Retailers get ready for this holiday season’s mobile traffic boom

November 18, 2016 04:20 PM

Black Friday is a key mobile day. 

Mobile traffic to U.S. online retailers peaked on Black Friday 2015, according to digital measurement firm comScore Inc. This occurred for two reasons: In-store shoppers had their smartphones in hand, price checking products, and shoppers who were with family or traveling out of town surfed the  web on their smartphones because they weren’t sitting in front of a desktop, says Andrew Lipsman, comScore’s vice president of marketing and insights.

This holiday shopping season, comScore predicts mobile will be three times greater than desktop retail traffic and higher than average every single day of the season, as it was for the 2015 holiday season.

Being prepared  for this surge in traffic, which is only days away, is crucial for retailers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 4 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, for example, receives about 10 times the normal amount traffic on during Thanksgiving weekend, which consists of the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, a Wal-Mart spokesman says.

The retailer added capacity to its cloud infrastructure to accommodate the more than 10 million consumers who will visit each day between Thanksgiving and Cyber  Monday (web traffic data comes from web analytics company SimilarWeb Ltd.), the Wal-Mart spokesman says.

“@WalmartLabs built software called OneOps that makes it possible to handle peak traffic on across several regional clouds versus a single cloud to avoid downtime on the site,” the spokesman says. @WalmartLabs is the retailer’s Silicon Valley-based e-commerce technology unit.

Likewise Target Corp. (No. 22) has prepared all year for the expected influx in web traffic by relaunching its site this summer to use adaptive responsive design, plus made several other back end changes, a Target spokesman says.

Prior to the shopping season, Wal-Mart stress-tested the website across desktop and mobile, hitting the website with a traffic load that well exceeds peak traffic projections to make sure it could handle it, the Wal-Mart spokesman says. Target did the same, the spokesman says.

Such a strategy is smart and essential to ensure ideal performance, says Andy Wong, a partner at digital retail consultancy Kurt Salmon Digital.“Retailers need to approximate demand and then prepare for double or triple that capacity,” Wong says.

@WalmartLabs this year built new software for the site, called Electrode, that increases how fast web pages load on by an average of 33%, the Wal-Mart spokesman says.

Throughout the holiday weekend, retailers should actively monitor their sites and resolve issues before they affect consumers, says Matt Chotin, head of product marketing at website performance monitoring vendor AppDynamics.

Mehdi Daoudi, CEO at web performance vendor Catchpoint Systems Inc., agrees.

“If your site is slow that's the equivalent of making customers wait in long lines,”  Daoudi says. “If it's down, that's like your store being closed on the most important sales day of the year.”

Similarly, retailers need to prepare their apps for optimal performance. ComScore predicts mobile retail app traffic will be even greater than web traffic throughout the 2016 online holiday shopping season.

“Mobile teams should be closely coordinating with their counterparts in both back-end development and IT to ensure everyone is in sync with the cloud services required by the app,” says Andrew Levy, co-founder and chief strategy officer at mobile app performance vendor Apteligent Inc. “We often find issues surface due to disconnects between these teams.”

Many retailers likely have their apps in a code freeze, as they would their website, when few if any changes are made to source code, Levy says. Still, e-retailers should not ignore critical app bugs that are critical to workflows, such as new user registration and checkout, he says.

ComScore expects mobile sales throughout the holiday season will see a healthy year-over-year increase. In 2015, U.S. mobile holiday sales grew 59% year over year to $12.65 billion, which accounted for 18% of U.S. online retail sales during the season, according to comScore. Plus, more than 40% of online holiday buyers said they used a smartphone to shop online in 2015, up from 30% the previous year, according to Forrester Research Inc.




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