Yes, we truly are the market of billions! I love Graham D. Brown's distinctive representation of this massive business opportunity in South Asia in his Asia Matters report.
In 2018, over 50% of the world's total online retail sales happened in the Asia-Pacific region. eMarketer reports that online retail sales in Asia-Pacific grew exponentially at 31.1% in 2017 to $1.349 trillion, with China topping the charts while Southeast Asia boasts of India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines as the growth leaders. Indonesia, in particular, will account for about 45% of the total online retail sales in Southeast Asia.
In recent times, holidays such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Diwali, Harbolnas, or Singles' Day are known to draw unprecedented online traffic and revenue opportunity for global retailers in Asian countries. Diwali sales revenue for 2017 was $3 billion (almost 12% of total annual revenue over a span of 2 weeks of hyperactivity). This number could be as high as one-third of total annual revenue for top-tier retailers.
It's important to note that this doesn't just apply to retail. Almost every business or organization that operates through online channels in APAC knows that their digital buyers outnumber all the other buyers.
These users buy their insurance policies online; they decide their next car and book test drives online; their investments, hotel, travel, and majority of life experiences are driven via online channels. Hence the subject of peak preparedness is not restricted to holiday shopping-driven peaks. These could be driven by tax-filing deadlines, election results announcements, new software or game releases, game finals of popular sports, or historically good or bad days on the stock market.
Focusing on just retail for a minute -- let's explore what's unique about Asia as a market unlike the more matured retail markets of the West: the mobile opportunity! Retailers in APAC last year saw about 76% of their revenues realized through mobile sales.
This bubbles up the primary subject of interest for majority-online businesses that struggle with anticipated or unanticipated traffic peaks and seasonality: "How can we ensure proactive preparedness for peaks?" Let me lay out a recommendations list:
Think Scalability and Reliability
Online businesses start from their top-level revenue goals and break them down to specific IT goals such as volume of traffic and average conversion rate required. These, in turn, feed further into budgets and investments needed for infrastructure, application design, and web performance monitoring technologies to support the business goals.
To address scalability, businesses typically leverage the cloud. This helps avoid on-prem investments for capacity unused for the rest of year besides the peaks. But the onus to decide their compute buckets is still on them. What we have seen over the years is that autoscaling (particularly outside your compute bucket) does not happen that elastically on these platforms in the event of sudden traffic surges. Most top retailers leverage cloud delivery platforms to augment their scalability.
Cloud-based load-testing technologies also help to determine how well your application infrastructure and back-end stack are positioned to handle peak loads.
Most businesses (particularly retail) go into holidays or promotional sales "guns blazing," and spending staggering amount on ads, promotions, and digital marketing.
The goal is to bring the visitors to your site or app -- and once they are there, in addition to the content and the discounted pricing, performance is known to be one of the biggest drivers of positive user behaviors, i.e., visitors converting to buyers.
The State of Online Retail Performance report states that a 100-millisecond delay in load time can decrease conversions by 7%. That stat on mobile is even more brutal -- DoubleClick by Google found that 53% of mobile site visitors bounced (abandoned the site) if a page took longer than three seconds to load. Hence, visibility is paramount.
There are runtime issues that most retailers get caught in as well, such as a third-party payment gateway slowing the overall page load. Or an embedded reviews tag that just crashed on the day of the sale.
Know how your end-user experience, and consequently revenues, are being impacted by third-party page resource performance.
It's also important to consider relative importance of each of each of your channels: website, mobile site, and native apps. What percentage of your visitors come from which channel? What is the bounce and conversion efficiency of each channel? Mobile is the most important channel for emerging markets, particularly for South Asia, but how true is that for your business?
This visibility helps focus and prioritize limited budgets and resources to where it matters the most for business.
A combination of monitoring technologies (synthetic, Real User Monitoring, and customer analytics tools) can help create a holistic ecosystem to know what every user is experiencing on your site in real time and also uncover the limitations and pitfalls of your infrastructure for the future. They will also help you deal with unpredictability due to the presence of third-party scripts or tags on your site. This is very critical for ads, promotions, and SEO outside your control when it comes to performance in real time.
Think Mobile Optimizations
Parallel to the ad spend reference from earlier, companies make a lot of investment in the design of native apps optimized for usability. However, without the right performance management solutions, the design investments can only go so far.
Mobile delivery is a challenge, but it's also the biggest opportunity in Asia. Mobile suffers constrained connectivity about four times slower than standard desktop. It is also unpredictable even if you are on wifiWi-Fi.
Besides network, various aspects like the form factor (screen size, processor speeds) of the phone, the OS, browser versions, and battery levels make the device ecosystem highly fragmented. This is exacerbated in Asia with the multitude of popular smartphone varieties.
The key really is to know what to serve when and minimize the amount of data transfer -- a customized version of an image for every user session based on the environment of that user (geolocation, network connectivity, browser, and operating system). Most advanced technologies for performance optimizations leverage machine learning and automation to drive these near-infinite combinations and get it right every time.
The majority of apps run on SPA architectures, which are powered by APIs in the background. It's important to consider the scalability, acceleration, and management of these APIs.
Think Murphy's Law
No matter how well we prepare, expect failures and have proactive mitigation measures in place. We see those making headlines every year. Even if you believe you are fully prepared to scale to meet global peaks, unforeseen complications can cause slowdowns and even complete failures. For larger retailers, even milliseconds of slowdowns mean millions of dollars in lost opportunity.
Have a disaster recovery plan in place to get your website back online and optimized as quickly and efficiently as possible. Meanwhile, instead of a browser error, have an elegant alternate response or redirect in place. Or a static browsable version of your website such as product pages and reviews that can be served from the edge cache of content delivery networks like Akamai. You can always leverage skilled professionals to help with these customizations to mitigate peak events risks.
See how Akamai is helping the top global retailers across the world to maximize their holiday success.