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The holiday season is upon us once again! Stores are filling with holiday gifts and gadgets and our emails will soon be inundated with holiday shopping deals and ads. With 96 of the top 100 online retailers (according to Internet Retailer) as customers, our Akamai Commerce team has been working around the clock, alongside our retail customers and partners, to deliver, optimize and secure consumers' online shopping experiences this season. Before the season is in full swing, however, we'd like to take a look back at some of last year's holiday shopping traffic trends to paint a picture of what the 2013 online holiday shopping season may look like.

Let's start at the beginning. In 2012, traffic to retailers' websites averaged between two to three million views per minute, give or take a few spikes here and there. As the Thanksgiving holiday nears, the traffic begins to climb to four or five million views per minute. You can see this movement for yourself if you visit our Net Usage Index and select the "Retail" industry. This publicly available index shows web traffic spikes by geography and industry in real-time, and going back about a year and a half.

On Thanksgiving last year we saw online shopping peak at around 9 p.m. ET with nearly 7.6 million page views per minute, suggesting many consumers didn't wait for Black Friday to begin their holiday shopping. As can be expected, Black Friday drove 25% more average traffic than Thanksgiving, with a similar peak of more than 7.5 million page views per minute at 11 a.m. ET. Black Friday tends to drive much higher peaks earlier in the day because of research activity for offline shopping in the morning hours.

As far as where consumers did their shopping, according to a survey from NRF, approximately 48% of respondents did their Black Friday holiday shopping online, and according to data from IBM, 24% of visits on Black Friday came from mobile devices. Additionally, IBM found that nearly 60% of consumers used smartphones and 41% used tablets to look for deals on Black Friday. In 2013, we expect to see more of this on Black Friday, as consumers use coupon and savings sites to do research and search for gifts from the comfort of their own home, as they recover from Thanksgiving dinner. Are your sites ready to deliver great experiences across screens and browsers?

We also saw in 2012 that consumers shopped in store, online and on mobile devices simultaneously to get the best Black Friday deals. There will be more of this in 2013 as shoppers continue to use the resources they have at their disposal to become smarter and savvier shoppers. Mobile activity peaked between 9 and 10 p.m. ET on Black Friday, with many consumers likely checking for deals on their phones before bed.


Last year, the Black Friday momentum continued through the following Saturday, maintaining a peak of 7. 6 million views per minute at 2:05 a.m. ET, meaning that East Coast shoppers browsed well into the morning and West Coast folks stayed up late. They took a break on the Sunday before Cyber Monday, though, with peak views dropping to 6 million per minute at noon ET.

holiday blog 2013.png

Cyber Monday in 2012 was incredibly popular, with page views spiking at 8.5 million at 9 p.m. ET, further proving the night owls' approval of the convenience of "window" shopping and purchasing from the internet. We can expect similar behavior in 2013. Whereas other traditionally big holiday shopping days - like Free Shipping Day in mid-December and the December 28 post-holiday sale - will likely be slightly less popular. Last year the peak page views on these days were 4.1 million and 3.6 million, respectively.


Last year, online Thanksgiving Day sales increased by 17% over 2011, online Black Friday sales increased by 21% and online Cyber Monday sales increased by 30 percent, according to an annual holiday consumer retail spending report from Baynote. We'll likely see an increase in overall online holiday shopping sales in 2013, similar to what we saw in 2012.


We hope you'll find it insightful to compare your site's traffic to the aggregate of thousands of retail sites in the US and Europe. Here are the stats you can expect to find on our blog this season:

  • Overall, online traffic patterns, including peak traffic times and days, through our Retail Net Usage Index
  • The types of mobile devices and browsers consumers are using this year
  • Any other unique and interesting traffic patterns we find

Any other data you'd like us to cover? What are your predictions for the 2013 holiday shopping season? Let us know by commenting below.  

Share your own stories and data comparisons on this blog. Subscribe to this blog feed, or follow #AkamaiHoliday and @Akamai on Twitter to stay in touch and learn about interesting trends we see as the holiday season unfolds.

Margaret Kuchler is Director Industry Marketing at Akamai.

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.

LJpost 1.png

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.

    For years at Akamai, I have spoken at conferences and with customers about the future of the WAN.  While the title of my presentations may have varied - "Next-Generation WAN Services", "How to Redesign your WAN", "Preparing for the Convergence of Private WAN and Internet" - my view has not.  Network architectures need to undergo a huge transformation.  Why?  The increased amount of web traffic finding its way within enterprise private networks.  It's inevitable due to increased adoption of public cloud services, video and other business or recreational traffic.

    Mixing web traffic with other business traffic inside the corporate network creates a lot of strain.  The majority of enterprises today still backhaul traffic from the branch office to the data-center to access the Internet.  The primary reason is for security as it is easier to lock-down a small Internet access points as opposed to going "direct-to-net" at every branch and having to protect all of these locations.  The downside to this approach is the performance impact it has for users in the branch office as their traffic is unnecessarily being routed around large distances, along with scalability challenges as bandwidth available at the branch is limited.  Even for those branches that do connect entirely direct to net, you'll still have to bring the optimizations into the last mile, to solve for scalability and performance.  Ultimately, I believe enterprises will increasingly mix and match their Internet strategies for the branch using techniques like direct to net, split tunnel and path selection depending on factors such as security, quality of service, application type and cost.

    Today, we announced that Akamai has been developing new technology which we call Akamai Unified Performance that brings application performance "behind the firewall" and into the branch office.  With more than 1,000 Commerce, Retail, Hotel and Travel customers, many of these customers have asked us to help them move their Omnichannel initiatives forward as the digital experience increasingly extends beyond home and mobile into their brick and mortar stores.  One of our customers, Marks & Spencer, recently shared that their shoppers spend 8x as much if they can engage them in all three channels.  But enabling the in store Omnichannel experience requires a new approach to the retail store network, as highlighted in this white paper. It involves a whole bunch of new optimizations that allow retailers to extend their investment and experience with Akamai on the web and get those same optimizations into the store - while also accelerating lots of other 3rd party content delivered by Akamai given the Intelligent Platform already delvers 15-30% of all web traffic.

    We also announced today that Akamai and Cisco are working together for future integration of Akamai Unified Performance into the Cisco ISR AX series of routers and we showed a working prototype on the main stage at Edge 13.  The intent is to co-develop enterprise network offerings with Cisco aimed at delivering the world's first combined Intelligent Wide Area Network (IWAN) Optimization solution that provides a high quality end user experience for both public and private cloud applications to all remote offices.  You'll be hearing more from us when products are brought to market, but there are so many possibilities when you think about the routing, performance optimization and security capabilities both companies bring to the table which can overcome existing challenges associated with branch office network architectures and the user experience.

    It's an exciting day for the enterprise WAN (and me).   Read more at www.akamai.com/cisco

    Neil Cohen - VP Global Product Marketing, Akamai

    Why Early Termination Is Not A Bad Thing...

    On July 31st Facebook announced that they have enabled secure browsing by default. More and more companies such as Google, Twitter and PayPal have started to switch to always on SSL/TLS to ensure more secure browsing. And the growth of HTTPS use is likely to continue.

    Number of Sites With Valid Certificates Part of Netcraft's SSL Server Survey


    Source: Netcraft

    This sounds all well and good. However, as is often the case on the web this trend has performance implications.



    Instead of outlining the web and mobile performance implication of SSL/TLS here, I suggest you read Ilya Grigorik's excellent Browser Networking book which includes a great section on TLS.

    One thing I do want to highlight though is the fact that the connection setup for SSL/TLS requires up to two additional round trips to establish a connection:

    Connection Set Up.jpg

    Source: Microsoft Technet


    As many readers will  know, these extra round trips can have a significant performance impact - particularly on high latency networks or if the server is far away from the client. You might end up with a US partner trying to log into a secure partner portal that is hosted in the EU. This is what it would look like if we tested that page using Webpagetest (Dulles, VA - IE 9 - Cable). Not exactly what you would call blazing fast.


    One of the ways to optimize SSL/TLS connection establishment is a technique called Early Termination (ET). ET simply means getting your servers as close to your end-users as possible to reduce round trip latency. This is one of Akamai's core capabilities and a large number of our clients leverage it.

    If we look at the same page above after they moved onto the Akamai Intelligent Platform we can see a significant performance improvement:

    Waterfall 2.jpg

    And, if we take this a step further and look at a whole transaction and the associated SSL time in a synthetic testing tool such as Gomez, we can easily spot the likely origin region but also the significant value Akamai can bring to the table in terms of performance improvement for secure transactions.


    Further, as protocols like SPDY (which are primarily implemented over HTTPS) become more commonplace, early termination becomes even more important to deliver fast, quality experiences to your end-users.

    That is why early termination is not always a bad thing...


    Lorenz Jakober is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai

    Why should I care about Rendering Engines?

    The following is a guest post from Enterprise Architect Matt Ringel, Senior Enterprise Architect Joseph Morrissey and Enterprise Architect Manuel Alvarez.

    This is a follow up post to the Boston Web Performance Meetup presentation by the Professional Services team - The Render Chain and You.

    There are many factors that affect your site performance and one of the less discussed ones is the Rendering Engine.  There are a lot of smart people developing browsers, why should you care about how your page renders?  The reason is simple: the rendering engine is using rules to paint your site and if you do not follow them, it will penalize you by slowing you down.

    The Rendering Engine is a component of the browser in charge of displaying the requested content.  The most common rendering engines, Gecko (Mozilla), WebKit (Safari), old versions of Chrome, and newer versions of Opera) and Trident (IE), follow a similar flow:

    PS Blog.png

    Figure 1 Rendering engine flow

    At a high level, as soon as the HTML has been retrieved it is sent in chunks to the Rendering Engine.  The Rendering Engine will parse the HTML and create the DOM, every element of the HTML will have a corresponding entry in the DOM.  Styling information from the CSS along with the visual attributes defined for the elements in the HTML are combined to create the render tree.  The render tree is then parsed and the exact coordinates/location of each element in the window is calculated.  The render tree is traversed and each element is then painted onto the screen. 

    The process is not as straightforward as it seems.  The Rendering Engine follows defined rules to support the dynamic and evolving nature of websites; for example, an script adding stylesheets causes the page to re-flow as coordinates might need to be adjusted.  Another example is that if a <SCRIPT> tag is encountered, parsing of the HTML may pause while the script executed.  If the script is external, then parsing pauses until the script is pulled from the network. 

    Matt Ringel and Joseph Morrissey discussed these rules at the Boston Web Performance Meetup in August and they have summarized them here for you: 

    The One Rule of Rendering

    Anything that introduces uncertainty into how the page should be rendered will block rendering until it's resolved.

    If the Rendering Engine does not know how the page will be rendered (CSS), it is waiting for an asset (long load time), or suspect that the render tree might change (Javascript) then it will not render the page.


    Rule #1: Scripts Block Parsing 

    • Posit: JavaScript is a single-threaded environment¹, and JS files have the potential to change the DOM.
    • Consequence: The render chain blocks because there's uncertainty in how the page is rendered.
    • Result: If you have a large amount of JS to parse, the browser will sit there parsing it all without putting a pixel to the screen.
    • Conclusion: Don't do that.  Use async/defer where you can.

    Rule #2: Style Sheets Block Rendering

    • Posit: Anything that can force a re-flow of content (font changes, different margins for certain elements, etc.) will introduce uncertainty.
    • Consequence: Browsers will block rendering a Web page until all external style sheets have been downloaded².  (cf. The One Rule).
    • Result: If you have style sheets interspersed with content or inline in your document, rendering will stop until they're integrated with the DOM.
    • Conclusion:  Pare down the amount of CSS you have to what you're using, and put it all in the <head> of the document.

    Rule #3: Less Caching, More Problems.

    • Posit: The fastest load time is when the browser already has the data.
    • Consequence: Origin hits cost time and is distance-based.
    • Result: Non-cacheable content creates high variability in page load time.
    • Conclusion: Cache browser-side if possible and consider using a CDN.

    During the Boston Web Performance Meetup event, our speakers took a look at the top five rendering issues affecting e-Commerce sites by using these rules.  You can watch their findings  or download the presentation here.

    ¹ HTML5 JavaScript Workers change this a bit

    ² CSS "print" styles or non-matching media selectors will not block because they're not immediately applicable

    This October at the Edge Global Conference I'll be joined by technology visionaries from a wide range of industries and organizations discussing topics related to creating cutting edge experiences ... faster. 

    I'm specifically excited to share details about the new Developers' Track we'll be introducing. We have some fantastic presenters lined up, including Geoffrey Moore - Author and Business Strategies; Gene Kim - VisOps Author and Entrepreneur; Jason Grigsby - Mobile Web Evangelist; and Josh Clark - Mobile Design Strategist, talking about stimulating topics ranging from DevOps to responsive design, and discussing steps toward adopting these cutting-edge development methodologies.


    And, of course, beyond that we will share new information about Akamai product roadmaps, discuss best practices, and network with an incredible group of peers whilesharing a beer together after the sessions.


    Stay tuned and I look forward to seeing you at Edge 2013.


    Guy Podjarni

    Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, Web Experience , Akamai

    Crush the Rush - Maximizing Holiday Performance

    The following is a guest post from Senior Solutions Engineer Eric Mingorance

    * This is the third blog post to our "Crush the Rush" holiday readiness webinar series

    Christmas started in July this year. Not just because "Drugstores ‛R Us" and the "ShopMarts" of the world are ever expanding the holiday window in hopes of more consumer revenue, but because Online Marketing, IT, eCommerce and Network departments in the Internet-retail-world started preparing for the traffic peaks and online overload.

    Estimating load, capacity, and throughput, has become the holiday gamble that determines the trifecta payout from the lost investment wager. The thinking is "If you build it (and promote it) they will come!" However we all know that greater traffic brings greater challenges. 

    Those higher and longer traffic peaks tax your Web site infrastructure and stability. There's also a need for greater order velocity and the potential for back-end system overload. Unfortunately this degradation can affect end-user performance.

    To top it off, all the extra marketing & advertising dollars spent simply means that more eyes are upon the tech team internally and externally. There's not only an expectation to perform, but higher scrutiny over the ROI of the large investments made...and of course there's a high opportunity cost of poor shopping experience.

    All this holiday traffic is also affecting your third party vendors and SaaS providers, which can result in issues affecting your site performance and experience. Brand degradation, bad press, loss of loyalty all go beyond just the loss of revenue.

    In our Services webinar, we covered some of the best practices for preparing for the online holiday season commerce conundrum.

    We shared our experience from working with 96 of the top 100 online retailers - what we've learned over the years and from our customers, from load testing to shoring up security.

    • What systems should you baseline and monitor? 
    • Where can you get data and clues about the weakest link in your infrastructure? 
    • How should you focus resources where they'll be in most demand? 
    • What should you prepare for, who will execute the plan, and where will it be documented?

    We also shared insights that should be valuable with or without the use of a CDN (Content Delivery Network) including managing search engine or channel bots as well as throttling traffic under load.

    Last year we saw over 700 attacks on our customers, and the industry attacked the most was Commerce - even more than what we saw in the financial sector and 7 of the top 10 world banks use Akamai.

    While another Crush the Rush webinar specifically covers Defending against a DDoS Attacks we still touched upon security planning and strategy from a high level for the holiday season. 

    • Is your IDS, WAF or Firewall a bottle neck for good traffic as well as bad? 
    • Who has the authority to turn on on/off security protection depending on if it's helping or hurting? 
    • Is that person working on Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Are they even reachable?

    We discussed benchmarking performance metrics, setting up alerts, and monitoring, along with having an incidence response plan. 

    We also talked about how to prepare for downtime, from hot-hot datacenters to DR and a failover plans. How to manage traffic and plan for back up branded experience in the cloud. We talked about failover actions to 4xx and 5xx response codes as well as shifting anonymous traffic to a branded waiting experience under heavy load while end-users with items in their cart can use the limited resources to check out.

    Click here to watch the 45-minute video-on-demand and please feel free to email us with questions or comments. We'll respond even in to the holidays - but time is ticking to get proactive as holiday code freezes are just around the corner.

    The Render Chain and You

    Many of us have used tools like Web Page Test or Y!Slow to test our sites.  These tools give us a slew of suggestions, and often tell you which performance optimizations carry the most weight, which are higher priority.  But why?  Why do you want to make certain optimizations, why are some higher priority than others, and how does it all fit together?

    Akamai will be hosting the next Web Performance Meetup in the Cambridge office and our speakers, Matt Ringel, Enterprise Architect, and Joseph Morrissey, Senior Enterprise Architect, will be discussing these topics.  They will take a closer look at how the browser renders images on the page (the "render chain"), how it relates to a standard waterfall chart, what are the top front-end Web optimization rules and tools to measure Web page speed and share real-world examples and experiences in assessing and optimizing Web content.

    The meetup will be held at the Akamai office on Tuesday, August 13 at 6:30pm.  Click here to learn more about the event and our speakers and to register for the event.  We hope to see you there.

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


    We all know eCommerce is evolving.  It used to be pretty simple.  A shopper would visit your eCommerce Web application from her laptop or PC. You probably had to support one, maybe two browsers.  But the world has changed - quickly.  The fact is the proliferation of connected devices has changed the way we shop - whether it's couch commerce or show rooming - mobile devices have changed the game.


    Yet it's not only mobile that has changed, the desktop/laptop environment has also evolved.  In 2008 the different versions of IE had close to 70% of the browser market share.  This is no longer the case with Chrome, Firefox and Safari growing significantly.  Looking only at the browser families hides a lot of complexity; IE7 and IE8 are not the same browser.  To get a more complete picture of browser development, check out Evolution Of The Web.


    Mobile is growing fast.  That is no longer news.  We have all seen Mary Meeker's projections and eBay's mobile commerce retail volume numbers.  And let's remember that mobile is not only smartphones - it includes tablets - in fact, some would argue they are the future of mobile commerce.


    Holiday 1.png


    The fact that we no longer go online but are online has driven eCommerce growth.  According to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark 2012 US online sales for Black Friday increased ~21% over 2011 and Cyber Monday online sales grew by ~30% over 2011.  Online traffic trends over the years also show considerably bigger spike as more consumers look online for their holiday shopping.  This also means that the cost of failures or slowdowns under peak traffic conditions just keeps getting higher.


    Yet delivering fast, scalable Web apps, that keep getting bigger and more complex, to constrained devices over constrained networks, is no simple feat.  It has gotten to the point where sites on the Gomez US Retail Website Performance Index require on average 30 hosts to deliver a home page.  So what happens if one of these third parties has an issue?  That depends on the architecture of the page and often it means a significant degradation of performance from an end-user perspective.


    Holiday 2.png


    In this example - measured using webpagetest and Pat Meenan's great SPOF-O-Matic Chrome extension - page load time is significantly impacted by the third party performance issue.  The kicker is that even though this isn't your fault directly, your customers will still likely hold you responsible for the degradation - and likely move on to the closest competitor - which is just a click away.


    Compounding the complexity associated with Web app delivery are the ever-increasing end-user experience expectations.  We have talked about this at length in other posts.  If we don't meet those end-user expectations there are consequences.  Real User Monitoring (RUM) made it easy to correlate performance to business metrics such as conversion, bounce or abandonment rates.  Whether its data from vendors like Torbit or from companies like Walmart one thing is clear - the slower your pages the higher your abandonment and bounce rates and the lower your conversions.  In other words, Web performance impacts the business. As far back as 2006, Amazon noted that speed matters. In particular, "Every 100ms delay costs 1% of sales".

    EdgeBanner.pngI'm pleased to invite you to our 6th Akamai Edge 2013 this October 7 - 11 in Washington, D.C. at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort and Conference Center. Join us and meet up with more than 1,000 of your industry peers and our best line-up yet of industry innovators, as we create the experiences that to drive a Faster Forward World

    Our Biggest and Best Customer Conference Yet! 
    More sessions, tracks and networking opportunities that have all been designed to provide a broader and more diverse perspective for conference attendees. 

    What's New To Help Fuel Your Innovation! 
    This Year we'll be offering a Developers' Track - dedicated to technical professionals seeking to develop new experiences leveraging our platform. We'll have sessions on how to bring applications to market more quickly and intimate developer labs giving you detailed insight on how to get the most out of new features in our platform. We're also pleased to introduce the Web Security Symposium, designed for security professionals. Security leaders and your peers will help you think about strategies for securing your organization's data, sites and applications against the ever-evolving threats of today's online environment. 

    We're extremely excited about the agenda and the lineup of well-known industry luminaries and tech experts who will be presenting at Edge 2013. So much so that we're introducing new conference discounts to help make attending Edge as easy as possible for all Akamai customers. 

    Three Ways to Save: 
    • New Customer Discount: If your company first purchased Akamai services after January 1, 2013, you're eligible to receive a $300 discount on the Full Conference pass. Enter code: 50NEW2013 
    • Edge Alumni Discount: If you've attended an Akamai conference before now you're eligible to receive US$300 off your conference seat. Enter code: ALUM2013 
    • Team Discount: Visit Akamai Edge 2012 With Your Team of 3 or more and save 50% per person. Enter code: GROUP2013 

    From customer innovation stories, industry panels, technical labs, partner and government forums to Web security and developers' tracks, there's something for everyone at Edge 2013. Space is limited and by invitation only so we encourage you not to wait and REGISTER TODAY

    Join us and be inspired. I look forward to seeing you there! 

    Brad Rinklin 
    Chief Marking Officer, Akamai
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