea. Press, TV, online – the message was loud and clear, Black Friday was the day to spend your money… so what went wrong?
It all comes down to time because for online consumers, time matters and there are two key measurements when it comes to the psychology behind our online experiences*. How long it takes to load the page and how long it takes for interactions such as navigating through the site or paying at the checkout.
On Friday the 29th of November, many of the UKs largest retailers realised that they had completely underestimated the demands of Black Friday spend-mania on their websites and the whole lot ground to a standstill. If you dropped lucky(!), you may have hit a queue manager (I was 33,434th in the queue for a large electrical retailer at one point) otherwise, it was a ‘sorry, can you come back later?’ page, to which my answer to date has been ‘no’.
While some got it right and the virtual tills kept ringing, there were many sites where the service was so slow that conversion rates dropped and reputations lost credibility as potential customers bailed out before being able to finalise their purchases.
It stands to reason that this could be one of the first significant demonstrations of the potential impact consumer mobility is going to have on our service delivery mechanisms. Users don’t need to be fixed to a desk top device anymore which means they can consume services from anywhere at anytime. It’s great for the user but it presents a whole new set of challenges for the web site operator.
So, here’s a simple demo that you can try right now. Open a tab in the web browser on your desktop/laptop and type in http://ilovenetscaler.com and then make a mental note of how long it takes to open the landing page. Now pick up your mobile phone, turn off the wifi, open the web browser and visit the same page. In the vast majority of cases, the I Love NetScaler landing page takes longer to load on the phone and here lies one of the primary problems.
While we stare at the mobile screen with the glazed ‘buffer face’ look waiting for something to happen, the device in our hand is having a conversation with the web server, only unlike the fixed location user, the conversation is happening really slooooowly due to a number of factors but two jump out; Network latency – the time taken between the data leaving the data centre and arriving at the end point and network capacity – the volume of data that can travel across the network at any given time.
This man demonstrates buffer face in a TV add from UK mobile operator EE.
There’s plenty of content on the web about how NetScaler has a range of features to maximise the performance, efficiency, scalability and security of web services ** but I’ve been discussing NetScaler MobileStream with a client and they were interested in how it might help their retail website performance keep up with demand.
Like many, their web site is image heavy. Embedded images often make up more than 50% of the content in a page so MobileStream optimises images and other objects such as scripts and CSS files to reduce the volume of data sent to the user which results in quicker downloads and faster page processing on the end point.
Mobile networks have unusual characteristics which need managing correctly to ensure the maximum volume of data gets through at any given time so there are a range of protocol optimisations that overcome some of these challenges resulting in more effective use of the available bandwidth and a better user experience.
When the user picks up a friendly wireless signal, an intelligent multipath network function seamlessly migrates the traffic path to the higher performance wifi network. Content is delivered faster and there is an added stability to the session as there is less chance of service disruption as the user moves around mobile network coverage areas.
These three key messages – optimised content delivery, mobile protocol acceleration and intelligent multi path network management provide a multi-layer application optimisation mechanism which NetScaler applies dynamically to tune each user session so that everyone gets the best service level – potentially up to a 5x increase in performance at the end point. Happy customers all round!
There is another benefit. Reducing the amount of time it takes to get content to the user reduces the amount of time that the web server is busy delivering content to that user. With less to do for each user, the web server can support more user requests over a given period of time, reducing the risk of server sprawl or service levels dropping below acceptable standards. Think back to the http://ilovenetscaler.com test from the desktop and mobile.
If it takes longer to deliver the same content to mobile users as it does to desktop users and more users are choosing to access from mobile devices then we will see a lot of organisations having to take a decision based on one of three options; Investing significantly in yet more web servers and all of their associated costs, letting service levels drop and hoping that users don’t bail out or, seriously consider NetScaler with MobileStream – it has the potential to help keep ecommerce service levels up to demand, whatever the marketing department throw at it.
© Al Taylor
There’s much more to MobileStream than service optimisation – have a look at some of the links below for more info
* Take a look at the Psychology of Web Performance for some interesting figures around the impact of experience over user behaviour – it’s old but still relevant. http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/psychology-web-performance/
**I posted about the basics of NetScaler for eCommerce a couple of years ago – a bit rough round the edges but gives a bit of background to the story so far..
Take mobile delivery to the next level – Citrix white paper.
Great post by Abhilash Verma which looks at some of the technical aspects of mobile optimisation.