Holiday Web Trends That Will Last Through the New Year

While consumers are just starting to think about the holiday season, retailers have been in preparation mode for months. But just because you feel your website is locked and loaded, it's still important to be mindful of opportunities to optimize this year and better market into the New Year.

Here's a list of trends to keep an eye on this year so you can ensure your users have positive experiences, even after the holidays come to a close.
Mobile is (still) changing. Last year, according to our Akamai 2013 Online Holiday Shopping Trends and Traffic Report, 37 percent of all Internet shopping traffic during Black Friday 2013 came from mobile devices versus just 24 percent on the same day in 2012. While we expect continued m-commerce growth, it's not enough to know that consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to do their holiday shopping. To meet consumers' expectations, retailers increasingly need to optimize for the various mobile technologies, screen sizes and platforms. To do this, retailers should work to understand as much as possible about their shoppers' context and connectivity situations.

Understanding user experiences means knowing where shoppers are coming from, what devices they're using, and how their network is performing. Then, you need to evaluate the quality of their experiences.

Many online retailers leverage browser-provided user agents as a key to understanding the former, while real user monitoring, particularly Navigation Timing, can help offer insights into the latter.

Every (milli)second counts. How fast is fast in the eyes of the consumer? Tablet users expect a website to load in less than two seconds; furthermore, research has demonstrated that users will not visit a website as often if it is even 250 milliseconds slower than a competitor's site. Speed matters — regardless of connectivity situation.

Attacks are growing. And they're growing in every sense: in size, in frequency and in sophistication. In Akamai's 2013 Online Holiday Shopping report, the largest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack came in at 190 Gigabits per second (Gbps). Akamai's security team has already reported a 320 Gbps attack in 2014.

What do these numbers mean? A DDoS attack is when an attacker sends large amounts of traffic to a website. The amount of data overwhelms the website, crashing it and preventing legitimate users from accessing it. Since Gbps measure the speed at which data is transmitted, this means that in 2014, we have already seen an attack almost twice as big as the largest attack in 2013.

Attacks are also increasing in frequency, due to the growing ease with which attackers can find and employ attack tools or research application vulnerabilities. Just in terms of DDoS, the number of attacks increased by 33 percent from 2010 to 2011, 52 percent to 2012, and 47 percent to 2013. But attackers are moving beyond just DDoS, with more attacks focused on data and financial theft.

Why you should care
Web experience impacts the business. To consumers, fast sites and apps only matter if they're always available, under all traffic conditions. If your pages are too slow, you'll see less engagement and higher bounce rates, meaning fewer completed transactions and a decrease in profits.

You are a target. According the 2013 Online Holiday Shopping report, malicious traffic grew at more than twice the rate of legitimate traffic — and it's not just the big retailers that are targets. And because heavy security controls have the potential of keeping out the "good" visitors along with the bad, it's important to know what you're up against and balance your rules carefully.

What you should do
Optimize your network and applications.
By doing this, you'll reduce requests, accelerate rendering and ensure scalability and availability under all traffic conditions. But remember: you can't optimize what you can't measure (or see), so make sure you use the analytics available to you to understand the experience you are delivering to your customers.

Get content closer to end users. By bringing your content closer to the edge of the network, it will be delivered faster to the end user.

Accelerate requests back to your data center or cloud provider. Taking advantage of content and object pre-fetching, designating the most likely next pages that users will visit, and caching non-personalized content, will minimize round trips, enabling browsers to load and render an application faster.

Deploy, measure, iterate. You can't improve what you don't measure. Use a combination of synthetic and RUM measurements in order to get a clear understanding of what your users are experiencing, and how your iterative development process addresses user expectations.

While now might not be the time to re-do your website's entire infrastructure, you can still make tweaks based on this season's trends that will make the holiday and post-holiday season easier and more enjoyable for your customers. And because web experiences have the ability to make or break conversion rates, it's important to continually analyze and optimize the user experience – before, during and after the holiday season.

M.J. Johnson is director, product marketing at Akamai Technologies.
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