What Works Online When You Are Literally Betting the Store?

The online Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa holiday shopping season kicks off with a bang on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in just six months. Will your company's Web site be ready?

The time to find out is now, not when your Web servers are overloaded, your incoming orders have stopped and your frustrated customers have abandoned their filled shopping carts and rushed to a competitor's online store to buy their gifts.

That scenario is an online retailer's worst nightmare.

You can prevent this nightmare by proactively load testing your critical Web infrastructure to ensure it can handle the pressure when thousands of customer orders are coming in online. It's really a great problem to have when thousands of customers want to order from your Web site at the same time and are pushing your IT systems to their limits.

You've likely heard stories about well-known online retail Web sites that have crashed and burned under such high demands, haven't you? That's bad customer service, and that's bad for business.

Instead, take the reins and prepare your IT systems for the inevitable -- a revenue generating rush - by adopting a Web load testing strategy today that will help keep customer orders flowing in without problems.

Before you move ahead with Web load testing, here are four key points to consider:

1) Be sure that the testing is done from outside your firewall, over the Internet, in the same ways that your customers are arriving at your site. Any testing you do inside your firewall is meaningless because it doesn't include real-world performance killers, such as the multiple data "hops" occurring across the Internet from router to router to router, as well as long distances that can add delays to every aspect of every page.

2) Choose a testing strategy that will emulate your users' behaviors and locations. Your testing must include many scenarios so you can truly see how things are performing. Some customers browse and some do product research, while others fill a cart and place orders or check the status of an order. Your load testing should do those same things using multiple scripts to emulate what your customers are doing.

3) Start early, plan well and stick with it. Build a performance mindset into every stage of your system lifecycle. Make sure that the critical, high-value pages and paths through your Web site perform well and cache them as much as possible so that they will perform better for customers. Ensure continuous performance of the site year-round - not just before a big event - by testing early and often. This isn't something to do right before your peak season.

4) The holiday season for Web load testing starts in May. Smart companies then begin beating the daylights out of their Web infrastructures to make sure that they'll perform well over the holidays. Some will say, "I'm not Walmart. I'm not Amazon. I don't need to do all that." But if you want your business to be successful, you can't let yourself off that hook.

Web load testing is affordable, so even mid-sized Web sites can and should make it part of their "holiday readiness plan." You'll have eliminated one of the major variables impacting the success of online businesses -- and can rest assured that your site is not painfully slow or unusable when customers are logging on with credit cards in their hands, ready to purchase.
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