Reflections on Black Friday


Whilst this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday season continues to rumble on, the spike95 team have taken a quick look back at just a few of the lessons we picked up over the last week:

  • Sales up, increased pressure on card payment systems to perform and be secure – stats from Barclaycard put sales on its cards 6% ahead of the previous year’s event with £2.9 bn spent on Friday and a forecast of £4 bn including Cyber Monday. Nationwide reported a 13% rise in transactions and most other card companies have given similar indications. Of total spend, two thirds is estimated to have been taken online. I’m sure you’ve seen numerous other figures reported but there’s no doubt that the overall trend is an upward one.
  • Outages are still happening and mistakes being made – in the UK, Currys PCWorld and Game were just two retailers who made the press for their site going down at a critical time (though problems were quickly resolved). We’ve seen other reports from across the globe and no doubt there were others we’ve missed!
  • 404 pages are improving (even if the messages arguably mask the real underlying problem!).
  • Beyond simple site availability, functionality under load remains a key element to test. Various load-related functional errors have been seen including sites not displaying full search results, missing shopping cart buttons and problems linking to third party payment engine APIs.
  • Twitter complaint traffic again shows a direct correlation to website downtime – corporate reputations continue to be damaged as angry customers take to the airwaves to air their frustrations.
  • Mobile traffic and purchasing up significantly – September 2016 was reported as the month where mobile access exceeded the desktop for the first time and we see this trend only increasing – with a Black Friday forecast of up to 70% arriving via mobile, including mobile traffic in your end to end simulations is more important than ever. We’re also seeing an increasing need to look at front end optimisation with challenges such as testing responsive web design requiring new approaches.
  • ISPs and mobile networks remain under pressure – at time of writing, Down Detector’s top 10 outages over the last weeks is dominated by ISPs and mobile providers suggesting that just getting to sites remains an issue for many willing to spend, spend, spend.
  • World-class system performance is a journey not a switch – Despite the flexibility with modern cloud stacks and the ability to quickly add more processing power, the days of simply throwing tin at the problem are long gone. Of course, AWS, Azure and the others do allow us to more easily host complex architectures and platforms. Advances in performance management tooling also give clear warning of the need to quickly spin up more resources but this still won’t fully get round the fundamentals of poor software performance engineering.

With spike95’s help we’re pleased to say our clients bucked the trend. One major online-only retailer had a fantastic season with revenues up and reputation maintained. Their platforms scaled to successfully support increased traffic and sales.

How? A clear strategy and well understood goals were key, as of course was the ability to change those goals regularly as they worked in an agile fashion to bring new features to market quickly. Early lifecycle performance testing was also critical giving early insight into design failings, performance defects and inability to scale at the right time (when the system could be re-engineered without expensive rework). A solid volumetric model was created for end to end testing and combined with custom developed monitoring and analysis tools and techniques. Real confidence was gained by heavily testing the production stackitself, simulating anticipated load levels loads alongside real traffic in the weeks leading up to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period.

So now we look forward to the rest of the Christmas season and to 2017’s other major peaks. For those who were left wanting the journey starts now, time to plan ahead for Black Friday 2017! / +44 (0)20 336 95 95 1