Mobile drives demand as Black Friday tests ecommerce performance

Date: 9th December 2015
Author: Louise Arnold

Study reveals 1 in 10 mobile journeys failed

The rise and rise of mobile browsing

The unstoppable impact of ecommerce – as demonstrated by this year’s soaring Black Friday online sales figures – has forced even traditional, dyed-in-the-wool high street retailers to completely revise the way they do business. In what seems like just a few short years, all the big names have seen their websites transformed from little more than glorified shop windows to massive sales engines, fuelling a virtual retail revolution. No demographic is immune to the online onslaught, with everyone from tech-savvy teens to switched-on senior citizens dipping their toes in the web waters and taking advantage of the ease and efficacy of the virtual shopping basket, especially during sales periods.

And if demand has been driven to date largely by the proliferation of affordable laptops and the roll-out of countrywide(ish) broadband provision, the stratospheric rise of mobile browsing is the next big game-changer for switched-on retailers.

Mobile is where it’s at

This year’s Black Friday stats make interesting reading. A record £1.1bn was spent with UK online retailers over the course of the day, up 32% on 2014’s figures. By contrast, fewer shoppers braved bricks-and-mortar businesses, with disappointing results in stores up and down the country and none of the unseemly scuffles that were a feature of last year’s TV coverage.

But it’s mobile usage that’s hitting the headlines. According to IBM not only was mobile responsible for 60% of Black Friday online traffic but also accounted for 40% of online sales in the UK – an increase of nearly 24% on the previous year, while Mobile Marketing Magazine calculated that 20%-25% of all ecommerce sites suffered from outages or downtime on Black Friday, including Argos, Game and John Lewis. That mobile is becoming such a significant factor in the online sales picture means that retailers need to have a closer focus on providing a web platform that is optimised for mobile use to ensure higher conversion rates.

Journey, interrupted?

The results of SciVisum’s Black Friday mobile monitoring study shows just how important it is to make mobile browsing a priority. This year, we made thousands of dynamic journeys to accurately simulate a real customer experience; choosing an electrical item and adding it to the basket with ten of the biggest names on the high street. We found that, generally speaking, websites were under-prepared for the traffic, with poor availability, extremely slow page delivery times and large mobile page sizes – all of which raise the risk of abandonment and lost sales.


With customer expectations at around just one or two seconds for page delivery, the average across the retailers we tested on Black Friday was more than six seconds, with the worst-performing site five times slower than the fastest. Overall, availability dropped to around 90% – which translates to almost one in ten journeys failing. That means that if a retailer’s average hourly add-to-basket value was £500K, 90% availability would result in £50K of lost sales per hour – that’s a stonking £1.2m over the course of 24 hours!

Find out who came out on top in our full report.

Mistakes to avoid

SciVisum blogged a live update throughout Black Friday, offering insight into some of the problems retailers were encountering; here are a few of the most common.

  • Third-party component failures

 In addition to lack of web capacity, many ecommerce sites lost sales because of the failure of third-party tools. We saw issues with Yahoo advertising pixels, onsite remarketing tools and tags amongst others slowing down journeys as they failed.

  • Queuing at critical points

While virtual queuing can be a useful way of controlling peak-time traffic, if it’s kicking in while a shopper with a full basket is heading for the checkout, then it’s creating more problems than it’s solving!

  • Missing and malfunctioning

An issue that recurred a lot on mobile devices – though not on PCs – was that of malfunctioning pages – missing basket buttons, missing and empty menu categories, ineffective scroll bars and product pages reloading rather than redirecting to the basket. If a mobile user can’t interact, they can’t buy.

  • Slow, slow, slow

Some sites were still struggling with Black Friday traffic levels – in the worst case, a retailer clocked up a worrying 11% of journeys that exceeded our cut-off threshold of 80 seconds. This would be even more noticeable for users on mobile networks.

  • Poor business practice

We found plenty of instances where customers were able to add out-of-stock products to their basket, only to find out further along the line that the items they’d selected weren’t actually available – a very frustrating experience all round.

Could do better?

Despite many retailers anticipating Black Friday customer demand and running promotions over a longer period to spread the load this year, mobile performance in particular is still a long way from where it needs to be if retailers are to stay ahead of the online shopping curve.

Obviously, load testing needs to be carried out well in advance of busy periods. However for results that can really be trusted, the load testing process now needs to be realistic enough to reflect the increasing complexity and sophistication that ecommerce platforms are trying to deliver. You can find out more about best practice for load testing in our recent blog, but our top tips for managing peak traffic include implementing a third-party queueing system, staggering marketing and promotional activities to avoid spikes in demand, switching off unnecessary functions, keeping page components to a minimum and optimising content in particular images and JS.

So who topped the table and who fell at the final hurdle? Download our full Black Friday report to see the results!


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