Black Friday: How UKFast manages the peaks and troughs of retail
There are several events in the year where eCommerce companies experience unusually high demand on their websites.
As a hosting provider we find that Valentine’s Day, Black Friday and the Christmas period are peaks in the calendar which we need to be fully prepared for.
When Black Friday first became truly popular in the UK, we were a smaller business than we are today. We didn’t have previous years’ experience of knowing what it would look like and the level of planning that we do now.
Today, we map the significant events in the eCommerce world out across the year and analyse previous years’ data with regards to how many tickets we get in and calls leading up to those events. From that we can judge what sort of support we need and plan for client requests.
People generally gear up for Black Friday well in advance. But some clients may give us two days’ notice and we have to set things up ready to go for them.
Many of our clients will know their customer base inside-out – but others may just be getting to know these customers and be heading into Black Friday for the first time. So can we offer some advice? Help coach them through that period of time? Let them know what we’re doing to prep for it – and how that fits in with them?
We ourselves will buy extra stock of memory, CPUs and hard drives in anticipation. In addition we’ll work closely with our technical teams to ensure our cloud platforms have got enough spare capacity for a real big burst over and above the typical capacity that we provide for.
It is also important to liaise with our sales and account management teams to discuss how we can best help clients who wish to upgrade on our infrastructure or have us build new solutions.
We had a product born out of one of the Black Friday years which has since become a bit of a de facto standard across the industry.
If you’ve got a full eCommerce site, and you know that at scale you can deal with 1,000 concurrent users, if you hit 1,500 then the service degrades for everybody – and everybody has a bad experience. So instead of selling to 50 per cent of those thousand, you’re now going to sell to 10 per cent of the 1,500.
We had fairly large eCommerce customers come to us at the last minute and say, ‘I don’t think my site’s going to cope with this. I don’t particularly want to spend any more money to bolster it just for a short period of time.
What can you do?’
Being the techies that we are, rather than just say ‘it’s either upgrade or die’, we implemented holding technology to allow them to introduce however many customers they wanted at a time – say, 1,000 – while those in the queue remained on a holding page.
What that system allows you to do is heavily cache it so that the users above that thousand will turn up on that one page. And the resource usage of that single page is so minimal that you could probably deal with 50,000 or even 100,000 people turning up.
They all end up in a queue and they can’t go anywhere, but they don’t get error messages; they don’t get slowdowns; they don’t get timeouts. And the people that are currently being serviced don’t suffer any slowdown.
The page refreshes and refreshes and eventually they get on and can go and place their order. Their experience remains as it would have done before Black Friday.