During the 2013 Oracle EMEA Partners and Clients Conference, Spark::red’s founding partner, Devon Hillard, shared a secret on how Spark::red achieved 100% customer satisfaction and never lost a client to another Oracle Commerce host. According to Devon, the secret to Spark::red’s high level of client satisfaction is the company’s awareness of, and solutions to, the 5 most common issues eCommerce businesses face. What are those issues, or as we refer to them as the 5S’?
The Panopta Holiday Index for 130 of the largest online retailers found that
86 out of those 130 had downtime between November 15th 2012 and January 4th 2013. Also in its 2012 Report, Aberdeen Group estimated that for large eCommerce companies, 1 hour of downtime costs $1,130,000.
As you can see, stability issues cause millions of dollars in revenue loss to large eCommerce businesses. What can be done to improve their website stability?
Fully Dedicated Hardware
Using a shared resources means that performance issues related to traffic spikes or security breaches which other websites experience might affect your own online store’s availability. Fully dedicated hardware eliminates such a possibility and results in more stable hosting environments.
Environments Built Out By Experts
According to the 2012 Acronis Global Disaster Recovery Index, human error is the main source of unplanned downtime. Having experienced architects working on your eCommerce website (installation, configuration, tuning and support) minimizes the chance of on-site errors and significantly improves your website’s availability.
Fully Redundant Data Centers
According to the earlier mentioned 2012 Acronis Global Disaster Recovery Index, server room environment issues and unplanned outages are among the 8 most common reasons for website downtime. Choose an eCommerce host that can provide you fully multiple high availability data centers (Tier III+ or IV Certified) in order to avoid/minimize your website’s downtime as a result of hosting facility related issues.
Disaster Recovery Options
While your hosting provider can ensure your website’s stability via implementing the previously mentioned practices most of the time, some events such as natural disasters cannot be predicted or avoided. In order to be prepared in case of an earthquake or flooding, consider using disaster recovery options provided by your host (Disaster Recovery Clusters, Global Load Balancing, etc.). In this case when unexpected downtime occurs, you can have your website up and running in less time with little to no data loss.
As you probably know the number of eCommerce businesses is growing rapidly. Buyers’ expectations of their online shopping experience increase just as quickly. Take a look at the following statistics as an example of the impact of website speed on customer satisfaction levels and subsequently online revenue.
- Amazon found that a 100ms increase in page response time led to a 1% DROP in sales;
- Based on a 2011 Walmart report 100ms reduction of page-load caused 1% online revenue growth;
- Google found that an 500ms increase in page response time led to a 20% drop in traffic and revenue.
There are many ways a hosting provider can maximize website speed for end users. Lets take a look at those mentioned by Devon Hillard during his presentation:
I don’t need to tell you that computers used 10 years ago were much slower than modern ones. And back then it was fine, as users expected much slower performance anyway. Nowadays, online shoppers’ expectations of website speed are much higher that means you need to make sure that your hosting provider runs your eCommerce website on the newest and fastest servers available. You cannot afford to be on older generations of CPUs.
Geographically Optimal Data Centers
Imagine that you are a large online retailer with a primary client base in Europe. In this case, a good shopping experience for European buyers is very important for your business’s success.
You can reduce page load times for those buyers through hosting your servers in a data center that is geographically close to them. Before signing a contract with the host, ask him/her what locations your website can be hosted from and choose the closest one to your primary target audience.
Testing a website for different levels of traffic before its launch helps to identify possible stability issues and fix them before the end-user is affected. Load testing is especially important before such busy online shopping periods as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and New Years.
Environment and application performance tuning allows for the optimization and improvement of performance and capacity of your eCommerce infrastructure.
Based on the results of load testing and metric analysis your hosting provider will be able to make the necessary improvements to servers, software, and networking to optimize the performance of your specific application and user traffic.
It is important that your host understand and provides caching services as part of its hosting solution. There are many levels of caches that critical, from the database, to the servers’ file systems, to the application, the web servers, to HTTP response headers, CDNs, and more. Storing the data and pages accessed most often in cache will significantly reduce page load times for your online buyers.
Web pages of eCommerce sites usually include many elements and can subsequently be pretty heavy. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) improve page load times via multiple Points of Presence (PoPs) all over the world. It is especially important for international businesses with buyers located all over the world.
While you can always purchase CDNs directly from such companies as Akamai , LimeLight, or CloudFlare, it is usually more convenient to do so via your hosting provider. Also, many hosts will offer you discounted pricing for those services as a result of their partnerships with top-tier CDN providers.
eCommerce sites are the number one target for security attackers. In March 2013 the worlds largest DDOS attack generated over 300Gbps of traffic that caused many websites to slow down and even become unavailable for a short period of time.
In order to secure your eCommerce website, chose a hosting provider that has:
PCI DSS Compliance
The more Visa transactions you accept per year, the higher the PCI DSS Level of Compliance you should have. Choosing the host that is PCI DSS certified makes your website less vulnerable to security breaches as well as simplifies your own certification process as many security issues are already taken care of by the host.
Read more about PCI DSS Compliance, its requirements for Managed Services Providers and the ways it benefits eCommerce businesses.
Also read ‘The Three Most Common PCI Compliance Myths’ for additional information on this topic.
Advanced IDS, IPS, and Anti-DDOS solutions
Basic firewalls don’t cut it anymore. You need adaptive security that can automatically identify and defend against malicious traffic and unusual behavior. IDS, IPS, Web App Firewalls, and anti-DDOS measures are all important for your hosting provider to deliver.
Many eCommerce websites experience significant traffic spikes during short periods of time such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For example, Spark::red’s client People Choice Awards had up to 100x traffic increase during their Show Voting period. A reliable hosting provider needs to be able to sustain increased traffic while ensuring website’s availability and performance.
There are two things the host should be able to provide to its eCommerce clients:
Ease of Deploying Extra Server Capacity
Your website traffic may vary significantly throughout the year. This is even more true for eCommerce businesses. The ability to get more server capacity, quickly, easily, and affordably, for a limited period of time can make a busy shopping season a huge success, while lack of scalability options can turn it into a disaster with the loss of online sales as a result of website slowness or unavailability.
Read ‘Calendars.com Finds Cyber Monday Success With Spark::red’ for an example of successful scalability services implementation.
Expert Scaling Guidance
How many extra servers do you need? Do you need to scale your app tier, web tier, or database tier, or some combination thereof? Are you better off going with a fewer number of larger servers, or a larger number of smaller servers? Are there application architectural options that can help address scaling bottlenecks such as real-time inventory checks and allocation? Be sure your hosting provider can answer these questions for your specific application and needs.
You might think that support should be mentioned as a part of the previous 4S’. And I would agree with you. However, I dedicated the whole section of this blog post to support in order to emphasize its importance for seamless eCommerce website performance. I would even say that it is the number 1 criteria you should base your choice of hosting provider on.
Reliable hardware means nothing without experienced architects who know how to install and configure it, the best monitoring tools won’t improve your web performance without people who know how to interpret accumulated data and which web performance optimization practices to use to increase performance, troubleshooting and ticket resolution would also take forever causing huge revenue loss without a team of experts taking care of your website, and I could easily continue this list of examples.
Below are a few things you need to ensure that your host’s support includes:
No matter what hosting platform you use (Oracle ATG Commerce, Demandware, Hybris, etc.), support team’s related experience with this platform is a must. Of course, the more experience they have in this area, the better.
Also make sure that the people responsible for your website delivery and maintenance worked on eCommerce websites of a similar size as your own. In other words, if your online store generates over $10M of online sales, having a support team with architects and admins whose biggest client hasn’t exceed $1M in yearly online sales is very risky.
The best way to evaluate the expertise of the prospective host is by asking for examples of their clients, reading on-site reviews and contacting those clients directly to get information from them first-hand.
24x7x365 Availability In Case Of Emergencies
While many eCommerce companies usually need just a few hours of support per month, there are critical website issues that might occur that require the support team’s immediate attention. Make sure you won’t be left hanging with your website down during weekends or holidays.
If you think about other tools of implementation practices that can optimize eCommerce stability, speed, security, scalability or support for large eCommerce websites, please share them with us by leaving a comment.