Retailers Struggle to Keep Applications Running for Shoppers

Retailers are bracing for their biggest holiday season to date with Deloitte predicting that holiday retail sales will top $1.10 trillion this year, a 5 percent growth from 2017.

And it’s eCommerce retailers who have the most to gain – or lose – after the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away. Deloitte is predicting eCommerce sales alone to reach as much as $134 billion this holiday season, compared with about $110 billion a year ago.

That’s a lot of money on the table for today’s digital retailers. And it’s all up for grabs with one simple caveat: In order for consumers to shop and open up their wallets, digital channels must be reliable and allow them to do so, as performance is key to overall digital customer experience.  

Unfortunately, a glitch-free experience is hard to come by, according to a new global AppDynamics survey of 6,000 IT decision makers. In fact, 98 percent of retail respondents reported that in the last 6 months, at least a portion of their major business-critical applications have experienced performance issues. Additionally, 89 percent said they have had to rollback new software application releases or major code enhancements due to problems.

These issues could be anything as painless as pages taking a couple extra seconds to load – or something as detrimental as customers not being able to add items to their cart or go through the checkout process, whether via a browser or mobile app.

But over the last decade, as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become increasingly online-centric – with record volumes of traffic – the number of performance problems reported has become a common occurrence. Quite simply, increased demand is great for business, but only if it can be met with the necessary capacity and performance from a software and associated technology perspective.

The problem is that it can be difficult for retailers to accurately predict demand during these intense periods. So, unless IT takes the route of a costly over-provisioning strategy, performance problems will likely always arise. To help offset this, IT teams should instead focus on Mean Time To Know (MTTK), the time it takes to discover, analyze, and troubleshoot emerging performance issues before they impact customer experience.  

Our survey found that it takes retailers an average of 5 hours to resolve business-critical application performance issues. That’s 5 hours of poor customer experiences – and customer frustration – which can have a dramatic impact on brand reputation and revenue.

In the world of retail, customer experience is directly proportional to bottom-line performance. For every hour an application is down, our research found that retail companies lose an average of $38,855 per hour.

And on a heightened consumer-spending day like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the potential loss is much higher. The impact of a poor digital customer experience goes beyond the hours of downtime and revenue lost. It also hurts customer loyalty – tremendously.

According to our survey, when a performance or user experience issue occurs, 63% of retail IT departments are notified of the problem through customers calling or emailing the help desk.

And these calls and emails will likely lead to customer defection. In fact, according to the App Attention Index, 53 percent of consumers have abandoned a website after one disappointing experience. Even scarier, 80 percent of consumers will delete an app entirely due to poor performance.

In today’s digital world, consumers have a low tolerance for poor experiences – because they can. Choice is limitless and switching brands is effortless when it comes to online shopping.

Second chances are exceedingly rare when it comes to online shopping, placing increasing pressure on retailers to deliver a flawless digital experience for their customers. And it’s clear that to maximize eCommerce conversions and revenue this holiday season, retailers must optimize application performance.

Return To Sender — Black Friday Brings New Digital Challenges

Return to sender, dress is a no. Not my style — even with a discount code

Welcome to the busiest time of the year for retailerselvis

This week marks one of the busiest sales periods for retail, with Black Friday being a central focus for consumers and the media alike. During the holiday period it’s estimated that most traditional retail brands will make between 70% and 90% of total revenue in-store during this period. But if you’re like me, I can’t think of many more things worse than being stuck in queue this Friday, and it seems that many other consumers also agree. According to Adobe, last year Thanksgiving and Black Friday netted $4.45 billion in U.S. online purchases, with smartphones accounting for a record $1.5 billion of that amount. This year, it’s predicted that Black Friday will be bigger than ever, as for the first time, sales are expected to exceed $3 billion, an increase of 11.5% over last year with online and smartphone-based sales smashing all records.

There’s no doubt that the retail sector is at the forefront of digital transformation. Mobile is now an integral part of the shopping experience in areas ranging from fashion to sporting goods. The focus for retail this year has been on how to utilize digital technologies to personalize omni-channel customer experiences in order to ensure that products, offers, and content remain relevant.

So, all’s good in retail in regards to digital transformation then?

The stats above are compelling, and many retailers will have a bumper holiday period this year, but all’s not rosy. Why is this the case? The clue is in my “digitally transformed” Elvis quote at the start of the post. You see, online and mobile channels have made shopping seamless, convenient, and with flexible delivery options. It means that you don’t have to wait very long for your bargains to arrive.

But that’s not all — in the search for differentiation and customer loyalty, many digital retailers have now shifted focus to providing seamless and convenient returns. For example, Zappos, a subsidiary of Amazon and an online shoe and clothing shop, have led the way with a 365-day returns policy and free two-way shipping. Today, if you don’t like a product you’ve bought, it’s simple: just return it, or even better — if you can’t decide which new sweater to buy, then just buy five and send the four back that you don’t want. Shoppers have never had it better.

But for retailers, this is where a new challenge caused by the digital transformation begins to emerge. According to the National Retail Federation, the total of U.S. annual returns in 2015 reached $260.5 billion, and in the UK, £600m of products bought over last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday entered into returns processes. The obvious immediate impact for retailers is on revenue, but by the time these returns go through the process of being repackaged, the costs of being redistributed correctly to either distribution centers or back to store increase, especially during the holidays. By then, many products become out of season, cannot be sold, or must be discounted even further —  thus magnifying the impact on retail revenues and profit even further.

What’s the solution to the returns challenge?

According to Shorr, who conducted research into the returns challenge last year, returns are increased by poor product portrayal or fit, especially in fashion. So, the first rule is for retailers to make sure that their online channels accurately portray size, colors, and other product attributes clearly. Beyond this though, it’s about digital retailers making sure that they have full visibility of the customer journey. Visibility into all transactions up to the purchase is essential, whether online or in-store, followed by visibility through the entire returns process.

Today, this journey happens through interconnected applications, increasingly via mobile apps for the customer and via returns or supply chain apps for the employees managing the returns process. This means that the adoption of an intelligent application performance management solution that can provide end-to-end transaction performance visibility of these applications is critical, as any slowdown causes customer experience issues and impacts directly on revenue. On top of this, utilizing deep application analytics like Business iQ can help digital retailers to understand in real-time where products are being returned, by which customer, and at what value — helping them to improve and fine-tune their returns process for future holiday seasons.

So, while the world will be watching the revenues generated this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’ll be on the lookout for this year’s returns figures to see how retail is adapting to the new challenges that digital transformation brings. But I wish all retailers a great holiday season, and as for me, I can’t wait to bag a bargain this Friday!

Learn More

To learn more about the challenges that digital retailers face, please download our report, An App Is Not Enough.

Back to School: Optimized for the Mobile Retailer

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. My Facebook feed is back from vacation, filled with stories of parents’ struggles with their children to get them ready for the return to school with new clothes and the necessary supplies.

That probably helps to explain one rising trend of consumers increasingly turning to mobile and web applications to complete their shopping tasks. After all, if you can keep one eye on the kids while keeping another on your smartphone, why wouldn’t you just have everything sent straight to your doorstep? This trend represents both an opportunity and a challenge for retailers to capitalize on the shifting habits of consumers. 

The opportunity is clear to engage with consumers through multiple channels both physical and digital, and particularly when the digital channel offers all kinds of occasions for sophisticated targeting and engagement with notifications, deals, and discounts. The challenges, however, are also enormous because of the perils inherent to the digital channel. Consumers are even more fickle today, and they can compare and switch with the ease of a swipe or touch of a screen. In the digital channel, you spend endless resources fine tuning your customer acquisition, engagement, and conversion strategies. But if your apps don’t perform well, then all of those efforts are for naught.

The opportunity costs of a poor performing mobile application can be tremendous. Our research indicates that up to 84% of consumer would delete an app after a crash (insert link to study here). For even more data about the consequences of poor mobile and web application performance, check out this DZone article and infographic including this stunner that 63% of consumers “wouldn’t do business with a company via any channel after having transaction problems on [a] mobile device.”

Given the brutal nature of the competition in the mobile application market, it’s imperative for all enterprises (not just retailers) to provide a flawless, engaging, and delightful digital experience. While UI/UX certainly plays a critical role in that, many companies give short shrift to monitoring the technical performance of a mobile application in production in real-time. Performance is often taken for granted or just assumed or something that developers are responsible for, rather than being considered a key strategic requirement equal in importance to the other elements of the mobile application strategy.

But if the consumer has a poor experience as a result of a crash, and error, or even just a slow response time due to a back-end software problem with a payment, inventory, search, commerce, fulfillment or whatever other corporate business transaction system, then no amount of fancy UI/UX is going to rescue that customer interaction.

Even more importantly, it’s not just about the mobile and web apps, because those apps are just the front end to your core enterprise applications. What if slow performance on your web or mobile app is actually due to a back-end system problem with commerce, reservation, order, fulfillment, scheduling or some other system?

All your customer sees is that there was a problem or they waited until they switched to a competitor app instead. That’s why you need end-to-end visibility for every request that originates from the web or mobile app across the network and through to every line of code, database, message queue, and third party service that gets invoked in order the generate a response to the request that initiated from the web or mobile app.

You need to be able to tag and trace every business transaction as it propagates through your systems and be able to correlate them from beginning to end. Most importantly, you need to understand how the performance of your apps drive the business outcomes and KPIs for your business. If enterprises don’t have a fully thought out digital experience monitoring strategy, especially including mobile application performance monitoring, then they are going to have lower conversion rates, higher bounce rates, and poorer KPIs.

While it’s already too late to implement mobile application performance monitoring (APM) strategy for the back to school rush, retailers, and other enterprises still have time to deploy mobile APM in place for the upcoming holiday seasons if they start now.

Apropos, Gartner has just recently published the 2016 market guide for Mobile Application Performance Monitoring (subscription required). The guide provides an excellent introduction to not only Mobile APM, but also as a component of an overall Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM) strategy.

While retailers are currently in the throws of the back to school season, it’s important to start thinking about the learnings that can be derived and then there’s still time to put a monitoring strategy in place for the upcoming holiday season to address any shortcomings or deficiencies observed now. See how Overstock.com implemented a strategy to monitor their digital presence, reduce their mean time to resolution, and gain code-level context of their transactions with AppDynamics. 

Magento and Retail: The Open Source Storefront

In the mid-1990s, online shopping took the world by storm with the launch of eBay. These days, the average brick-and-mortar retailer has invested just as much time and planning into its online sales as its floor sales, and many startups skip the physical storefront altogether for a bright and shiny online retail outlet.

Well-developed software platforms are the reason these companies can create engaging virtual storefronts and bring in a wider range of shoppers. SAP Hybris and Oracle ATG are leading providers in this industry, but Magento is a strong competitor with a fantastic reputation. A well-ranked open-source e-commerce platform, Magento is used by online retailers because of high customization and effectiveness.

A Brief History of Magento

It is the sad case for many technology companies that older does not mean better, but this is not the case when it comes to Magento. Originally released in 2007, Magento has provided several versions of its storefront-building platform in the last eight years, eventually tailoring the software to be easily scalable for larger companies.

For the previous three years, Magento has been used by more internet retailers than any other platform, and it has been named the top e-commerce platform by Internet Retailer B2B eCommerce 300 Guide. Right now, Magento offers streamlined products for digital commerce, order management, and various other industry processes.

Perhaps the most important event in Magento’s history was its acquisition by eBay in 2011. Not only did this set it apart as some of the most effective online retail technology on the market, but it gave developers the financial boost they needed to continue improving the product.

In 2015, there was a massive eBay split that resulted in Magento being spun off as a separate company, independent from the online retail giant. This was in no way a negative statement on the current or future success of Magento, but rather quite the opposite. In fact, the company has retained its top spot as the preferred e-commerce software platform throughout 2015 and 2016.

Why Magento Is Valuable for Retail Outlets

Retailers trust Magento because of its high reputation in the industry. After using the platform, online retailers realize that there are many reasons to trust and employ Magento software in their businesses, including high functionality, easy-to-use administrative controls, intelligent development, open source code, security measures and customer experience.

Thanks to Magento’s open source code, the platform is highly customizable for every unique online storefront. Users can optimize the features to work with different devices with a minimum of compatibility issues while managing multiple storefronts from a single account. The platform includes a database using MySQL, 20 different payment gateways and various checkouts, including Google Checkout and PayPal Express. The choice in checkout options means an easier purchasing process for shoppers and higher sales in the short and long term.

How Magento Handles Large-Scale Traffic

The main improvement to Magento platforms in the last several years has been scalability. The software can be easily scaled across multiple servers, and recent testing by ScreenPages shows the following results in their performance testing (you can view the details of how they tested here):

  • Page loads of 0.5 seconds 90 percent of the time

  • 50,000 visits per day can be a handled on a small cluster of standard virtual servers running Magento software

  • Server response time of less than 1 second 83 percent of the time

Their testing included the following configuration:

  • 2 dual-core 4GB RAM load balancers

  • 6 quad core 12GB RAM web servers

  • MySQL database server)

WIth this setup, Magento could handle 50,000 visits per day.

How Magento Helps Retail Companies

One of the most important features of Magento is its ability to combine physical and virtual sales, helping retail companies keep track of accounting in a much more effective way. Shipment tracking integration is included for DHL, FedEx, USPS, and UPS, with real-time shipping estimates provided for Canada Post, Purolator, DHL, FedEx, USPS, and UPS.

It is free to download the Magento Community platform, which is an ideal way for retailers to familiarize themselves with the software and work up to an upgrade that can handle more transactions and server use. For retailers who want to talk with a developer and optimize the software in the most effective way, this is a good starting point.

Once Magento is fully integrated into your retail business, you can make use of some great extra features such as product marketing via a wishlist and Share Me! For products and services that are purchased by a specific subsection of shoppers, users can easily set up a correlated targeted marketing campaign straight from their account using applications like AddShoppers, Price Countdown, and Featured Products. These applications organize sales data and customer attributes so that the right ads and products are shown to the right people. Extra features include the following (plus about 5,000 more):

  • Free themes

  • eBay listing integration

  • eBay order import

  • Tax calculation

  • Subscription

  • Multiple product types

  • Multiple store access

  • Configurable products

  • Stock control

  • Statistics

  • Product import and export

New Magento Developments

At Magento, developers are always hard at work streamlining existing processes and looking for new ways to improve and innovate. Magento 2.0 ramped up the basic platform, offering the ability to process up to 39 percent more orders every hour, deliver real-time server response for catalog browsing, enable 66 percent faster server response when adding items to shopping carts and providing 51 percent faster checkout times.

There are also now 100,000 forum members who speak to each other about optimization, customization and the best ways to further develop the open source code. The success of these forums not only means quicker troubleshooting for users but also more streamlined development for future upgrades.

Downsides to Magento

For non developers, Magento is a bit of a tough nut to crack. This is not code that can be modified or understood by a weekend coder by any means, so companies need to work with a developer who can make the necessary modifications and customizations. For anyone not completely versed in the PHP Zend Framework, working with Magento is just a pipe dream. Even experienced developers may need to upgrade their skills to get the best out of this platform. Furthermore, an unseasoned developer may not be able to correctly set up Magento so that retailers can depend on it to perform at high speeds with heavy use.

The cost of Magento is another perceived downside, since at $40,000 to $100,000 for a custom site the company is charging more than other providers. Magento Enterprise is $15,550 while the community edition is free. To contrast, the price of a simple Shopify site ranges from $9 to $179. Simpler platforms may be cheaper up-front, but they will always remain basic in comparison – for this reason, Magento is a solution for large businesses with a development team.

Users also need to take into consideration the fact that Magento is not a hosted solution – the company does refer users to approved Magento partners that will host, however. There are ten partners listed on the website, including Peer 1 Hosting and Anchor. In addition to these partners, you can find unaffiliated web hosts such as Host Gator that will configure and manage the project for you.

Magento’s Largest Competitors

Magento’s biggest competitors right now are Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. Magento is still listed as the number one choice of retailers; however the boost given to Shopify via Facebook and Etsy makes it an up-and-comer to watch in terms of popularity and real quality. BigCommerce supports about 40,000 online retailers while WooCommerce has been used to create at least 170,000 online stores. The availability, pricing and ease-of-use of these competitors’ platforms make them attractive to retailers large and small who have not yet considered working with a developer.

Pros and Cons of Magento’s Competitors

As I see it, the biggest positive attribute of Shopify is its alliance with Facebook. It is easy for small and large retailers to find the software, easy to set it up and easy to link to an existing Facebook store. The downside of Shopify is that most advanced features, such as those required to target certain shoppers and include detailed products, are only available at the App Store.

As for BigCommerce, it has a good tool set to help retailers from start to finish for marketing and building a great site. The drawback with this platform is a perhaps lackluster set of themes.

WooCommerce is available as a plugin for WordPress, which makes it a simple and obvious choice for WordPress-based sites. The platform features are solid and include a taxation calculator, various payment options, a cart function and a mobile view. The drawback with this software is obvious — if you are not a WordPress user, it is not for you.

The Future of Magento

Thanks to Magento’s intensive forums and the annual Imagine eCommerce Conferences, not to mention the emergence of Magento as a separate company, the future looks bright. In this industry, the mere fact that one company has all but cornered the market on internet retail for so many years says something great about its platform and its continued development.

Though it is now a separate entity from eBay, it remains in collaboration with its former parent company. Magento will continue looking for good ideas wherever they can be found and integrating them into the existing product catalog. The fact that the company remained dedicated to open source code is one of the main reasons for its continued success; the constant stream of updates, modifications, innovations and willing test subjects makes it easy to create popular, well-designed upgrades.

How Node.js Revolutionized the Retail Space

In a crowded world of popular computer languages, platforms and ecosystems, Node.js is one of the hottest. According to w3techs.com, Node.js usage has gone up 241 percent in the last year alone. Retailers have taken notice and are implementing it on many levels. I am going to share the basics of Node.js, and discuss why retailers are using it to reduce page load times and improve server efficiency. I’ll talk about similar developments such as Docker and microservices, and look at several companies implementing these technologies. I’ll also discuss how mobile computing is changing buyer behavior and expectations.

Distributed Devices

I believe one of the main reasons retail stores and related businesses are embracing Node.js is due to its ability to build data-intensive apps that can run in real time across a spectrum of distributed devices. Also, its performance is much faster for high-traffic applications than other traditional languages, such as Java. As consumers continue to shop more from their mobile devices, these factors are increasingly important. Bob Sherwin, a senior marketing director at Wayfair LLC, told Internet Retailer magazine that only a year ago customers would research products on their handset, but make the actual purchase from their desktop computer or tablet. Now they are comfortable making purchases right from their smartphone, increasing the need for stronger support from the web APIs these devices interface with.

Mobile Sales Growing Fast

These changes in buying behavior on mobile devices are leading retailers to re-evaluate their approach to mobile marketing. Mobile sales are growing fast — Goldman Sachs estimates that worldwide commerce sales on mobile devices will reach $415 billion in 2016, rising to $626 billion in 2018. Experts expect mobile sales to continue growing at a furious pace because they are currently expanding at twice the rate of e-commerce sales. However, these numbers only reflect actual purchases. When research and browsing time is factored in, mobile’s role in retail sales takes on even greater impact.

Node.js On the Rise

Node.js strengths in retail include:

  • The ability to handle many connections at the same time, which reduces operating costs.
  • Hundreds of thousands of modules currently available in the official Node.js package manager, which makes it easy for developers to build apps quickly rather than starting from scratch each time.
  • Its ability to use resources on the server as they are needed, reducing its footprint considerably.
  • Its efficiency and the way it increases productivity gains. Node.js is a natural for agile development as it only needs one-third to one-half the lines of code to complete a job.
  • Its speed. Node.js is built on Google’s JavaScript V8 runtime engine. Google made V8 available to other projects when they made the code open source.
  • The fact that it allows developers to test different options quickly. When Netflix was trying to figure out the best way to let Sony Playstation 3 users download movies, they came up with four different interfaces for testing. The interface that won was not even a favorite of the programming team.

Retailers and related companies using Node.js include:

  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn was an early Node.js evangelist. They abandoned Ruby on Rails for Node.js back in 2011. Today, the entire stack is driven by Node.js. Speeds improved up to 20 times, and server count was reduced from 30 to three.
  • Uber. Uber completely changed their web layer to Node.js to improve efficiency and create a better experience for customers and partners. Node.js replaced a LAMP stack with PHP and MySQL. PHP did not scale well and produced unacceptable bugs — there were errors like double-dispatching which sent two cars to one customer. They decided to separate the business logic from the dispatch system that operated in real time. Node.js was selected to bring the system up to date and be able to handle more connections efficiently.
  • Groupon. Groupon was another high profile e-commerce company who left Ruby on Rails behind for Node.js. Was it worth it? They noticed page load times improved 50 percent and are now able to develop new features quicker.

Supplementing Node.js to Node.js

Node.js is just one of several rapidly developing technologies that retailers are using. Docker, microservices, and agile development are also high on the list for retail and e-commerce companies.

  • Docker. Docker is an open-source project that packages an app and its dependencies in a container.
  • Microservices. Microservices is a process of building a large app as a system of small, modular services. Each microservice has a business purpose and uses simple methods to communicate with other services.
  • Agile Development. Developing software through cross-functional teams using continuous improvement and rapid planning and implementation.

For example, here are examples of retailers and sales-oriented companies who have used these technologies.

  • Shopify. Shopify implemented Docker to make their data centers more adaptable and easier to maintain. Shopify primarily relied on Ruby on Rails to handle thousands of requests per second spread over 1,700 cores. However, as Docker’s popularity began to expand, Shopify considered it for several benefits, including scaling up several servers quickly to handle traffic surges, using spare capacity in server farms for heavy-duty operations, and the ability for several containers to do different work on the same hardware with no interference.
  • Salesforce. Agile development is not new, but more companies are in the process of improving their agile methods. Twitter and Salesforce are two high-profile companies that rely on agile development for shorter cycle times, reduced bottlenecks and increased productivity. The key is self-organized teams with dedicated resources who can continually iterate their approach. They work under principles such as minimal work-in-progress and continuously releasable products that rely on automation to help keep everything lean.

Node.js shines, since it can be rapidly reconfigured and will adapt quickly to high-demand environments. Just as they have with other newer architecture design-patterns, like Docker and microservices, I soon expect to see more retailers using Node.js. We are now living in a high-traffic world, so retailers that can meet customer needs quickly and efficiently will garner more sales and profits in the process.

Top 5 Retail Performance Metrics You Should be Monitoring

Hopefully, by now you’ve recognized the vital importance application performance has on your bottom line. In retail, specifically, this is extremely apparent. Unfortunately, all too often we see some big online retailer have an outage during a peak period. Whether that’s on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or a special product launch, retailers can’t afford any performance issues when their customers need them most.

The battle for customer experience is the ultimate showdown. If your site falters in any way, either stalls, outages, or severe latency, your customers are likely to go to a competing site and spend their money elsewhere. Amazon, one of the largest e-commerce retailers in the world, saw that with every additional 100 ms of response time they lost $6.79M in revenue.

To help retailers and e-commerce companies out, we’ve created a handy best practice guide to show you which metrics matter most to retail success. For example, did you know you’ll gain a measurable competitive advantage if your site performance is increased by a mere 250 milliseconds?

Read our eBook, The Top 5 Retail Performance Metrics You Should be Measuring

As retail companies track performance metrics to determine success, determining the right KPIs and dashboard statistics can set you apart from your competitors. Choose wisely.

Specific metrics include:

  1. First byte response time
  2. Content download time
  3. First render time
  4. Visually complete
  5. Speed index

Too often companies are measuring their site success on antiquated or vanity metrics which don’t tell the entire story or truly provide any insight into customer experience. Using the metrics above to baseline (and optimize) on, you’ll be able to ensure an excellent experience for your customers.

Interested in learning more? Read the eBook here!

The Relationship Between Software Performance And Retail Success

As customers’ demand for a convenient, seamless, and personalized digital shopping experience reaches critical mass, there’s been a magnifying focus on the technology underlying the entire process. Retails everywhere are becoming customer-obsessed, investing in innovations such as omni-channel, IoT, and geo-fencing. What’s being overlooked, however, is the performance of these applications. The software applications providing the foundation for all these innovative features are absolutely critical to the success of every e-commerce company. Any digital performance issue becomes the equivalent of hanging up a ‘closed’ sign in the window of a brick-and-mortar store.

Software Performance is Critical for Retail Success

Design, combined with constant monitoring to ensure optimal performance are key building blocks that go into a successful digital selling environment. If anything goes wrong, even something minor, an e-commerce company risks the negative publicity and outcry on center stage. For example, Target suffered an outage on Cyber Monday in 2015, the biggest online retail day in the US. Apparently, the issue was caused because they anticipated the demand, and subsequent traffic for their “15% off everything” offer.

So, what exactly are the technical needs to ensure a successful e-commerce company?  

We partnered with Retail Systems Research (RSR), to see how the right foundation technology can improve digital performance, and ultimately lead to happy customer experience.

Read the full report here!

Users have come to expect a fast and seamless experience. Any issue logging in, adding items to their cart, or checking out and they’ll likely go somewhere else to make the purchase. Therefore, e-commerce sites must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any performance issues that will impact customer experience. You may be asking yourself, “how can I ensure an optimal experience for customers?” That’s exactly where having the right foundation of software performance, application intelligence, and performance monitoring come in.

Digital retailers must be able to see how any performance issue, no matter how small, can affect their user experience, and ultimately, their bottom line. Being proactive, combined with the analytical insights, will ultimately separate the good from the bad.

In the RSR report find out exactly which monitoring attributes you should look for to best suit your e-commerce application and set you up for success. These criteria include:

  • How to isolate performance problems

  • User behavior insight

  • Which processes (login, search, etc.) are negatively affecting user experience

  • Correlation of application performance metrics with business metrics

How to incorporate application performance into your business conversation

Most digital retail sites have substantially grown in functionality and design in the last few years. These added features, like responsive design, faster response time, induction of mobile apps, and several others adds a layer of complexity to the backend environment. It’s time for performance management to shift from being an “IT issue” to being a “business issue.”

Very few, if any, other technology initiatives are so directly tied to business success. If your site goes down not only does your bottom-line suffer, your brand suffers considerably online through social media and review sites. Given these high-stakes, application performance should be absolutely critical to your business execs.

The reliability and scalability of the digital channel offering is as integral to its value as feature and function. The good news is that performance management frameworks exist today that can help retailers be confident in their digital offering. Now is the time for retailers to bring application performance management and analytics into the discussion of their new digital offerings.

Read the full RSR report here!

A Round Up Of Software Defined Predictions For 2016

One thing I have learnt so far this holiday season is that a 15 pound turkey is too big for only 4 people! I love this time of year as it’s a chance for me to take time and read a number of the predictions articles that have come out in recent weeks. Here are some that have caught my attention and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did:

Gazing Into The Crystal Ball of Predictions

‘Tis the season for predictions and there are many!

APM, DevOps, Analytics and IoT

2016 Application Performance Management Predictions – This year there are so many APM predictions that they could not possibly fit into one article :-S  – so there is not only Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4…but also Part 5. It’s like a full blown Christmas-dinner-of-an-article 🙂 Our very own Jonah Kowall contributed to this series of predictions.

  • The key prediction not to miss – “From a high level, APM will become more about the business and its effectiveness will be increasingly measured on its business impact.” Cameron Haight, Research VP, IT Operations” –Too right, applications drive processes which drive services which drives customer engagement which drives business success. Applications and software are central to business success and so APM is not an IT only imperative but a business imperative.

2016 DevOps Predictions – Hot on the heels of the APM predictions are the DevOps predictions. Again 5 parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and the key predictions section not to miss here is part 3 which is all about how DevOps is not just about Development and IT Operations but how it’s essential for also bridging gaps with the business. 

Advanced analytics predictions for 2016 – With the number of analytics solutions on the market being so vast, it’s difficult to find one predictions article that summarizes this product area well. The best I could find is this article and the key prediction to highlight is that “All innovation will trace back to analytics”. Knowledge gleaned from data will lead to new products and services and this is especially true for AppDynamics Application Analytics as this helps to optimize software strategy and better plan new application design and release.    

2016 predictions for IoT and smart homes – There are lots of IoT predictions articles out there at the moment and too many to list. IoT will be one of the hottest buzzwords in 2016 and for good reason as the combination of sensors and software promises to transform the mundane into the intelligent i.e. connected cars, toys, refrigerators etc etc. The key prediction in this article is that “software will expand beyond the hardware”  and this means that software and applications can be used to to update hardware and create new functionality. Think about a refrigerator, in the past to get new features you would need to buy a new refrigerator but software enables a manufacturer to be able to deliver new features over the internet! It’s all about the software with this hot area!

How About Some Industry Predictions?

I think we all accept that every industry is going through digital transformation and that technology plus software is a key enabler. The result is that all industry predictions have an undertone of digital and here are my picks:

Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions for 2016 – For me, if there was a Top Trumps of different industries then retail banking would have a digital disruption rating of 10! I have to admit I am a little bit fascinated with this sector as there is a phenomenal amount of change happening and we have a large customer base here. Lots of big predictions but the four to highlight, as apps are central to them are:

  1. The ‘Platformification’ of Banking – While new Fintech startups/challenger banks pose a threat to the existing, established banks, they also, conversely, offer an opportunity. Existing banks have the customer base but are hampered by legacy systems/processes/politics, while the startups have the tech and skills but not the customers or the trust. New challenger banks and Fintech startups can’t assume that customers will ‘switch’ just because they offer mobile apps etc, as highlighted in this article. The opportunity is therefore for partnership and strategic alliances creating a banking platform – essential to this is software.
  2. Removing Friction from the Customer Journey – Digital business success is about using tech to deliver the right customer experience in order to build trust and loyalty. Apps and IoT are central to this and a great customer experience is one that removes the friction or difficulty in consuming a service. Think about Uber, what makes them successful is that they have removed (using an app) the friction in booking and taking a cab/taxi – they have made it easy and enjoyable. Retail banks have to do the same – an app for the sake of it is not going to work but an app that is personalised and removes friction in a banking service will lead to great customer experience and ultimately, loyalty.
  3. Making Big Data Actionable  – Today’s retail banks run on software and where there is software, there is data, Big Data in fact. Key to optimising the software that supports the services delivered is analytics, and one of the focus areas in 2016 will be analytics solutions that can turn data into actionable information quickly and easily.
  4. Introduction of ‘Optichannel’ Delivery – ‘Optichannel’ has to be one of my favourite buzzwords for 2016! In 2015 we had ‘Omnichannel’ which is about delivering across multiple channels, so mobile, branch, web etc, but ‘Optichannel’ is about making sure that the best channel is used to deliver the best customer experience.      

From emotional commerce to neuroscience, six predictions for retail and brands in 2016 – Predictions 2-4 above for retail banking also apply to retail. In 2016 personalization or as the author puts it, those who ‘bring order and value to the customer journey will be in the best position to win’. I also love the closing lines in this article:

  • “Whatever happens, it won’t be technology that wins the battle for the customer, but understanding what the customer wants and working backwards from that starting point.” Bravo! This is a vital digital business lesson which goes beyond retail! Want to read more on why ‘An app is not enough‘ for retail?   

5 Things To Look Out For In The eGaming Market in 2016 – This sector is driven completely by software and applications. In-play betting and the wide variety options mean that APM and application analytics is essential. Mobile is set to become the preferred customer channel, but in 2016 it really will be the continuing battles with regulatory policies that eGaming companies will have to deal with. I expect more consolidation of companies in this market.

Ten telecoms industry predictions for 2016 – It was a lot harder to find any predictions documents of interest in this sector but this is a good one. 2016 will be a defining year for this industry. Telcos own the networks that all these digital innovations utilize, so mobile apps, IoT, connected cars etc and Telcos need to take advantage of this – a great example is Verizon’s Hum device 

Well that’s enough for me, back to my turkey leftovers! Wishing you all a prosperous 2016!

Reinventing Retail with the Internet of Things, Data, and Massive Insights

Retail as we know it is about to change. Retail Systems Research conducted a study, The Internet of Things in Retail: Great Expectations, and found that 80% of respondents agreed: the Internet of Things will drastically change the way companies do business in the next three years. Huge efficiencies are coming out way with connected devices sending us data, in real-time, about shoppers, stores, inventory, and much more. Meaningful, actionable information is right at our fingertips. The Internet of Things is enabling retailers to grow more nimble, paying off in the millions!

Hyper localized targeting

Say goodbye to traditional, canned, pre-determined messaging and clipping coupons. Smart screens and sensors are here to make retail marketers more successful. There are a lot of retail applications out there, from smart sensors on products, to security cameras that can act as in-store heat maps, producing thousands of data points about demographics. Retail IoT will allow store owners to identify shopping paths, number of shoppers, their gender, age, ethnicity, and even their mood! Piecing together those points can make retail marketers far more effective in their campaigns. For example, marketers can create workflows with digital signage associated with a finely-targeted audience and product. When that highly targeted demographic is spotted by sensors in the store, digital signage is then triggered to direct that person to a desired product. If the shopper misses the offer, the store owner can make small adjustments, such as product placement or more signage, for optimal store set up and sell-through.

IoT Improving Retail Customer Experience

Getting customers to buy is only half the battle. Retailers are challenged to make customers come back, and increase customer loyalty. One way IoT can facilitate this is by increasing customer engagement, and making the shopping experience easy and fast. Barnaby Page reported that Gartner executive partner, Carl Deal, had a lot to say about IoT and retail at a recent conference in Ohio. “We have to be able to generate a customer experience that will make our customers want to come back to us,” explained Deal. “No matter what the future holds it’s going to be based around these three components: It’s going to be data-intensive; it’s going to be security-intensive; it’s going to be network-intensive.”

Data will help deliver IoT to retail… but only if we can decode it

The biggest challenge for retailers to be able to take advantage of IoT will be decoding all of that data that’s being generated. As a retailer, building a custom analytics platform can be timely, complex, and expensive. To embrace IoT and obtain immediate results with zero-effort,  implement a platform that can handle upto 500M metrics/minute and 1 Trillion events/day. That’s the scale needed for retail. AppDynamics can offer pre-built widgets to quickly create and share analytics dashboards, so larger chain retailers can share insights quickly across regions. Oh, and don’t worry about trying to make sense of the terabytes and terabytes of data your stores generate… the AppDynamics platform does it for you, from reducing time from data collection to providing insights.

As customer interactions are continually dictating, and progressing, digital transformation, IoT at the retail-level will add another complexity/channel for businesses to interact with their potential customers. Customer experience is, and will continue to be the next battleground for businesses, notably in the retail sector. Maintaining optimal performance to suit these experiences is the at the utmost importance.

Back-to-School Retail Web Site Performance Analysis

It’s somehow time to mark the end of summer with Labor Day weekend. And with that time, comes the rush we remember well as Back to School season. As most students are already back or soon to return to school, we decided to look at some major retailers and how their back-to-school special websites performed during the season.

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As you can see from the graphic above, the performance of some of these sites spanned a wide range from six seconds average End User Response Time to over 17 seconds.

The wide range can at least in part be attributed to different approaches to design philosophies taken by the retailers. In some cases, a retailer may choose to design a page with too many graphics for individual products or specials. Those cause the size of the page (in terms of data that needs to be downloaded) to be comparatively large, whereas others may take a more streamlined approach to fewer graphics on the main page.

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The problem becomes that companies make these types of decisions without any idea of how it affects their site performance. The impact of that site performance then reflects on the conversion rate of their web page.

In addition to the average response time, another interesting aspect of performance is the variation over time. Again, the graphic at the top of the article shows a wide disparity where some retailers have relatively consistent performance within a fairly narrow range, whereas other retailers have a much wider range of performance over time.

As a general rule, companies should certainly strive to provide customers with as consistent an experience as possible, and performance is a key part of providing a consistent experience.

The advantage of measuring site performance with AppDynamics Browser Synthetic Monitoring (Beta) is that they are consistently taken from our cloud-based geo-distributed intelligent agents. This provides a consistent and repeatable baseline measurement without all of the vagaries that can be introduced from real-user requests.

A company should strive to understand why their site may be providing such widely different response times and seek to reduce the range of performance to a more consistent and narrow range.