What can online retailers do to prevent Black Friday website crashes?

24 Nov 2017

A website crashing on Black Friday can be frustrating. Image: fizkes/Shutterstock

Black Friday is an intensely busy time for retail, so why are some sites still not prepared?

Black Friday has technically become more of a week-long extravaganza of consumption as opposed to just one single day. Retailers have been shouting from the rooftops about their deals but there are some problems when it comes to annoying website outages.

According to The Telegrapha record number of bargain-hunters will be waiting in online queueing systems, which aim to reduce both shopper frustration and strain on websites.

Struggling to meet demand

According to CEO of UK e-commerce agency PushON, Simon Wharton, a number of retailers this year have already struggled in the face of massive consumer demand. “Last night [23 November], before Black Friday even got underway, a number of e-commerce sites had already gone down as they couldn’t cope with traffic surges.

“Not long after 9pm, Ted Baker was struggling to meet demand, with users temporarily unable to access the site. Game was also down for about three hours yesterday as the retailer ‘updated’ its site for Black Friday – it looks like it wasn’t just a simple scheduled update.”

Ted Baker’s unresponsive site. Image: PushON/Ted Baker

The issues extended to a multitude of brands, Wharton said. “Calvin Klein had opted to pay for adverts on Google yet when users clicked on the ads, they were led to a blank page. This morning, Next was also experiencing issues with its website.”

Scalable solutions

Wharton said e-commerce companies should be implementing scalable hosting solutions such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, which would allow retailers to deal with peaks in traffic on Black Friday.

He also recommended retailers have a strong Content Delivery Network (CDN) in place to serve content based on locality and improve performance during spikes in traffic.

As is seen with a number of online stores almost every year, “failing to prepare for peak can cause poor performance, site downtime and, ultimately, lost revenue for retailers”.

Jake Madders, director at Hyve Managed Hosting, told ITProPortal that cloud hosting has a lot of benefits for retailers. “Utilising a cloud hosting provider means that you can easily cope with Black Friday traffic without having to pay for bandwidth and other resources that you won’t need for the rest of the year.”

He also said it is worth looking at the service level agreement your host offers, to get an idea of how fast an outage would be remedied in a worst-case scenario.

Founder and CTO of Nexsan, Gary Watson, spoke about the need for retailers to examine their IT infrastructure: “Black Friday is a critical day for retailers, with many set to take in double, if not triple, their usual sales. However, this does place greater pressure on IT infrastructure to be able to deliver.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects