December 18, 2012, 10:13 AM

How two e-retailers improved web site performance while cutting costs

New Relic’s software pinpoints problems for Warby Parker and Fashiolista.

Lead Photo

A screenshot of the New Relic dashboard in action.

Eyewear retailer Warby Parker noticed about a year ago that its site was getting sluggish, with pages taking 4.5 seconds to load, about twice as long as they should, says Ali Khan, director of technology operations. But Warby Parker didn’t know why, and the Google Analytics tools it had in place didn’t reveal enough details about the site to figure it out, he says. After signing up to use a new performance-monitoring tool from vendor New Relic, however, the retailer was able to speed load times to 2.5 seconds and save money by improving the efficiency of its servers, he says.

New Relic provides an online dashboard that enables e-retailers to monitor their sites’ performance, including page load speeds and application response times. When an error occurs or part of a web site is responding slowly, the software alerts the retailer and highlights the source of the problem. That sharply reduces the time it would take Warby Parker’s technical staff to spot and track down the issue, Khan says. With the dashboard, developers can also track new software code they deploy to make sure it performs properly.

For example, when Warby Parker launched a new e-commerce site last year, it had a few bugs at first, Kahn says. After New Relic identified them, the retailer’s developers were able to fix the problems within a week or two, then keep observing to make sure the errors didn’t come back, he says. The software also helped Warby Parker make sure performance wasn’t suffering as it enabled more visitors to be on the site at once without reducing page load times, he says. “New Relic gave proof that it worked,” he says. “It’s our authoritative source for load time.”

Warby Parker pays about $600-$700 per month for the New Relic technology, which is cheaper than it would cost his developers to create and deploy a similar system in-house, Khan says. It took Warby Parker’s I.T. staff about an hour to set up and turn on the dashboard, he adds. Since implementing it, the retailer has also been able to optimize how it balances processing loads on its web servers by showing which tasks are taking longer to run and how close the machines are to max capacity, leading to further monetary savings, Khan says.  New Relic’s pricing is based on the number of servers a client uses. Warby runs more than two dozen applications on four or five servers, Khan says. He declines to reveal exactly how much Warby Parker has saved.

New Relic customers can create a basic, “Lite” account, which monitors 12 types of processes, for free; buy the standard service for $24/mo./server with an annual contract, or $49 month to month; or buy the pro service for $149/mo./server with an annual contract, or $199 on a monthly basis, the company says. Clients using five or more servers may receive additional discounts, it says. The number and types of monitoring capabilities available to customers increase with each pricing level.

“New Relic targets organizations that want to get started with application performance monitoring quickly and at a low cost,” says Mary Johnston Turner, research vice president, enterprise systems management software, at consulting firm IDC Financial Insights. She adds that, because New Relic is hosted over the Internet, it deploys easily. “The entry-level Lite tier of service is available for free, enabling customers to get started with little or no risk and then upgrade if they think they need the extra features.”

Like Warby Parker, Fashiolista, a two-year-old social shopping site based in the Netherlands, also says it saved money and improved performance with New Relic. Fashiolista found it hard to keep its site running when membership reached about 200,000 consumers, says co-founder and chief technical officer Thierry Schellenbach. His small staff—which numbers only 25, even though today Fashiolista has 1.3 million registered shoppers in 160 countries—was not able to detect and fix bugs fast enough to satisfy consumers, sometimes taking months to do so, he says. When it did detect and fix bugs, user activity immediately ramped up 10-20%, making improving the site’s reliability a pressing issue, he says.

“Sometimes just milliseconds can make a big difference in user activity,”Schellenbach says. However, he adds, “it can take a long time to find the problem, or you just don’t spot the problem.”

After installing New Relic, Fashiolista was able to quickly find the errors that were slowing down the site, he says. “New Relic not only spots that there is a problem, but it narrows down the specific component,” he says. “It really gives you insights instead of data.”

The retailer uses the dashboard every day to make sure each change a developer makes to the site isn’t causing an issue, Schellenbach says. In the last three to four months, Fashiolista has also reduced its operating costs by 50%, he says, in part because New Relic has helped it to see where slower processes operating in the background could be adjusted to improve the site’s overall speed and efficiency.

Recently, Fashiolista began testing some e-commerce tracking features from New Relic, such as monitoring how long it takes a customer clicking an item on the social site to get to the merchant’s web site to buy it, Schellenbach says. New Relic is also working on a new feature to diagnose mobile web issues, which Fashiolista will likely use when it becomes available, he says. 

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