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Mastering Multi-Channel Madness

Note: This is the final blog post to our "Crush the Rush" holiday readiness webinar series.

Last week I teamed up with Steve Tack, VP of Product Management for Compuware APM, to talk about Mastering Multi-Channel Madness as part of our Crush the Rush holiday readiness webinar series.

Steve walked through five common mobile pitfalls ranging from making mobile users wait to having mobile myopia to not leveraging third parties value.

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We all know that overcoming these pitfalls will be key to our success this holiday season. Whether it is delighting end-users with speed, or leveraging third parties to drive additional value  - or even innovating with agility - all of these areas hold the key to our holiday success. 

 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at the reality for your customers today. Most retailers jumped into mobile. And let's be clear - mobile isn't just smartphones - it also includes tablets. In fact, if we look at the last holiday shopping season we saw an extraordinary amount of traffic from tablets - in particular during Thanksgiving - so much traffic that this phenomenon started being dubbed couch commerce.

    But to be honest, as an industry, most of us aren't quite there yet when it comes to mobile. We often leverage external resources to help shape our mobile experiences or our mobile experimentation wasn't quite as finely tuned as our online initiatives. 

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    We can see that pretty clearly through blog posts, talking about a customer's experience when trying to buy a last minute Christmas present, to the slew of people that felt like a major retailers app was too slow and not always available, to another app which innocently asks - proceed with downloading 56MB? - over a cellular connection?

     

    As I have talked about before, mobile doesn't exist in a vacuum. And let's be clear your customers don't think in channels either. What they do think about is how can I complete my transaction/engage with this brand across my different devices or even in a store environment. In fact, a growing number of customers are combining channels - according to recent Google research - 89% of smartphone users use their smartphones while shopping in stores.

     

    So the question becomes - how to deliver on the promise of a digitally enhanced store? We know this is a priority for a lot of our retail clients. Whether it ranges from mobile point of sales systems, to connected kiosks, to customers using a mobile site inside the store. Let's focus on that last use case for now.

     

    As you can see from the chart below, in-store networks often leave something to be desired - due to their high latency and low bandwidth they can have a significant impact on in-store Web performance. If we look at retailer number 1's Wi-Fi we quickly realize that to deliver a quality Web experience with those network characteristics is going to be quite a challenge. So what will this do to the experience of an associate doing a stock check on a tablet in front of a customer, or an actual customer, who doesn't have a cell signal and is on the in-store Wi-Fi, visiting the mobile site to see the reviews associated with a certain product?

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    What's causing these slowdowns? For the most part it has to do with network architecture and the type of connectivity available in most store locations. If we look at the graphic below you can clearly see more network hops to reach the same destination and usually - more hops means = higher latency. And higher latency = bad Web & mobile experiences.

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    Now this is often due to what Gartner calls the Trombone effect. According to a recent survey 90% of organizations backhaul traffic through the data center to ensure a consistent security policy enforcement. There are ways to address this without re-architecting your entire network. If you want to learn more I suggest you visit Akamai.com/cisco.

     

    Now let's focus on adapting your applications to your end-users' environment. Whether that might be a tablet on Wi-Fi in their living room, a smartphone on 3G at work or even a smartphone on in-store Wi-Fi. 

     

    We know that Web performance matters. Faster pages mean higher conversion and lower abandonment rates. Lara Swanson from Etsy recently shared the following stat:

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    https://speakerdeck.com/lara/mobile-web-at-etsy

    We also know that getting content closer to your end-users - whether it is desktop or mobile can have a significant benefit when it comes to performance. We also need to think about where end-user load time is being spent. As Steve Souders pointed out long ago the majority is spent on the front-end. So how do we optimize the front-end? There is a lot of detail we could go into here. A lot of cool stuff from delivering new image formats such as WebP to browsers that support it for example. But let's keep it simple. So what can you do?

     

    First focus on reducing the number of requests made by your Web app. As the saying goes - the fastest request is the one not made. Next if you have to make a request make sure that you deliver as few bytes as possible (see Lara's Etsy stat above...). And lastly focus on perceived performance. In other words how can you accelerate rendering?  To get more detailed best practices download the Akamai Front-End Optimization whitepaper.

     

    Let's not forget about the essentials. Particularly as holiday traffic grows we need to be prepared for the worst. We have all thought about - how do we plan for normal traffic spikes during the holiday shopping season? 

     

    Obviously using a highly scalable, distributed and proven delivery solution such as Akamai is key to your success. But these days we don't only need to worry about normal traffic. During the last holiday season we saw a series of coordinated DDoS attacks against retailers starting on Cyber Monday - hammering these sites with nearly 9x normal holiday traffic levels.  

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    You can see in the second chart that the site's typical traffic levels - to the left and right of the spikes - are nearly undetectable.  In this case Akamai absorbed the traffic so that it was undetected by the end-user.  In fact, even at these levels, the traffic was just a drop in the bucket to Akamai, sustaining the coordinated peak loads without a blip. If you want to find out more about our security capabilities I suggest you watch another recorded webinar in our Crush the Rush series - "Defending Against DDoS".

     

    Keep in mind, however, that not all content on your pages is likely delivered by you, or a scalable and reliable platform like Akamai. What about the other third parties that add value to your site? In the example above, a ratings and reviews service times out and it has a pretty significant impact on site performance. Taking 22 seconds to reach time to start render. There are ways to prepare for this - make sure that you design for failure, and make sure that your third party scripts are not blocking the loading of your pages. In general being prepared for failure around the holiday shopping season - is a good thing.

     

    To summarize, how can you master the multi-channel madness this holiday season? 

    • As Steve Tack pointed out - don't make your smartphone or tablet shoppers wait - we all know that will negatively impact your conversion and abandonment rates
    • Adopt your customer's perspective and make sure you know your customer's experiences across all touch points
    • Optimize performance across all those touch points - for PCs, smartphones & tablets - connecting over in-store Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE and the list goes on...
    • Most importantly don't forget about availability - and plan for failure - that way your site will degrade gracefully and continue to function.
     
    Lorenz Jakober is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai

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