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Cyber Monday Breaks New Traffic Records

Before we call it a night after a long but exciting day watching the Retail Net Usage Index, I owe you the final details.  Cyber Monday traffic first began to climb early this morning, at 6:00 AM ET, and steadily grew to an early record peak at 11:00 AM.  Traffic held steady at these levels until about 2:00 PM - a much stronger midday than in previous years.  Then shoppers turned away to get some work done before the day's end, headed home from work, and then eventually started coming back online at 7:00 PM.  We then peaked after dinner tonight just before 9:00 PM, with another record-breaking 8,516,582 million page views per minute.  Traffic levels will slowly climb down through the remainder of the evening.

While we expect Cyber Monday to drive the most revenue based on the 3 previous years weekend tallies, what wasn't expected was that this 8.5 mm+ peak would be the highest retail traffic peak in history - 13% higher than Thanksgiving - or that it would drive more volume throughout the day - 16% higher than Black Friday.

Cyber Monday final 1a.png

Given that Cyber Monday is the online day - higher revenues, higher conversions, and now higher traffic too - it is set to be a record breaking Cyber Monday in sales as well, likely exceeding initial projections of 20% revenue growth.  All indicators are strong.  Elyssa reported on the high purchasing activity today - forecasting 25% higher than Black Friday.  IBM also reported early results midday showing a 24.1% jump in sales over last year.  

Now that the peaks have passed, and retail sites can expect to hum along for the rest of the season, the fun begins. Tomorrow we'll wrap up the traffic highlights of the holiday weekend and more shopping behavior insights from our ADS Data Platform. Stay with this blog as we move through to the last free shipping day of the year.  We'll continue to report on traffic trends, but we will also share insider information and best practices from the online retailers who were successful this holiday weekend.  

We'd love to hear your story from this weekend.  Email me at lmanz@akamai.com, tweet @lelahm, or add your comments to this blog post below.

Cyber Monday Purchase Behavior Projections

ComScore expects Cyber Monday sales to be up 20% from 2011.  They predict consumers to spend upwards of $1.5 billion today, the Monday following Black Friday & the Thanksgiving holiday.  But what trends can we identify in online consumers' behavior leading up to Cyber Monday in the ADS Data Platform?

Before we dive into 2012 Cyber predictions, let's review the days leading up to Black Friday, a predominantly off-line shopping day.  Those coming online Thanksgiving Day were in Black Friday planning mode.  A 98% growth (compared to an average 2012 fall day) in carting behaviors suggests consumers were coming online in masses to research Black Friday promotions.  A 97% growth in purchasing activities on Black Friday suggests that once consumers exhausted in-store offers they came online to score more goods.  Lelah Manz's Another Hockey Stick Thanksgiving looks deeper into the traffic seen by the Akamai Net Usage Index.

ComScore reported this Black Friday as the first to reach $1.04 billion in online sales, piggy backing the 97% growth in purchasing behaviors.  Projections for Cyber Monday are looking equally promising based on the growth trends seen in the Akamai Data Platform.

Leading up to Cyber Monday, Saturday and Sunday purchasing behavior growth is the most exciting metric to follow.  If patterns identified in 2011 are any indication of what's in store for Cyber Monday, we're expecting to see a record number of purchases in the ADS Data Platform today.  Purchasing growth will most likely exceed 150% (and that's conservative).  The result will be a 25% increase from Black Friday in purchasing activity.

ADS New 1a.png

*Average Fall day consists of September & October averages

In addition to shopping behaviors, our Commerce Strategist, Lelah Manz, is reporting an 11:00AM EST peak in traffic, higher than any other point over the holiday weekend at 7,758,804 page views per minute. In Cyber Monday Set To Be Biggest Test Yet, Manz goes into a deeper dive on what Akamai is seeing on its Net Usage Index and the implications for Retailer sites on what is expected to be the largest online sales day of 2012.  

As reported in my post last week, Turkey or Shopping?, browsing activity spiked on November 7th, a day before the largest spending day in the first half of November.  The growth in browsing behaviors on Sunday, at 44% will surely be a tell-tale sign of reaching, or possibly exceeding ComScore's 20% growth projections in 2012.  

Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

Cyber Monday Set to Be Biggest Test Yet

While Cyber Monday typically drives the most revenue during the holiday weekend, in 2011 it fell short in driving either the most traffic, or the highest traffic peaks. Thanksgiving and Black Friday took those honors.  This is somewhat expected; Black Friday and Thanksgiving are historically marketed as offline shopping days and therefore traffic on those days is in some part an indicator of offline purchase research.  However Cyber Monday is an online only day and therefore conversions tend to be much higher.

As of 11:00AM ET, Cyber Monday is surging ahead in both peak traffic and volume.  We're already peaking higher than at any other point this holiday weekend at 7,758,804 page views per minute.

In the chart below, you can see the hourly trends for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday traffic.  Black Friday has an atypical traffic pattern, peaking midday, versus Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday (and every other day for that matter) which tend to peak around 9:00 PM.  This morning we're trending high like Black Friday - our highest volume day - and still have a late peak to come tonight - like Thanksgiving.   I've marked out the projections based on previous years hourly growth trends for every hour past 11:00 AM.

Cyber Monday 1a.png

If we're expecting our highest traffic peaks and volumes yet, with higher conversion rates, then it's time to buckle our seatbelts.  In my last blog post, I talked about higher conversion rates creating more strain on ecommerce site architecture (see 2nd paragraph of post).  One thing is clear this morning, retail sites still have their biggest test - and opportunities - ahead.

Huge Traffic Volumes on Black Friday

It was a strong Black Friday online by all accounts.  IBM is reporting that sales on the day grew nearly 20% over last year. Black Friday also drove huge volumes of traffic, averaging over 6.3 million page views from 10AM Eastern through to the end of the night.   As expected, peak traffic levels hit at approximately 11am ET, but there was no lull in the high volumes of traffic until the midnight hour.  In the graph below we can see this is comparable to the traffic patterns from years prior.  (A reminder that we cannot compare overall volumes year over year in this graph, as Akamai is tracking a much larger set of retailers and sites this year than in years past).  

Black Friday Peaks 1a.png

Black Friday Drives 25% More Traffic than Thanksgiving

So far the 2011 trend is holding true for the 2012 holiday shopping weekend - Thanksgiving drives the biggest peaks, Black Friday drives the most volume.   The difference in volume between Thanksgiving and Black Friday is well illustrated in the graph below.  With similar peaks, Black Friday's average traffic levels are 25% higher.

Nov Holiday Traffic 1a.png

Mobile Continues its Break-out Year

Mobile purchases are also up with over 24% of visits coming from a mobile device, and mobile sales exceeding 16%. Anecdotally many retailers also reported mobile traffic peaks around 9 and 10:00 PM Eastern.

Retail Site Availability and Conversions - An Operations Point of View

The peaks are of course a concern to retailers, but it's also the nature of those peaks that matter as well.  If most of that activity is browsing, then it's usually easier (particularly for Akamai customers doing Dynamic Page Caching of Homepage, Category, and Product Detail pages with Dynamic Site Accelerator Premier) on application server and database processing, the most vulnerable tiers of a site.  If conversions are higher, then it can put additional strain on the site - and the shopping cart in particular - even with lower traffic volumes.  And in fact in our ADS Data Platform, purchase rates were 47% higher on Black Friday than Thanksgiving. 

This explains why our Shopper Prioritization Application, a traffic throttling solution, was in use more yesterday than Thanksgiving by Akamai customers. 

(Elyssa Duboys will be posting more interesting insights on shopping behavior from the ADS Data Platform on Monday.)

A Look Ahead to Cyber Monday

Last year Cyber Monday was behind Thanksgiving for peak traffic, and behind Black Friday for overall volumes, but drove the highest conversion rates (see Akamai's Holiday Conversion Index from 2011).    While surprising given that Cyber Monday is meant to be the online shopping day, I imagine it will hold true again this year.  With mobile devices accounting for over 25% of traffic and visits, traffic on Black Friday is evidence of the digitally assisted offline sale.  Shoppers are in the stores and using their phones.  With the growth of mobile, Black Friday will continue to become a bigger and bigger day on the online retail holiday season calendar.

Lelah Manz is Chief Strategist, Retail & Commerce, at Akamai.

Strong Start to Black Friday

In years past, Black Friday is the only day to reach its peak early in the day, with all other days peaking at 9 or 10:00 PM in the evening.  Last year on Black Friday we reached peak by 11:00 AM ET, and in 2010 we hit peak by 1:00 PM ET.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Black Friday may drive higher volumes all day but its peak was less than Thanksgiving night in 2011.  

Black Friday tends to drive much higher peaks earlier in the day because of research activity for offline shopping in the morning hours.  The overall volume on Black Friday has been higher the last year - despite the newly emerged Thanksgiving peaks - as traffic rates stay relatively high all day long.  This is largely in part to mobile devices giving consumers access to content while out shopping during the day.

Black Friday 1a.png

If this typical Black Friday pattern holds true this year, we are going through peak now at 7,099,644 page views per minute (at the time of this writing at 11:00 AM).  This is just shy of the Thanksgiving peak from yesterday at 7,411,734 page views per minute.  

Black Friday NUI 1a.png

Will the traffic patterns remain the same this year?   I'll report back at the end of the day with the final Black Friday stats.

Happy Shopping!

Another Hockey Stick Thanksgiving

Last year Thanksgiving Day was our biggest traffic growth day, growing 70% over the year prior, and driving our highest peak traffic of the Holiday weekend - beating out even CyberMonday - at 9:00 PM Eastern.  

With the early doorbusters once again causing controversy, we all expected another breakout year for shopping on Thanksgiving Day.   By all accounts, Thanksgiving was a blow out traffic day.   With an early peak of 4,910,674 page views per minute at noon eastern, the day finished up with a peak of 7,411,734 PV/Min at 10:00 PM, much higher than the early day projections of ~6.2 million page views per minute.  

Internet Retailer has a great article summarizing all the trends from the day, including IBM's projections that Thanksgiving sales rose 17.4% over last year.  IBM is also reporting that 25.3% of the traffic came from smartphones and tablets and mobile devices accounted for 18.3% of sales.  An unbelievable statistic.

In the chart below - looking at peaks and averages over the month of November - the hockey stick marks Thanksgiving at 10:00 PM ET.  That traffic spike is nearly 2x normal traffic levels at the beginning of November!  Note that the averages are also starting to really pick up, indicating that the days are driving much more consistent volume versus sales-driven traffic spikes.

Thanksgiving Traffic 1a.png

Thanksgiving is also starting to follow a fairly predictable traffic pattern with early peaks at Noon Eastern, and evening peaks at 10:00 PM Eastern.  The graph below shows a fairly predictable growth trend throughout the day.  Shoppers come online in the morning from 7:00 AM through 9:00 AM, for early morning doorbusters then come online again in numbers at 7:00 PM to start their research for that evenings online and offline sales, finally peaking at 10:00 PM.  (Note that you cannot compare traffic volumes year over year as we are tracking a much larger set of customers and customer sites this year than in years past).

Thanksgiving Traffic 2a.png

Does this graph look like your Thanksgiving traffic?  Did you also see traffic levels at more than 2.5 x normal levels?  

While mentions of the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock have been few and far between, one thing's for sure, I cannot even begin to count the number of times I've heard "online shopping data," "peak traffic," "Black Friday" or "Cyber Monday" over the past few weeks.  

In addition to site traffic patterns from Lelah Manz, Akamai's Advertising Decision Solutions (ADS) has access to a cornucopia of behavioral shopping data.  In fact, we process 7TB of data each day to help inform the ADS-Data-Driven Online Marketing products.  The Hadoop-based Data Platform will allow us to deliver insights across our set of eCommerce sites ranging from browsing, carting & purchase behavior to social influencers.  

If early November activity is any indication, the ADS Data Platform saw weekday over weekday growth of browsing activity spike on Wednesday, November 7th.  Alongside browsing activities, Facebook influenced browsing behaviors also showed a 44% increase in weekday over weekday growth on Tuesday, November 6th.  The WoW increase of Facebook driven browsing behavior continues through Saturday, November 10th with a spike in growth on Wednesday at 58%.  These social growth rates correlate to ComScore's findings of a $10.1 billion online spending total the first 18 days of November, reporting an online holiday spending spike of $829 million on the 8th of this month.

ADS graph 2.jpg

*According to Facebook traffic referral growth, social growth is trending to be a big player in this holiday season.

As the turkey cools down our pointer fingers are just beginning to warm up.  The pumpkin pie feels like a forgotten stepchild this year while Thanksgiving dinners end early to accommodate the major retailers opening their doors starting at 8PM. And things are most certainly about to get interesting.

But do the brick and mortar door buster deals impact online behaviors?

While cyber Thanksgiving shoppers avoid the long lines and their pepper spraying peers, they are certainly exercising their clicking muscles.  Proof is in the numbers, so here we go. In comparison to Monday, 11/19, at 12 midnight, Thanksgiving morning showed a 22% increase in browsing activity.  In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, browsing behaviors peaked twice throughout the day, the first around 12Noon EST and the second hovering around the 8PM hour.  The key for retailers is that purchase behaviors normally peak once around the 12Noon hour and trail off at 3PM.  In my opinion the 12AM growth seen on Thanksgiving Day is an indication that the data will be unpredictable in the key online shopping days ahead.  I'll be keeping tabs on hourly behaviors and overall trends and ultimately decide if the Turkey was sidelined this holiday or not. 

But now it's time to eat a slice of that pumpkin cheesecake.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

On this very calm Thanksgiving Eve, it's a perfect time to share with you all a "behind the scenes" look at how Akamai's commerce experts are engaging with retailers in preparation for this weekend.   As Akamai is working with 96 of the IR100, we have broad visibility into holiday readiness preparations and what retailers are really expecting this season.  To get a sense of what's to come this weekend, who better to talk with than Jim Stathopoulos, who manages the Akamai's Commerce Services Engaged team.  This is Jim (and it is likely the only time you will see him in a suit):

Jim S.png

[Lelah] Can you tell us what you do at Akamai, and give us some insight into your team?

[Jim] I am the manager of the professional services teams for Commerce Premium accounts in North America. While my team covers Retail in addition to Travel and Hospitality, we work specifically with 23 retailers and brands that have asked for a higher level of engagement with Akamai.  My team includes Engagement Managers and Project Managers who are highly consultative and work as part of an Integrated Account Team at Akamai throughout the year with these customers. They are closely aligned with Account Executives in the sales organization, Technical Support Engineers in Customer Care, and Solution Architects.  As it's a fully aligned and engaged team, it's a much more of partnership versus vendor relationship.

[Lelah] Holiday readiness doesn't happen overnight.  When does your team start engaging with retailers on holiday readiness with Retailers?  

[Jim] It starts early in Q1.  We give recommendations on holiday readiness initiatives as part of our quarterly reviews in Q1, and ensure that we are planning for resources throughout the year on both sides.  The actual technical work beings in June and July with an extreme ramp up period in September and October, ending in a lock down in early November.  It's typically a 3 - 6 month cycle.

It's not easy to identify a specific "holiday" these days.  In the US, Holiday is now, and then shipping days end around 15th or 18th of December.   In Canada it is Boxing Day.  In Europe the January sales.  For office suppliers it is back to school and for B to B, the new fiscal year.   

[Lelah] So what is your team specifically working on with Retailers?  What are the goals and the most important activities?

[Jim] We have four key architecture goals - performance, offload, security, and visibility.  To create plans around each of these goals we have to start with an understanding of the marketing events.  What are the biggest marketing events?  What are the key clickstreams?  Will visitors be coming from mobile emails to the desktop?  Are they entering through doorbuster microsites?  What are the year over year traffic patterns and traffic projections?

For offload and performance, we can then create a holiday caching strategy that targets these events and patterns.  Every retailer we work with has a specialized, more aggressive caching strategy than their normal day to day operations.  The goal is to let Akamai's platform serve as much of their content as possible - microsites, homepages, product pages, mobile pages, redirects, etc.  We also need to understand their security concerns.  Then we work with them to load test, identify bottlenecks, and see what else we can do.

The operations of the day are very important too.  We always recommend they plan for the unplanned.  We can do all the planning and coding and testing but it's impossible to have everything entirely known.  Especially these last two years with attack traffic.  So we dig into failover strategies, disaster recovery environments, our traffic throttling application called Shopper Prioritization.  Then we'll run simulations - what happens if your database goes down?  Or your whole site?  We'll practice using SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] to throttle end users in a worst case scenario.  

We also want to make sure we're fully partnered not just with the customer but with their other vendors and partners as well.  If you're on a conference bridge at 2am then its good to know who everyone is and what their roles and responsibilities are.

[Lelah] What Akamai products are most commonly leveraged for Holiday?

[Jim] We tend to be the team that thinks solutions rather than products but most of the capabilities we are leveraging for caching and performance are provided by DSA [Dynamic Site Accelerator] and Mobile Accelerator, or AQUA Ion for those that have our newest platform launched last month.  SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] is one of the most critical applications our customers use.  It's an application run on Akamai only when you need it with a "waiting room" page that ensures you keep your customers engaged if something unexpected happens, while throttling end users on the back end.  They are all also using the KONA Security Solutions to handle attack traffic. For B to B sites and store applications it's TERRA Alta. And of course, Services and Support.

[Lelah] I know we haven't forgotten the attacks from CyberMonday 2010, and the exponential increase in attacks on retailers since then.  Has the increase in attack traffic changed how you engage for Holiday Readiness?

[Jim] Honestly we had to go back to school. These attacks started two years ago and took most of us by surprise.  We had to go out and become the experts.  It really rejuvenated the team as it was a new challenge.  We are now a Security company and my team has invested a huge amount of time in not just having the best security products but having the best security experts as well.   This won't be the first time something emerges out of nowhere, and my team is smart enough to take that head on too.

[Lelah] Mobile didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but has definitely emerged exponentially over the last two years as well.  How has that changed holiday readiness?

[Jim] Most importantly we want to apply everything that's happening on .com for mobile.  There needs to be a mobile caching strategy, as well as load testing and performance testing of mobile sites.  If they share the same backend then they have the same point of failure, so they need to be tested concurrently.

[Lelah] I know you're the guy who knows everything.  And while I'm sure you're not going to tell me who is going to go down, I bet you know that too.  Based on what you can share, what do you expect this weekend?  Will most of your customers stay up?  
[Jim] I have been doing holiday readiness at Akamai for 3 years and this is the easiest holiday season so far because of maturity of our customers and our solutions, and the depth of our relationships.   That being said, a few customers have transitioned to new platforms for either .com or mobile that are less mature and tested, and there is always the attack risk. So like any year, there will be an unknown component.

[Lelah] What should a retailer do if they are experiencing issues this weekend?  What if they are not a current customer?

[Jim] If it's during Thanksgiving football, call my boss not me.  Or even better, call your sales rep.  If you are not an Akamai customer don't worry about it, our sales rep will find you if you are having issues.

[Lelah] Now, seriously.  What should they do?

[Jim] We do focus on escalations and each customer has pre-defined holiday escalation paths.  Common across all of them is to contact customer care immediately and our Holiday Tiger team processes will kick in.  If you are not a customer then you can go to www.akamai.com for a live chat to put you in contact with the right person, or call 1.877.425.2624. 

Let the Holiday Shopping Season Begin

And so it begins! In the US, we can now expect the Holiday carols to beam through every store audio system and the early bird holiday sales to begin in full force. Akamai's Commerce team has been hard at work these last 9 months, side by side with many of our global Commerce customers preparing for another online holiday shopping season. As we inch closer to various online holiday shopping-related deadlines I'm excited to watch the results of all of our collective efforts to provide the best possible customer experiences.
This past weekend the traffic really started to pick up in the US, with 13% higher traffic at peak than the first weekend of November.  Our estimation is that Hurricane Sandy had a short but noticeable impact on retailers, and on the start of the holiday shopping season in particular.


Despite this initial delay, this holiday shopping season is full of positive projections across all channels.  Anecdotally many of you have shared with me that you're expecting another blockbuster year. More generally, retail sales in the US are expected to grow overall by 4% (NRF), online sales projections continue in the double digits at 17% (Forrester), and sales via mobile devices are forecasted to double (eMarketer). Digital touch points continue to influence offline purchases at a growing rate, driving even higher online traffic growth.

Last year on this blog I shared US online traffic patterns across online, mobile, and social from Thanksgiving through to the last pre-Christmas shipping day of the year.  This year I'm expanding the data we're sharing by starting our tracking earlier, when the US shopping really starts (today), and following all the way through to the post-Christmas sales in Europe during the first two weeks of January. 
I hope you'll find it insightful to compare your site's traffic to the aggregate of 1000s of retail sites in the US and Europe.  Here are the stats you can expect to find:

In addition to the data, I'll also be sharing insight into Akamai's Holiday Tiger team, Akamai's products and solutions available to solve scale and performance problems, and stories and anecdotes from Akamai customer base, and industry news.
Any other data you'd like for me to cover?  Let me know by commenting below.  
I would love to have you join me and share your own stories and data comparisons on this blog.  Subscribe to this blog feed, or follow #AkamaiHoliday, @lelahm (me) and @Akamai on Twitter to stay in touch.
The largest annual gathering of Akamai customers and partners, the Akamai Edge Conference, is taking place next week at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and will feature speakers from more than 40 companies. Registration information and the complete agenda can be found at: www.akamai.com/edge

Business and technology leaders from Amadeus, Build.com, Cisco, CTV, Grainger, GREE, Guitar Center, Symantec, USAA, Visa, and many others, are scheduled to present during the three-day conference. Participating sponsors include HP, Terremark, Brightcove, Exceda, IBM, Dell, Adobe, Apica, BMC, Dolby, Envivio, Hybris, Kit Digital, Microsoft, Micros-Retail and Riverbed, among others.

Business innovators including Airbnb, Fox News Channel, The Hartford, Macy's, News International, Red Hat and Salesforce will offer keynote presentations.

Other exciting highlights include insights from industry luminaries Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences; Rick Smolan, former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer and best-selling author of the "Day in the Life" book series and creator of The Human Face of Big Data project; and Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research covering consumer and enterprise mobility

"Akamai Edge is taking place against the backdrop of a world that's connected like never before," said Brad Rinklin, chief marketing officer, Akamai. "This year's conference will focus on the extraordinary innovation taking place as businesses leverage cloud, mobile, media and big data strategies, all while addressing the security challenges inherent in today's hyperconnected world. We've created a dynamic program that will foster the exchange of ideas among peers from around the globe, representing industries such as media and entertainment, commerce, healthcare and life sciences, manufacturing, financial services, and software and technology."

Hope you can join us!

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