Promotions are a key driver of business at online jeweler Ice.com-so much so that as holiday shopping peaked last week, promotions on major portals helped draw 350,000 unique visitors to the site in a single day, says CEO Shmuel Gniwisch. That’s about 2.5 times last year’s peak holiday traffic, and it’s driving sales that are to date this holiday about 68% ahead of last year, he adds.
Ice.com has been able to accommodate the increased traffic with lags of only “a few milliseconds” at times of peak demand because of preparations for this holiday that it started making last April, Gniwisch says. That’s when it started forecasting for the current holiday season based on a combination of the previous year’s holiday numbers and marketing and promotional plans for this year, and realized it would need to increase server capacity to handle the traffic. Negotiating a bulk server purchase from Dell in July, it gradually brought its owned-server capacity up to about 65 servers by the beginning of November, says Gniwisch.
Ice.com also uses content delivery provider Akamai Technologies Inc. to expedite image serving. “Our business is graphic-centric,” says Gniwisch. “When you are selling jewelry online, you have to show as deep a picture as possible and the deeper the picture, the higher the graphic load is. It’s always an issue.” Outsourced service from Akamai helps address that issue by caching Ice.com’s images at Akamai servers located at strategic points throughout the country. Distributing the images from servers closer to the point of user request speeds up image loading in the user’s browser.
Ice.com also prepared for the season by studying its own traffic patterns and adjusting distribution to its own servers accordingly. For example, at about noon Eastern time, demand peaks as Californians log on to the site when arriving at work, which coincides with New Yorkers logging on during their lunch break, he says. Ice.com handles that by prioritizing requests to the server from different areas. During that time, international requests to the server, for example, receive a lower priority than they do when international traffic peaks at other times of the day. “We’ve learned over the past three years how to handle it,” Gniwisch says of the season’s higher traffic demands. “And we’re still learning.”