Now that the dust has settled and the Internet is back to whatever passes for normal, it’s time for a full accounting of how online retailers made out over the span of time from Cold-Turkey Thursday through Cyber Monday 2012.
The good news is that we can breathe a sigh of relief. The economy is alive and the fiscal cliff hasn’t kept people from spending billions of dollars on stuff they wanted for themselves, but claimed they were Christmas presents.
The bad news is that the wealth wasn’t spread equally, nor was the ability to spend with total abandon. Some users were let down by their Internet access, and some merchants were let down by their Internet presence. Fortunately, there was still plenty of insanity to go around.
So here’s what we know, as reported by IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative: Sales were up on Nov. 26 and everybody really was shopping from their offices when they were supposed to be working. IBM said that overall online shopping was up more than 30 percent from 2011 levels and that the peak shopping time was 11:25 a.m. EST, which is right in the middle of the workday on the East Coast and during the morning workday everywhere else, except maybe on the West Coast. I’d love to see a study on worker productivity during Cyber Monday.
Other news, that may or may not be good, is that shopping from mobile devices, the largest percentage of which was on Apple iPads, was up more than 70 percent. By itself, the iPad accounted for 7 percent of all online shopping, according to IBM. The study found that more than 90 percent of tablet traffic came from iPads.
But there was also some not-so-good news. Not every retailer benefitted equally from Cyber Monday sales. Merchants that haven’t made sure their retail Websites were ready for the traffic ultimately sent business to their better-prepared competitors. Shoppers aren’t patient when they try to buy something and are rebuffed by a slow or improperly functioning Website.
According to a study by Ipswitch, which makes network-management products, more than 90 percent of the consumers surveyed abandoned a Website because of a poor shopping experience. What’s more, shoppers would only give a commerce site two tries before heading over to the competition. The study also noted that more than half of shoppers who failed to get what they needed from a commerce site went directly to the site of a competitor. Worse, a third of shoppers won’t buy anything. Only a small fraction would wait and try again later.
Cyber Monday Sales Stellar, but Not for Untested Commerce, Mobile Sites
The impatience of online shoppers was particularly tested on Cyber Monday for those using the mobile devices that IBM referred to. According to a report by Keynote Systems, the average wait time for Cyber Monday mobile users for a page to load was 18 seconds. Considering that this is eight times longer than it takes for a typical nonmobile site to load, it’s likely that retailers lost a lot of mobile customers. The slower performance for mobile users was apparently due to inadequate testing of mobile sites by retailers according to the report. According to a report by CNNMoney, Foot Locker’s commerce site crashed for 35 minutes from too much traffic.
Now comes the big question. How do you keep your business from being part of the digital detritus littering the shoulders of the information superhighway? There are really three things you must do if you plan to keep up with heavy shopping days.
First, invest in bandwidth. Chances are the commerce site you have running on that server in the back of the data center won’t cut it when serious shopping comes. You can either make sure your servers are up to the potential demand and that your access to the Internet can meet significant demand growth this year or you need to move your commerce to some other site, perhaps Amazon or eBay.
Second, fully test both your commerce site and your mobile site. There are companies that will help you set up testing so you can make sure your site will work, but you need to go online during busy periods and see for yourself. On days when you’re experiencing heavy traffic, go to your own site and see what the experience is like. Remember, nearly everyone abandons a poor shopping experience. You need to know if that’s what you’re delivering. And, by the way, don’t just log in from your internal network. Log in from home or from Starbucks like everyone else does and check your Website and mobile sites this way.
Finally, make sure the online transactions are making it through the purchase process. Shoppers need confirmation that the purchase really happened. This means making sure you send out a confirmation email. The last thing you want is to have customers cancel orders because they don’t think their order went through.
Of course, there’s nothing you can do to impart sanity to Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but at least you can make sure you don’t lose business. The best time to prepare for next year is now so you have plenty of time to get it right and then test your sites again to make sure you got it right.