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Marketers: Did You Buy the IT Team Something Nice This Past Holiday?

Pull in your CTO before you read one more blog and make sure you’re fully prepared from an infrastructure perspective

With retail busy swinging for the fences this past holiday season, merchants and marketers may have forgotten to include IT when they launched big events to hit their targets. As both industry professionals and shoppers know, if your site doesn't load properly, then "the conversion that should have been" is likely happening elsewhere. Not a new story. Every year retailers big and small leave shoppers hanging - with a site that hangs - and miss critical holiday opportunities. But if these outages happen every year or so, many wonder why the industry is not ahead of the challenge.

Answer
We never do anything the same way twice. Retail is about comps, comps are about increases, and increases come only with changing our game plan. Inherent to online retail, a sea of new and emerging opportunities present themselves every time we check our email. Furthermore, there are plenty of retailers still testing and refining the existing marketing mix. We marketers seek new methods to beat last year and flood the site with qualified traffic. What's casually overlooked during this process, however, is a check-in with IT on whether or not the "big event" is about to turn the site upside down.

Let's take a look at three major factors surrounding this year's holiday that created pressures on site stability and review methods to help get in front of potential pitfalls.

Mobile and Responsive Design
A 2013 survey by Harris Interactive on the use of smartphones and tablets for holiday shopping showed a 36% surge in mobile traffic over last year.

For years we've watched mobile usage skyrocket so this stat is not particularly surprising. The stat does, however, become a risk when you consider marketers lobbying to merge mobile and desktop sites under a ‘One Web' concept.

Under One Web, the use of responsive or adaptive design means that all site traffic from all devices pings the same domain. Traditionally, load testing for the main site references historical peaks of activity - from desktop users - and measures site stability under a multiple of those benchmarks. Retailers are slowly moving away from the old "m dot" mobile sites in favor of a sleeker user experience and consistent content across devices. Retailers operating under a One Web strategy that do not consider mobile usage when load testing will find themselves peaking - or crashing - and missing revenue during critical days.

The Fix
Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just including mobile data for future tests. We must also account for the phenomenon that people are increasingly connected, and therefore usage and visit frequency are increasing on the whole. As web pages continue to get bigger and demand grows for perfectly optimized pages for all devices, it's important that your designers and developers prioritize performance testing with APM tools to analyze the impact of the load on the different application components. Your APM tools should be precise enough to show the specific mobile device, the specific location, and the specific browser. This dashboard shows performance stats from synthetic monitoring that your APM tool should capture.

Compuware APM/Gomez Monitoring Charts showing Response Time and Availability

This monitoring should be done not just before a massive new load, but as part of ongoing site performance management so that APM becomes part of the fabric of the overall success of the site. If you're a marketer pushing to go responsive, pull in your CTO before you read one more blog and make sure you're fully prepared from an infrastructure perspective.

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Source of Infographics: Online survey conducted within the U.S. by Harris interactive on behalf of Compuware APM from Oct 14-16 2013.

More Stories By Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is Associate Partner and Digital Thought Leader at Rosetta. He is a marketer with a degree in web development, and while these days he is usually discussing media mix, he got his start in online retail 12 years ago writing code - so this blog is written from that point of view. His position with IT folks is and always has been one of sympathy during the holiday season – when marketers run wild.

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