Why Would a Website be ‘Unavailable Due to Maintenance’ During Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sales?

If you see the message “we’re busier than usual” on your favourite retail site, it’s likely the website has crashed due to traffic spikes overloading the systems, causing infrastructure failure.

Why else? Unless in response to a cyber-attack, retailers do not perform website maintenance during their biggest sales periods.

Black Friday is now a regular fixture in the UK and US retail calendars, with PwC finding that more than 75% of retailers participated in some activity during that week in 2017. It’s one of the biggest shopping events of the year, with Brits predicted to spend £7bn over the cyber weekend in 2018.

As a result, Black Friday was the single largest cause of web traffic spikes and website outages in the retail industry in 2017. Fast forward 12 months and many retailers are still struggling to prepare for the influx in demand.

Several retailers who issued a ‘down for maintenance’ message received a backlash of criticism from frustrated customers who were left unable to purchase their desired items. These holding pages left potential purchasers in the dark until the retail platforms came back online, with many brands later acknowledging that the “maintenance” was, in fact, an unplanned website outage caused by high traffic loads.

These large spikes during periods of peak demand often lead to websites and applications slowing down or failing completely, leaving unsatisfied customers to turn to competitor websites to continue their search. This leads to lost revenues and damaged reputations.

What is a Virtual Waiting Room?

Virtual Waiting Room (VWR) solution guarantees 100% website uptime by offloading excessive visitors into a secure, fair (first in, first out), non-skippable, interactive & informative waiting environment. Without a VWR in place, excess visitors would have exceeded the websites’ ability to serve the large capacity of visitors. Instead, this solution is specifically designed to protect website infrastructure from being overloaded by spikes in traffic, providing an engaging and informative means to communicate with customers as they wait.

How Does a Virtual Waiting Room Work?

When the maximum number of visitors is reached, a website would typically slow down or fall over, Netacea‘s TrafficDefender delivers a customisable queuing page which is served to your excess users.

Watch our short explainer video on how TrafficDefender’s Virtual Waiting Room queues website visitors in a secure, fair and transparent way.

With a VWR in place, websites are fully protected from any large or surprise spikes in traffic, services remain available to customers and those in a queue are served branded content and kept informed of what is happening, providing customers to receive the best possible experience.

“During a prime-time X Factor finals advertising slot, we experienced a peak in website traffic 27 times bigger than Cyber Monday. Instead of getting no response or a very slow response, they had a controlled response that indicated when customers would be able to get into the website.”

Jeff Cattle, Head of IT at JD Williams

End User Experience. The Importance of Keeping Shoppers Informed.

For many retailers, a VWR during high traffic events is the only viable option to avoid the site going down completely. Not all infrastructure components or processes are economical to mass scaling for single event usage, or able to auto-scale in response to increasing resource consumption. This makes a VWR technology a key requirement for eCommerce.

Psychology research has proven when people experience a period of waiting with no explanation as to why they are waiting or how long they are going to wait, it feels longer than waiting for the same period when they have been told how long they can expect to wait.

An effective VWR page should provide the option to inform your customers via a branded queuing screen detailing their place in the queue and the estimated waiting time. The page should be fully configurable and fully branded, giving you the scope to reinforce key messages and entertain waiting-visitors with videos, Twitter feeds, games or special offers. This is a stark contrast to the default ‘Website is down for maintenance’ error message we repeatedly witnessed over Black Friday.

How to Bypass a Virtual Waiting Room?

Tech-savvy customers and automated bot traffic will attempt to bypass an unsecured VWR and gain direct access to the sale transaction. The solution must, therefore, manage all incoming traffic and cover all aspects of the web application infrastructure, not just specified pages as bypassing the VWR can lead to website outage as too many visitors consume infrastructure resource. Our DNS-based secure queue technology is used to protect against queue jumpers, who can bypass other JavaScript-based solutions which can be disabled or manipulated.

It’s Not Too Late to Implement Before Holiday Sales

With the December & January sales fast approaching, we see a short 5-day rest period between Cyber Week and the purchasing ramp up for the festive season. While this doesn’t sound like a lot of time, TrafficDefender’s VWR can be implemented in minutes even during code freeze periods, without the need for infrastructure changes. A single redirection protects all your web infrastructure, enabling our larger customers to deploy to 10,000’s sites in a single, rapid implementation.

To learn more about best practices for implementing a Virtual Waiting Room for key sales events, please read our Black Friday & Holiday Shopping Season Guide, or sign up for a Virtual Waiting Room Trial to see the technology in action and test it on your live site.

Related Post