April 21, 2011, 10:35 AM

Orchard Brands increases its focus on site performance

Monitoring tools help distinguish false alarms from fire alarms.

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At Orchard Brands, the e-commerce team is responsible for monitoring the performance of its 17 e-retail sites. The nonstop nature of e-commerce means problems usually can’t wait until tomorrow, and a text or phone call arriving in the middle of the night isn’t unusual, says Jeff Runner, senior e-commerce analyst at Orchard Brands. Things break, but by using web performance monitoring tools Orchard Brands’ e-commerce team can distinguish between problems it can fix internally from those that must be addressed by other entities.

Orchard Brands, No. 63 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, sells apparel and home products through sites including Blair.com, LinenSource.com and WinterSilks.com.

The company used to measure performance using internal tools, but received a number of false alarms alerting it to problems that either didn’t really exist or were beyond its immediate control, such as slowly loading consumer review content delivered by an outside vendor. The false alarms came so frequently, says Runner, that the staff sometimes paid little attention to them.

“It’s like the boy who cries wolf,” he says. “After awhile, it’s easy to stop delving into things with the same diligence and you can miss something important.”

The e-retailer enlisted the monitoring and evaluation services of Keynote Systems Inc. in March to add more sophistication to its monitoring and alerts processes. Orchard Brands uses several of the vendor’s monitoring tools to test key pages on each of its 17 sites. The Keynote system tests the selected pages every 15 minutes from five locations within the United States to make sure pages elements render quickly and operate correctly.

If a problem arises, the tools identify where the trouble originates. That lets the e-commerce team know if it is a problem it can fix itself or if it must relay a message to the appropriate party to respond. For example, a content manager at one of the company’s sites added an image that caused the page load time to exceed time limits the e-commerce team had set in the Keynote system, triggering an alert. The Orchard team was able to contact the person responsible, who resized the image to a smaller size that let it load faster. The system also prioritizes issues according to which are known to have the greatest impact on consumers’ purchase behavior, so the e-commerce team tackles the biggest issues first.

“We no longer chase false alarms,” says Brent Koozer, e-commerce support lead at Orchard Brands. “We focus on what truly impacts the customer. That’s a big win for us.”

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