How did you fare this Black Friday?

Date: 29th November 2017
Author: Louise Arnold

It’s finally over. The peak period of website traffic has passed, with Black Friday 2017 accounting for an estimated £1.4 billion on online sales – a growth of nearly 12% from last year. Now, however, it’s time to assess how your website performed in comparison to others, and how you can overcome issues in the future. If you took steps to prepare in advance – as we spoke about at length in previous posts – you’ll have come away from the experience with few battles scars and boosted sales.

But what of other online retailers? Did they manage to accommodate peak traffic? How did their systems cope with increased transactions?

The winners

We’re delighted that so many of those we work with heeded the warnings and entered Black Friday – well, Black Friday week in many cases – having fully prepared for increased traffic and a higher level of usage across their sites. Early deployment of code and thorough load testing clearly helped clients ensure performance would not be compromised.

John Lewis, for example, was able to experience one of its most successful days of online activity, with the single hour from 9am to 10am recording an average of 705 items sold every minute. Argos, meanwhile, said more than two million eager shoppers hit its website in the four hours after the Black Friday deals launch on Thursday evening.

Dixons Carphone went even further to ensure optimum performance throughout the Black Friday period, with the monitoring team here at SciVisum supporting the retailer’s websites with full visibility to ensure no downtime was experienced.

The also-rans

Of course, while preparation is key to success, it was inevitable that some websites would continue to experience difficulties throughout Black Friday due to the sheer volume of bargain hunters. Whether through insufficient load testing causing the overloading of servers, inflated code slowing down performance, or content that hasn’t been suitably optimised, a few leading names in ecommerce experienced a troubling time with peak traffic.

GAME – a leading retailer of video games – suffered an almost instant website crash, with users experiencing server issues due to the popularity. Similarly, The Perfume Shop experienced the much-maligned ‘technical issues’ which meant access to the site was temporarily restricted.

What this downtime meant, of course, was that competitors were able to capture disgruntled shoppers, with Argos and The Fragrance Shop respectively benefitting from these struggles. This also triggered a flurry of activity across social media channels, with unhappy shoppers voicing their discontent, and proactive rivals capitalising on the ire.

SciVisum findings

Media coverage is always quick to jump on those websites that crashed during the Black Friday period but, with many retailers extending the offers to cover a whole weekend, a whole week or, in some instances, a whole fortnight to spread the impact of increased traffic, it would seem that fewer companies than before suffered major outages.

That said, the monitoring team at SciVisum was able to determine a number of issues aside from simple load problems across client websites that affected performance. These issues, which delivered alerts through the SV-Monitor platform, provide a snapshot of the types of problems that can cause poor user experience during peak, and should act as a guide for ecommerce retailers to avoid in the future.

  • Pop-ups: Pop-up banners are a great means of boosting sales, lead generation, and capturing user information, yet we saw on Black Friday that certain pop-ups would impinge on selected user journeys. Though the team at SciVisum was able to remedy the issues quickly, the disruptive nature of the pop-ups during the full transaction process can prove detrimental to the user experience.
  • Postcode lookup: One intriguing anomaly witnessed on the day was an issue with one retailer’s postcode lookup functionality. Due to the increase number of transactions being processed, there were sporadic failures.
  • Out of stock products: Running out of stock may seem like a positive from a business sense – after all, out of stock means sales are booming – but from a user perspective there is nothing more frustrating. One issue that arose was inconsistent messaging regarding the availability of items; for example, users would be alerted that items were unavailable only once reaching the payment page.

As is clear in these examples, the variety of issues that can go wrong has never been greater, with the increased functionality on websites meaning the potential for errors to be experienced. It also highlights that, while load testing is of the utmost importance to ensure users are able to access the site without any hiccups, there is far more to consider regarding website performance.

The future of Black Friday

So, where does this leave us for the future of Black Friday? Research from trade body IMRG has already shown a decrease of 3.6% in shopping activity at high-street stores, so does this mean that consumers are turning their backs on Black Friday?

Unsurprisingly, focus is shifting even more to digital shopping – not least on mobile devices – so being prepared for increased traffic remains essential. So too is the need to prepare for other potential problems. As identified above, increased functionality on your site – be it pop-ups or even queuing systems for peak – represents a core requirement, so testing early and often is key.


For more information on overcoming periods of peak traffic, contact the team of web performance specialists at SciVisum today. Our range of web performance monitoring tools and fully managed service will support you in preparing for key periods in your online business. Contact us by submitting an online form today or by calling 01227 768276 now.