November 3, 2011, 12:05 PM

Retailers need to ensure their sites are ready for the holiday crush

Testing can help uncover any bottlenecks that are slowing a site down.

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Every year around the holiday season there are retailers that crash from the onslaught of traffic. And this year, with the increasing usage of mobile devices, rising online sales and the swelling number of sites deploying rich media, retailers need to be even more aware of issues that might affect their site’s performance, experts say.

However, retailers can lessen the chances of their sites slowing down or crashing by having a good testing plan in place, says Joel Weierman, senior manager of professional services at web monitoring vendor Neustar Inc. A good plan, he says, consists of testing consumers’ experiences from several geographical locations, on multiple devices, as well as under the extreme stress of traffic at least 100%, if not 200%, higher than usual.

“That way you can know if you have everything in place to handle an episodic, flash type of event where traffic floods the site,” he says.

When one of the Neustar’s retail clients recently ran a load test using the vendor’s BrowserMob tool, it found that its site search for a particular product was taking longer than expected. Digging into the results, Weierman and the retailer found that the site’s database table that listed products had a missing field. After fixing the problem the search’s speed increased roughly 200%.

“We wouldn’t have uncovered and been able to fix that issue without the stress testing,” he says. “Load testing enables to know in advance what issues consumers are finding when they’re shopping on the site.”

Some retailers, however, don’t have a specific issue slowing down their sites when hit with heavy traffic; rather they’re constrained by their servers and bandwidth, says Weierman. Because it is already November, if a retailer’s site simply isn’t loading fast enough, he says they should reach out to outside vendors. “If you’re in a time crunch the fastest way to speed up your site is working with a third party,” he says. “That enables you to focus on what you do best and enables the vendor to do what they do best.”

There are a range of offerings that can help, from content delivery networks that can cache web site content, then secure and accelerate the delivery of that content to those that manage and troubleshoot web applications. The sooner retailers can find and deploy one of those offerings, the better, he says.

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