Does your website suffer from capacity bottlenecks?

Does your website suffer from capacity bottlenecks?

The modern consumer expects technology to “just work”. Not only that, but they expect things to be fast and easy to use, and anything else is cause for frustration and complaints.

For example, we expect online shopping to be quick and easy. Any delay in the process, either through confusing UX or slow-loading web pages anywhere in the journey, can easily push customers away to a competitor.

If you run such a website, how can you make sure critical steps in the user journey are not hindering sales by being slow at important moments?

Why is your website slow?

Does your site speed vary depending on the time of day, or in direct relation to your visitor levels?

TIP: Compare your website visitor and page speed charts within Google Analytics for a quick snapshot.

If so, it’s likely your website’s capacity limits are being stretched at peak traffic times. In short, your site can’t process requests quickly enough and your ability to deliver excellent customer service to all your customers is suffering.

Why can’t your site handle enough requests?

Every system has its limits. These can be distilled down to a few core limitations:

  • Technical restrictions
  • Available resources (staffing, equipment, facilities etc.)
  • Financial, e.g., budget constraints

The limit to a website’s capacity is probably a mixture of these things. Even a brilliantly built website maintained by an army of clever people won’t be able to keep a website up if there isn’t enough budget to buy or rent enough servers.

Likewise, a massive pot of money alone to spend on servers and facilities will be hugely wasteful if the website isn’t built properly, with appropriate levels of traffic across the various sections of the site mapped out intelligently.

The key to knowing whether your site has this balance correct (aside from waiting to see if your customers complain, or your sales figures slump) is through accurate load testing.

Are your load tests realistic?

Thorough and frequent load tests are the only way to know how much traffic your site can handle before limits are reached, yet all too often website owners rely on unrealistic test results.

Most commonly, load test scripts will run through a few basic journeys or even just look at overall concurrent users on the site. This is a missed opportunity to identify the real low hanging fruit of website capacity issues: Website bottlenecks.

Where are your website’s bottlenecks?

Websites are complex, interlinking with third party services, internal services, databases, CDNs and many other systems besides.

There are also a huge number of potential ways users can interact. Some interactions and requests are more computationally intensive than others, for example account verification or payment processes. If these areas get busier at certain times, bottlenecks in capacity can build up and the whole website can slow down or even risk crashing.

These are just general examples, as every site is built differently and has a different traffic profile. Both these factors can change over time, very quickly or even seasonally (for example, visitor levels and behavior are very different at peak trading times like Black Friday and Christmas) so frequent testing and preparation for change is always important.

How can you maintain smooth customer experience at peak times?

Another method of keeping your customers flowing smoothly through your website is by protecting bottlenecks with a virtual waiting room.

Limiting the number of requests coming into areas of the site creating bottlenecks prevents the whole site from slowing down or crashing. You might be able to handle thousands of users browsing product pages, but only a few hundred in the payment verification process, so why allow this bottleneck to negatively affect the experience of all your visitors?

Advanced virtual waiting room solutions like TrafficDefender offer the ability to protect specific areas of a website or mobile application with an online queue, so the whole site stays fast and stable even if areas that would usually cause a bottleneck become busy.

Have you got enough website capacity to handle peak traffic?

There is a fine line between over provisioning and under provisioning website capacity, especially in an industry as “peaky” as eCommerce.

Over provision your infrastructure and you’re wasting budget. Website capacity is just sitting there for most of the time, rarely if ever actually being useful. It’s a waste of money most business leaders find unacceptable.

On the other hand, there’s too much at stake to under provision your website. You risk delivering poor customer experience when your site slows down, throws up errors or even crashes at peak times, which will in turn cost you dearly in lost customers and revenue. If that happens, what do you tell your board of directors?

Before we look at ways to avoid these website capacity issues, let’s take a moment to understand them a little bit more.

What can push your website capacity over the edge?

When it comes to estimating website visitors, you probably have a good understanding of your baseline traffic and how your website copes day to day, so let’s look at the out-of-the-ordinary occurrences that may push traffic levels beyond expectations.

Firstly, sales are designed to spike interest in your brand. You want consumers to flock to your promotions and boost revenue! An increase in web traffic is (hopefully) an inevitable consequence of this. Also be weary of when a new product is due to drop, as this will spike interest in your brand, too.

Similarly, any associated marketing or advertising campaigns aim to drive traffic to your website. Sometimes you can estimate how much additional traffic to expect based on the size of the campaign; How many email recipients are there? What reach does the campaign have? These can be forecasted, which is useful for capacity planning. The key to managing these risks is to have an open line of communication between the IT infrastructure team and the marketing team.

On the other hand, you never know when a piece of content will go viral, which makes accurately estimating website visitors difficult.

Aside from your owned media, there’s always the chance of organic media coverage, depending on what kind of brand you work for; this should a particular consideration for consumer goods organizations. A tweet from an influencer, or a mention in the news can create website-crushing spikes in public interest. Are you prepared to welcome that amount of traffic into your website all at once with zero notice? If not, do you have a virtual waiting room at the ready to keep your site online?

Negative consequences of not having enough capacity

Let’s say your website is not ready for an unexpected peak of traffic. What’s the worst that can happen?

Quite a few things, as it turns out. First, if there are more visitors making requests to access your site than you have capacity to serve, the site is going to slow down. Studies have consistently shown that customers are less likely to stick around and make purchases on a slow website. Always pay close attention to how peak traffic affects website performance and response times.

Every site has different bottlenecks when they start getting flooded with requests and will break in different ways. You might find that images stop loading, or payments stop processing. There’s a myriad of functional issues that could be caused by an overloaded website, many of which have a direct impact on customers.

And how are customers impacted, exactly? Well, they will get frustrated. People are much more likely to tell their friends (or strangers on social media and your Google reviews page) about a bad experience than a good one. This hurts your reputation and can even lead to bad press; you don’t want to be publicly called out for your website breaking at a critical moment.

Ultimately all these things lead to lost customers and have a detrimental impact on your revenue – exactly the opposite of your business goals during peak times.

How to test your website’s capacity

To avoid this, you need to ensure your website has enough capacity to handle as much traffic as you might possibly get during peak times.

Before you can do this, you need to first load test what your platform is capable of. The first step is to decide what exactly you are testing – in other words, the specific scenarios you are expecting. These user journeys will form the basis of your test scripts.

This is because it’s no good just saying “we know the site can handle 50,000 concurrent users”. What if all those users add items to the basket and check out? What if they add one item, then continue to browse your product pages? Do you know how the site will behave when your visitors are acting in specific ways?

Next you need to decide what to measure when you do your tests. How many requests can the site handle? How many transactions can be put through the checkout? What is the impact on your servers’ CPU and RAM? What other parts of your infrastructure, or your third-party services, could be bottlenecks? You won’t know if you don’t monitor them.

With all this set up, you can start your load testing. There are various tools and methods for generating virtual traffic and injecting this, ideally into a like-for-like test site or on your real site at a non-peak time when you are unlikely to affect real customers.

With the tests complete, you can finally analyze the results to find and fix your bottlenecks in a logical and effective way. Then, test again.

Solutions to not having enough capacity

You might find that by addressing your low hanging fruit you can increase your website capacity quickly and cheaply. You could only need to make reasonably simple changes to increase how many concurrent users your website can handle.

However, you need to be a bit smarter to ramp up capacity when needed whilst still being cost effective. Most commonly this means taking advantage of cloud technology such as auto scaling and load balancing, however, you must avoid the pitfall of assuming these are panaceas to all capacity issues. Scaling into the cloud is not easy, it’s not free, and it does not react instantly. Load balancers can take several minutes to warm up, by which time a crushing spike in traffic will have already done its damage to your site.

More and more retailers are using virtual waiting rooms to control spikes in demand to their websites. The virtual waiting room protects customer experience by diverting visitors away from the site before it gets overwhelmed, allowing customers to queue in a fair and orderly fashion until it is their turn to enter the site.

This means that websites can serve as many customers as their capacity allows without fear of service levels being degraded, no matter what is driving the traffic to the site.

Try TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room

If your retail site is in need of a modern, slick, branded virtual waiting room to help control peak web traffic, get in touch with us to try
TrafficDefender
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Be prepared for TV exposure with a virtual waiting room

Even in the age of super targeted online advertising, retailers and other businesses know nothing pushes traffic to a website as rapidly as a high-profile mention on television.

Despite the oversaturation of channels and the popularity of streaming services, prime-time television audiences are still huge. Marquee shows still pull in viewers in their millions, making TV advertising an important channel predominantly for B2C brands in 2021.

TV advertising vs online marketing

Strategies used online to optimize advertising spend are more difficult to implement in traditional TV campaigns. Demographics can be matched with the channel or show’s target audience. Based on age or interest, segmentation and personalization are much more advanced online where behavior can be tracked, and adverts placed accordingly.

However, technology has enabled some advancements in television advertising.

For example, during the UEFA Euros football tournament, boards around the perimeter of the pitches showed different adverts depending on which country or TV station the match was shown on. This is done using virtual replacement technology and allows many more region-specific ad slots to be sold than before.

Even when watching television, our mobile devices are never far out of reach, giving TV a strong conversion power for brands. This is especially evident during prime-time TV advertisement slots, which bump up website traffic to the advertised brands significantly.

The trouble is it can be hard to anticipate exactly how much traffic is going to hit the site. But whatever traffic does come is likely to arrive very suddenly, which can cause big problems for website performance and uptime.

For example, when fashion retailer JD Williams launched its first ever TV advert during the ad break of The X Factor, it could never have predicted the size of the spike in web traffic that ensued.

When it turned out the spike in traffic was 27 times bigger than Cyber Monday, the team was glad to have had TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room in place to protect the site.

Virtual waiting rooms for managing TV advertising spikes

Virtual waiting rooms are the ideal solution for coping with massive interest generated by television advertising. This is especially true when factoring in just how quickly huge amounts of visitors can click through after seeing a product shown on TV, and when considering that other means of handling boosts in traffic can’t react quickly enough.

Autoscaling in the cloud is a great way to optimize infrastructure costs, whilst load balancers allow hosting technology to better handle the amount of traffic as it spreads across servers. However, both of these need time to “warm up” which makes them too slow to cope with “cliff face” spikes.

React instantly with a virtual waiting room

With a virtual waiting room in place, the website is always protected against performance issues or outages, no matter how much traffic arrives. Even if visitors flood in all at once, a virtual waiting room will stop excess users entering the site, meaning it can operate as normal and serve as many customers as the technology is capable of.

In the meantime, those additional visitors are placed into a first-in, first-out queue until it’s their turn to enter the site. During this time, they’ll be kept informed of offers, entertained by branded content and reassured that their wait will be worthwhile.

If you are planning to ramp up your TV advertising or are concerned what might happen to your site should your products get a prime-time mention, get in touch today.

A guide to conversion rate optimization with virtual waiting rooms

Many online retailers will only think to roll out a virtual waiting room for their customers if they fear a big event may crash their site. However, our customers report increased conversion rates after using TrafficDefender, making virtual waiting rooms a useful tool for conversion rate optimization. Here’s how they do it.

Opportunity to showcase products and offers

Usually, website visitors are not expecting to be put into a queue, unless they are given a heads-up beforehand. As the queue page is unexpected, most consumers will take the time to absorb any information on the page and find out what to do to get to their desired destination.

As with any landing page, this gives you a good opportunity to focus their journey towards converting.

You should therefor use the queue page to signpost customers towards attractive items and deals they may be interested in. You can use images, galleries or even videos to engage people while you have their attention, and guide them to take the desired action once in the site.

You might even introduce a new product or offer they weren’t aware of previously, so that once they get through to your site, they will stay longer and browse more pages looking at these products – another important conversion goal for your eCommerce team.

Scarcity sells

Demonstrating exclusivity is an excellent and widely used conversion rate optimization tactic. Research shows that we place more value on things that we perceive to be scarce or exclusive. Whether it’s a case of having what everyone else has, or having it before anyone else, there’s nothing like a limited edition or restricted sale to boost desirability of a product.

Placing a queue in front of anything immediately signals that there is a lot of demand. Some people will even join a queue before they even really know what they are queuing for!

Sometimes demand for something is so great that a queue is necessary to maintain order and fairness on who gets their hands on the limited stock first, or to make sure the website can handle the traffic. But in other cases, a queue can be put in place simply to highlight a feeling of urgency and scarcity for customers – that way, as soon as they reach the front of the line, they are sure to snap up their purchase right away (before the next person grabs it!).

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Sunk cost bias

A big factor in why people stay in longer queues and convert at the end is the sunk cost bias. There is a tipping point while waiting for something where we feel a strong impulse to remain in the queue so that the time we have spent waiting so far is not wasted.

For example, if you wait in line for 5 minutes and notice the queue is not moving very quickly, you are likely to leave the queue or come back at a quieter time since you have only spent 5 minutes waiting. However, if you have been waiting for a more significant amount of time, like 30 minutes, you are much less likely to abandon the queue because you have already “sunk” the cost of your time into waiting, and that time would be wasted if you left at that point.

We are not suggesting you should extend the amount of time customers are sat waiting in line, but it is worth knowing that most people will keep waiting past a certain wait time threshold, so it’s worth optimizing the queue experience to keep people engaged. Once they have spent that time waiting to enter the site, the chances are they will be more inclined to convert to a sale.

Fast websites convert better

It’s been known for years that page slowdowns kill conversion rates on retail sites. A sluggish user experience between pages turns off most consumers and makes them less likely to continue to the checkout process.

Most retail sites should be optimized to load quickly, but this is quickly compromised when servers are overloaded with web traffic. As a result, many sales events cause eCommerce sites to slow down significantly, affecting conversion rates.

A virtual waiting room removes this strain by controlling the flow of traffic onto servers, delivering a smooth experience for customers browsing the site – a vital piece of your conversion rate optimization strategy.

You can even reward your most loyal (and high spending) customers using TrafficDefender’s VIP feature. A subset of your customers can be allowed to bypass the queue, delivering lightning-fast pages with no waiting in line even at busy times. This boosts conversion rates even more for your top spending clientele.

Bookmaker William Hill used our VIP feature to great effect during the Grand National, delivering faster-than-usual pages on their busiest day of the year for their regular customers, all while welcoming a record number of new customers through their virtual waiting room.

Protect your revenue, not just your uptime, with TrafficDefender

We believe your virtual waiting room should be part of your wider strategy to maximizing the effectiveness of your website, whatever its purpose. We will work closely with you to deliver maximum benefit, supporting you with our simple DNS based implementation through to your big sales events and beyond.

Make TrafficDefender part of your conversion rate optimization strategy. Get started with a free demo of TrafficDefender today.

How to balance stock levels and web traffic on Black Friday

In recent years, more and more retail spend has moved from in person to online, with analysts predicting this trend to continue. However, the expansion of online retail was accelerated at unprecedented levels by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every industry was disrupted by Covid restrictions, but the changes within retail have made it much more difficult to forecast what will come next with much certainty.

Retail has also been affected by manufacturing limitations that have come about since the start of the pandemic. Demand for specific materials and components has outstripped supply, meaning many retailers have been unable to maximize these lines of business.

Black Friday best practices for retailers

These factors all contribute to an unusual degree of uncertainty for the retail industry. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, retailers are having to prepare for multiple outcomes to quell this unpredictability.

During this time, many retailers have experienced rapid business growth as more consumers turned to eCommerce platforms to buy. Many retail businesses both big and small that embraced online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup services have flourished in turnover and headcount.

Rapid business growth creates new bottlenecks

This sudden expansion has not come without teething problems. When restrictions were strict and widespread, getting enough staff in warehouses to fulfill orders was a challenge for many. Web and IT infrastructure was also pushed beyond capacity in many cases, forcing businesses to push their platforms beyond their intended means to stay operational.

With Black Friday looming, supply chain problems also play a part in decisions around what lines to put on sale. Products must be desirable while at an attractive price point, and abundant enough to keep Black Friday marketing promotions going through extended sales periods, yet scarce enough to be sought after by shoppers.

After all, a key learning from our research into queue psychology is that scarcity boosts demand and the value people place onto goods and services, so this is a great way to boost conversion rate.

Website complexity compounded by high traffic

As retail businesses took opportunities to serve new demographics through Covid through online shopping, demand and growth has been exponential. However, too much growth too fast can be dangerous for any business.

Without a good technological foundation, a growing eCommerce business can quickly crumble. For example, if traffic coming into a site is more than the system was built to handle, there can be unwanted and damaging consequences.

The more systems you have working together to deliver your website, the more potential bottlenecks you have. The more traffic coming into a site, the more likely it is that one of these bottlenecks will create problems, such as parts of the site not loading, images and styling being removed, or functionality such as the checkout process breaking.

Another potential bottleneck is in the synchronization between your product pages and your inventory reporting. If you lose the link between these, you risk overselling stock, leading to several probable outcomes.

First, you may be unable to deliver to customers within the promised timeframe at the point of sale, causing frustration and added support overheads when customers enquire about their purchases.  When restocking quickly to remedy the problem, retailers may also get less favorable margins on the items, affecting revenue targets and profitability. Conversely, a system may show items as out of stock when this is not the case, in which case revenue would be lost on unsold stock.

Protect your web systems from reaching critical mass

Retail websites can control the traffic coming into their sites using a virtual waiting room like TrafficDefender. This allows visitors to be granted access to the website at a rate the website can handle, whilst presenting a fair and consistent experience to all customers.

Virtual waiting rooms prevent bottlenecks being reached anywhere in the web application, so there are no nasty surprises on busy days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Alongside a robust plan for load testing and infrastructure scaling, online queue systems remove the stress from eCommerce IT teams on these critical business days.

Get a free demo of TrafficDefender, which is used by some of the best-known online retailers, today.

Join our upcoming webinar with marketing experts Spike: “Is Your Retail Business Prepared for Black Friday 2021?” at 4pm BST on 27th July 2021.

How to master your store’s online queue UX this Black Friday

It’s easy to assume that any kind of wait is a bad experience. We want instant gratification, to get quick results and move onto the next thing, right? Especially as part of our Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping experience.

But studies have shown that it’s not the length of the wait that frustrates us. It’s the experience while we are waiting that determines how long and arduous a wait really feels.

Think about it – would you rather spend 20 minutes waiting in line at the post office, or 40 minutes waiting in the queue for Space Mountain at Disneyland? It’s not just the fact we are getting something fun as a reward for our wait for the rollercoaster; Disney works hard to make the waiting experience immersive and set our expectations for what we’ll get at the end of the wait. Conversely, most post offices offer little to engage us in the queue.

A fair waiting experience online

The same theory can be applied to virtual waiting rooms. Increasingly, retailers are using online queues to manage the flow of visitors to their sites and provide a fair and controlled experience for customers, particularly on the busiest weekend of the year – Cyber Weekend, which includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

It’s easier for people to leave a queue online and go elsewhere for deals than it is in person – there’s no need for camping out in the parking lot – so optimizing the virtual queuing user experience is vital to beat competitors.

What makes the waiting experience even more important is the fact that our perception of the quality of an overall customer experience is easier to influence earlier on. As the first interaction with a Black Friday sale will be spent in the virtual waiting room, this will have a massive influence on a customer’s overall opinion of the brand, no matter how good (or bad) their experience on the site itself.

Once again, this all boils down to creating the best waiting room experience possible. Let’s dive into some queue psychology and virtual waiting room engagement strategies.

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Virtual waiting room engagement strategies

Set expectations for the wait

It’s a foundation of queuing psychology: “A known, finite wait feels shorter than an unknown wait”.

Just being told to wait for an undisclosed amount of time creates anxiety. Roughly how long will the wait be? A few seconds? Minutes? Hours? We all have plans and other things to be doing, so knowing roughly how long our wait might be lets us know whether the wait will be worthwhile, or if it would be better to come back later.

Anxiety makes time feel slower but knowing how long is left on a wait can transform that anxiety into anticipation. A countdown clock to getting something good is exciting! Advent calendars wouldn’t be fun if Christmas Day could happen at any random time during December. Watching the progress leading up to something fun (be it Christmas Day or getting an amazing Black Friday deal) is a universal joy.

Any good virtual waiting room will give an accurate estimation of how long is left to wait. The best will have a fun, engaging and on-brand visual representation of this, for example a figurine marching across the progress bar for a toy shop.

Offer interaction that’s relevant and engaging

There’s no rule to say what you can and can’t include on a virtual waiting room queue page! TrafficDefender’s waiting room pages are fully customizable, so our customers can get creative and engage their customers.

Since queuing psychology tells us occupied time feels shorter than empty time, give people something to do as part of the user experience and their wait will fly by. This could be a video to watch (live streaming works particularly well), a quiz or survey to complete, live updates, or even a gallery of the deals they can expect to find on your site.

Make it feel fair

This is meant as a positive post, but since we are trying to make our customers “not hate” waiting, let’s address one of the most common frustrations customers feel on Black Friday – that the waiting experience isn’t fair across the board.

With social media it’s easy to see when others are boasting about a great deal they just nabbed online. It’s just as easy to complain when someone else got ahead of you in a queue, or got into a site to grab a deal first when you’ve been sat waiting for longer than they have.

Not only do you need a virtual waiting room with an exemplary record for security and online fairness (meaning it can’t be bypassed on the front-end), but you need to clearly show queue position on the queue page and keep this updated to show continual progress. This then feels fair and cuts out potential frustration.

The art of the online queue

These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking ahead of your Black Friday campaign. For a more in-depth look at the psychology of online queues, download our handy “Art of the Online Queue” guide.

Plus, don’t miss our upcoming webinar with online marketing experts Spike: “Is your retail business prepared for Black Friday 2021?” Join us on 27th July at 4pm BST to find out how to align marketing and IT optimizations and make Black Friday 2021 as successful as possible.

What actually happens when a website is overloaded?

We’ve all probably seen it – you try to visit a website, perhaps during a sale or trying to buy tickets to a popular event, only to find the site is down. But what is actually happening “behind the scenes” when a website is overloaded?

First of all, a crash often occurs if the volume of visitors exceeds the available website capacity of the services the site relies on.

Think of it like a physical store – every building has a limit to how many people can enter at once. At a certain point it gets uncomfortable for the occupants, and then dangerous – eventually there is simply no more room for further people to come in. The same happens when a website server is overloaded.

It’s not just the overall number of visitors (the volume) that causes issues. It’s also how quickly new visitors are entering (the velocity). Think of a stadium with turnstiles for entry – there is a maximum throughput of fans coming into those entry points, and to push too hard would cause discomfort or even injury. Websites use resources to respond to requests – too many at once can overwhelm them and deliver a poor experience to visitors.

What causes websites to become overloaded?

There are more ways than you might think for a website to suddenly become overwhelmed. Some of them are expected or even self-inflicted; most commercial websites want more traffic to increase revenues either through product or service sales, or to generate ad revenue (especially journalism websites).

Marketing activity often drives large amounts of traffic to websites (if done properly), and certain events like sales or ticket releases are known about in advance.

This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easier to prepare websites to cope for the increased traffic. For example, when fashion retailer JD Williams debuted its first TV advert in a primetime slot, their website immediately experienced a spike in traffic 27 times greater than Cyber Monday.

Viral or influencer marketing can also be unpredictable and can cause big jumps in traffic at unexpected times.

Many websites provide public services or are important for non-commercial reasons. Government services like filing tax returns, or educational services like handing in assignments or checking exam results, are now often done online and deadlines for these create rushes in demand.

Bots are another common cause of website overload. Around 50% of all web traffic is now automated, with 30% of traffic being malicious in its intent. Malicious or not, this traffic still needs to be processed by servers and can add overhead, especially on busy days.

Bot attacks can be very aggressive depending on their intention. Scalper bots looking to snap up all the stock in a sale event can come from multiple adversaries, causing thousands of additional requests in a short span of time. Other threats than create strain on web servers include credential stuffing and scraping, either of content or for the purposes of reconnaissance for a later attack.

What happens to the website once it becomes overloaded?

As more users enter the website, each service that the site relies on (databases, caches, payment gateways, third-party tools etc.) uses more resources. Everything is fine until any one of those services hits its limit.

This might be an infrastructure limitation – CPU, memory, total connections, file handlers or bandwidth for example – or it might be a service limitation, such as a third-party API usage limit, or a data pipeline ingest capacity limit.

Hopefully, these eventualities were uncovered during performance testing and mitigations planned for, but even with a load balancing solution in place, scalability is never instantaneous. The more complex the system, the more hidden bottlenecks there are.

Depending on the service and what limit was hit, the site will show some strange behavior. For instance, it’s quite common for a website struggling to cope with its traffic to lose all its styling or images, presenting new visitors with a strange text-only version.

Third-party services can also crumple before other parts of the site, for example the payment gateway, meaning all can look fine until customers come to checkout and pay.

Ticketing sites could even find that syncing breaks between ticket availability reporting and what is displayed to customers – a real source of frustration that would need to be addressed immediately.

Why do websites stop responding when busy?

One common symptom of an overloaded website is timeouts, where a request is sent but not dealt with immediately. Requests are handled as soon as a service has the free capacity to deal with them. When a resource limit is exceeded, the requests coming in exceeds the speed at which requests are dealt with. Exactly how long a request will wait before being processed varies, but it is typically up to a minute.

Eventually this list of pending requests grows to the point that no requests are being dealt with, as the service is dealing with requests that may already have been cancelled. Even if a site is put into maintenance mode so that no new traffic can hit the site, the service may have such a backlog of requests that it may take a long time just to work through them.

In this case, it’s usually faster to just restart the service to clear the backlog, but even that might not be possible if the requests are important, e.g. for an order processing service, in which case the only course of action is to wait for it to work through them.

If the high traffic is unexpected (for example, if an influencer published a post outside of the agreed schedule), the brand may not even know why these errors are happening until they look at their traffic logs.

What are the consequences of a website overload?

When a site slows down, users get frustrated and are less likely to browse and buy. Google crawler bots visiting the site at these times will also notice the drop in response times, which is bad news for SEO as site speed is a key ranking factor for search engines.

If a site isn’t behaving as expected customers could be receiving a poor or unfair experience. Some may be able to buy rare stock in a sale whilst others may be blocked for unexplained reasons. This can harm brand reputation, especially on social media or via word of mouth.

Of course, a completely crashed site can’t function at all. That means no sales, no bookings, no assignment submissions, or whatever else the site is supposed to do can’t be done, until the issue is fixed.

Any marketing spend allocated to getting visitors on the site is also wasted. Even worse for customer loyalty, visitors are likely to go to competitors to spend their money instead and may not come back.

In a worst-case scenario, important government or public services could be disrupted if the site meant to facilitate it goes down due to overwhelming traffic. The knock-on effects could be disastrous if essential services become unavailable.

What can you do once your site falls over?

Even after a site goes down, demand could still be flooding in as frustrated users keep hitting “refresh” to get access in a negative feedback loop. And if the site can be brought back online, as soon as customers realize this the demand will likely peak once again (at great velocity) and the website may quickly come back down.

As services will have broken individually on the way to a complete crash, there are likely to be various parts of the site to fix before functionality can be restored. This can all take significant time, sometimes out of hours from highly technical staff, which is very costly.

How can you mitigate the unwanted consequences of overwhelming traffic?

Website owners use a virtual waiting room as a safety net in front of their website to prevent all these things from happening.

TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room sits in front of the target website keeping track of how much traffic is coming and going at all times. Should the volume of traffic hit a threshold determined by the website owner, any new visitors will be redirected to an online queue and only allowed in once some users have left the site and there is the website capacity to serve more.

TrafficDefender is also designed to deliver a seamless, fully branded UX to waiting visitors. Those waiting are kept informed of where they are in the queue and how long their wait will be.

Get a free demo of TrafficDefender and ensure your site never falls down under heavy traffic conditions.

The hassle-free guide to a successful hot drop

One of the most exciting moments for an eCommerce team is when a “hot drop” lands – in other words, when a new product is launched and flies off the virtual shelves.

But the excitement of the hot drop does not come without a measure of stress. With profit and reputation on the line, what can eCommerce businesses do to make new product launches go as smoothly as possible?

Top tips for a successful new product launch

Set goals and targets

How do you measure the success of not just a hot drop, but any campaign or activity? By setting clear goals! One of the simplest structures for measuring success is SMART objectives:

  • Specific – Use real figures, such as how many you want to sell.
  • Measurable – Any sales target should be measurable so you can report this back to the rest of the business and use the information to guide future activity.
  • Achievable – Ambition is admirable but setting unachievable goals will only lead to disappointment. Use past trends and market research to set realistic goals.
  • Relevant – It might not just be sales figures that are relevant. You may also want to set goals for how much media coverage your marketing achieves, or how many upsells or overall website traffic you generate with the new product launch.
  • Time-bound – Are you looking for a solid hit of sales on launch day or a longer-term impact from your campaign?

Set out your goals well in advance but use them as a guide to track how well you’re doing rather than a strict “success or failure” indicator. Conditions can change suddenly and goals can always be tweaked if needed.

Promote the new product launch with content that resonates

You might have the perfect new product that your key demographic will love and want to buy in droves. But if your promotional material and marketing messaging aren’t on point, the hot drop will fall flat.

You probably know your target audience well, so speak directly to them. Demonstrate the value or desirability of your product, or at the very least make it stand out in the marketplace. What is your product’s USP (unique selling point)? What does it offer your audience that they can’t already get? And most importantly, does your marketing convey all these points clearly?

Reach your audience through the right channels

The perfect content strategy will be wasted without the right promotion strategy. Setting the right budget, defining your audience and posting content in places they will see it are all key.

ROI (return on investment) is important here. You might get better results with well-placed influencer campaigns that can build hype and anticipation in the days and weeks leading up to the big launch day, rather than a big budget TV spot.

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Make it exclusive and build the hype

Speaking of hype, nothing builds anticipation like the countdown to a hot drop. This is a useful sales tool as people are conditioned to automatically want something more if they are made to wait, or see that others want it as well. You can even build your marketing contacts list by incorporating a signup form on the product page before the new product launch.

Many high-end brands are now creating a sense of scarcity and exclusivity by utilizing virtual waiting rooms on new products upon launch. By adding a slight wait before allowing customers to buy, an element of urgency is added, which boosts conversion rates and can even be used to increase the price customers are willing to pay for items.

You could even take the hype to the next level by placing a signup form on your virtual waiting room queue page to increase the sense of urgency.

Reward and foster loyalty

Another way to boost sales through scarcity marketing tactics is to offer early access or limited-edition variations to your most loyal customers. Your high-spending regulars will appreciate the special treatment and be more likely to buy sooner, whilst those interested in your brand or products who aren’t eligible for the offer will see the exclusivity and want to get involved.

You can also use a virtual waiting room for this purpose. When bookmaker William Hill anticipated huge volumes of traffic on Grand National weekend, they smartly used TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room technology to place new visitors into a site-protecting queue, whilst loyal customers were rewarded with immediate access to a faster-than-usual web experience.

Prepare your team for the new product launch

All your preparations will come down to one big day, or in fact the moment the new product drops. Your team needs to be organized to deal with any eventuality leading up to, during and after any “hot drop”.

Make a playbook for the day with responses to every eventuality planned for in advance so that you can monitor and be reactive. Follow Murphy’s Law – assume everything that can go wrong, will go wrong – then if it does, you’ll know how to fix it fast.

Anticipate demand and plan to cope with it

Your goal with any hot drop is to spike demand for your brand or products. To not have a plan in place to process extra orders and deal with this increased interest would be disastrous.

A sudden influx of interest can cause bottlenecks in three main areas:

Obviously, you need to match your available stock levels as closely to expected demand as possible to maximize profit margins. You also don’t want to disappoint too many fans by selling out before they can secure their purchase.

But it’s also important to consider how you will fulfil orders – do you have enough staff available at warehouses? Are your delivery partners in the loop with your plans and ready to scale up operations to deliver your delivery estimates?

Web traffic is harder to get right because each website reacts differently to a flood of traffic. Capacity is affected by infrastructure, features, third party plugin dependencies (such as payment gateways) and the sheer velocity of traffic. Robust performance testing ahead of any hot drop is a necessity, but it can still be challenging to create realistic tests because you never know how real traffic will behave “on the day”.

Site-crushing traffic can easily turn any hot drop into a nightmare for everyone. Slow sites kill conversion rates (just one second of delay causes a 7% drop in conversions), and outages can cost millions in lost sales – not to mention the time and cost to fix the problem.

Once again, virtual waiting rooms can come to the rescue and save retailers a lot of stress (not to mention sales). By diverting excess visitors, who would otherwise push the website beyond its capacity limitations, into an online queue, retailers can maximize the throughput of customers without risking website outages or slow loading pages.

You can even tie your virtual waiting room into the above steps to combine creating hype, rewarding loyalty and protecting your website from performance failures into one project.

Get started with a free demo of TrafficDefender ahead of your next hot drop.

Why scarcity marketing works and how to apply it to eCommerce

What is scarcity marketing?

Scarcity marketing tactics make consumers desire a product, service or offer more by highlighting its scarcity, exclusivity or limited availability. This increases the likelihood of the consumer making a sale, doing so more quickly or for a higher price.

Why is scarcity marketing effective?

Scarcity marketing is based on basic human psychology called “commodity theory”. Instinct tells us that a scarcer item is more valuable and desirable than one that is more abundant.

This theory was tested in 1975 in the study “Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value” (Worchel, Lee & Adewole). The researchers tested how desirable subjects found identical cookies in two different jars based on their abundance and whether the cookies were always in low supply or had started out abundant before quickly becoming scarce.

The researchers found that the subjects found the scarcer cookies to be much more desirable than the more abundant cookies, especially if the cookies were initially plentiful but quickly became scarce.

In short, when we see something is running low on supply due to its popularity, the item is more desirable to us and we are more likely to buy it.

What are some examples of scarcity marketing?

Scarcity marketing can be used to highlight an item or service’s limitations in either time or stock. For example, a reduced price may only be a limited time offer (for example on Black Friday), or the items themselves may be sold in limited quantities to the point of demand outstripping supply.

Businesses have long used these scenarios to improve sales figures, creating a sense of urgency to sell items more quickly or at a higher price. This tactic can be applied across marketing channels as well as at the point of sale.

Using the scarcity principle of adding a simple strapline or message within any marketing such as “Hurry, this offer won’t last forever!” or “Don’t miss out!” can be enough to plant the idea of scarcity in consumers’ minds.

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“Only two left in stock”

There are also more subtle ways of planting the idea of an item or offer being scarce or of limited availability.

One of the more common scarcity marketing tactics in eCommerce is displaying the current stock levels or sales activity of an item on its product page. Messages such as “Only 2 left in stock” or “100 sold in the last hour” are usually dynamically updated and placed over or near the product image, where most consumers’ eyes are first drawn on the page. This social proof of the popularity and scarcity of the product encourages faster conversions.

This product page messaging can be made even more subtle to push conversions through the online checkout. Messages like “Order in the next 5 minutes for next day delivery!” add a timed incentive to convert, especially on pages where retail analysts have seen carts abandoned previously.

Limited time offer

Every sale event such as Amazon Prime Day or Black Friday works because of “commodity theory”. Prime Day deals must be special because they are exclusive to Prime members and only for a short period of time. Black Friday deals are also time limited; consumers are encouraged to act now or miss out on the deals.

In most cases the items for sale aren’t themselves high quality or particularly scarce. Instead, it is the low price that is the limited commodity, so when this is constrained by the limited time it is available, consumers are pushed to buy more quickly.

Limited editions

In some cases, the quantity of items available for sale is constrained, either because the item is inherently limited as with concert tickets, or because only a certain number will be produced, such as sneakers or hyper cars. This is where hype, pre orders and limited supply creates high demand and boosted sales. While die-hard sneakerheads and petrolheads might argue these rare items quickly sell out for extortionate prices because of their high quality, their popularity is usually due to classic scarcity marketing tactics and manufactured scarcity. Everyone wants to be one of the lucky few to own the rare item.

Worth waiting in line for

One of the most famous and successful marketing slogans is Guinness’s “good things come to those who wait”. The longer wait for a pint of Guinness to be poured and ready to drink became seen as a sign of its quality, and Guinness has become an iconic and premium brand since.

Similarly, when we see a queue or are made to line up for something, we often assume there must be something worth waiting for at the end of the queue. Even if we know nothing about the product or experience people are waiting for, the size of the line is an indicator of its worth and quality.

Online queues create curiosity

Virtual queues on websites are also used to create a sense of intrigue and allure. Luxury retailers are now using online queues to not only control the flow of web traffic to their websites, but also to increase the feeling of exclusivity around their products with artificial scarcity.

Virtual waiting rooms can artificially limit the capacity of a website or a particular product page, creating exclusivity and driving up the desirability of an item or offer.

For example, TrafficDefender will begin to direct new visitors to a page into the virtual queue once a defined number of users are active within the website. This threshold can be set to any number the website owner chooses, to either maximize throughput of visitors, or in this case limit the availability of the item.

Get a demo of TrafficDefender and we can help you create the perfect virtual waiting room for any scenario.

How brands can maximize revenues from influencer marketing

Influencer marketing has exploded as a way for brands to get their products in front of highly targeted audiences. According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report 2021, the influencer marketing industry is set to be worth $13.8 billion in 2021.

A well-measured influencer marketing campaign can significantly boost brand awareness through word of mouth. However, some influencer marketing campaigns have been so successful that they have brought websites offline unintentionally, costing brands their opportunity to cash in on the exposure.

Choosing the right influencer for your campaign

Influencer marketing is hard to get right. To reap the benefits of influencer marketing, authenticity is key. Otherwise, followers will recognize a quick cash grab and are unlikely to engage with the endorsement. The influencer and their audience must be closely aligned with your brand and products.

Proving ROI is also of utmost importance, with most businesses that use influencer marketing measuring successful campaigns not just on brand awareness, but also on conversions and sales. The more followers an influencer has, the higher the price they can ask, as the potential rewards in boosted sales increase.

But with higher reward comes higher risk – in this case, that a particularly successful campaign from an especially popular individual will overwhelm servers and crash the target website.

Overloaded servers lead to slower page load times (which can damage conversion rates by 7% per lost second), and even total loss of service, which could take hours of expensive tactical action to restore.

Therefore, before unleashing an influencer marketing campaign, you must ask whether your site is prepared for the potential volume of traffic it could generate.

When too much traffic loses sales

Every brand would love to attain the benefits of influencer marketing, but sometimes influencers can wreak havoc accidentally on unsuspecting businesses with a surprise shoutout. This was the case when social media influencer Holly Smith posted a video of her unboxing a food package from discount food retailer Cut Price Barry’s. The Canadian grocer had no idea that Holly’s video and her half a million TikTok followers was the culprit when their website suddenly crashed under huge demand. It took 18 hours to bring their webstore back online, during which time they could take no orders.

Influencer exposure could have spelled massive sales for Cut Price Barry’s, but instead cost them a day’s worth of transactions plus the time and resource to fix the website. The worst part is, they had no idea this wave of web traffic was coming and had nothing in place to circumvent the outage.

There was a similar case in the UK when TV presenter Holly Willoughby returned to ITV’s This Morning wearing a dress sold by fashion brand Nobody’s Child. The daytime television star posted a photo of her outfit to her seven million Instagram followers, and within minutes fans reported that the Nobody’s Child website had crashed.

Be prepared to capitalize on any peak

Thankfully, another well-known fashion brand was prepared for this eventuality when Holly Willoughby appeared on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” donning one of their outfits. A subsequent post on social media boosted traffic to their site, but thanks to its use of TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room, the fashion retailer’s webstore remained functional and was able to capitalize on the exposure.

Any online business can get this same assurance of availability for their website with TrafficDefender’s virtual waiting room technology. TrafficDefender sits in front of your website monitoring traffic levels; as soon as the site reaches a limit of how many visitors it can comfortably handle, TrafficDefender places new visitors into a fair, first-in, first-out queue.

With Traffic Defender, brands can keep trading to their maximum throughput, no matter how successful their influencer marketing campaign has been (whether expected or not).

Get a demo of TrafficDefender today.