The 2020 holiday season is expected to shatter global shopping records. Analysts forecast that online holiday spending will reach almost $200 billion, while Australia Post is predicting that a combination of sales events and the Christmas period will drive more than 30 per cent in growth across Australia.

We’re already seeing major records broken globally. According to data from Adobe, US consumers spent US$9 billion online on Black Friday this year, which is an increase of 21.6 per cent from one year ago.

One of the main drivers behind this stellar increase in holiday sales is the rise in e-commerce as result of COVID-19. During the pandemic, many consumers became comfortable with shopping online due to social distancing restrictions. In addition, overall internet traffic also reached an all-time high this year. At Akamai, we tracked global internet usage during lockdown earlier this year and found there was a 30 per cent increase in internet usage.

With most Australians looking to shop online this year, retailers must understand how poor web performance impacts sales. Once having identified any bottlenecks, they can work toward optimising their web performance to ensure their websites remain stable during peak traffic periods.

How web performance impacts user experience

Better user experience testing and web performance are the main challenges faced by online retailers during the holiday period. While these are ongoing considerations for retailers year-round, these challenges become especially important during peak holiday traffic.

With marketing promotion and shopping events driving web traffic, many retailers might find their server infrastructure is insufficient to meet demand. A website going down can have a severe impact on both brand reputation and revenue.

Lack of understanding the customer journey and user experience can also have a negative effect, with poor user experience resulting in reduced sales. Not being able to test and understand the limits of the website means retailers are flying blind on how users moving through the purchase journey.

In addition, the reality is that most e-commerce websites are overweight, with images being a major contributor. However, the answer is not as simple as reducing the quality in images, as research found that low quality images and video are one of the top three reasons consumers choose to not buy.

Ultimately, it’s hard for retailers to know where to optimise their website and what impact those changes would have to the digital experience or business revenue during peak holiday periods.

Overcoming web traffic challenges in peak periods

With an increase in web traffic, web performance and optimisation needs to be top of mind. Image and Video Managers are a great place for retailers to start. These managers can increase customer engagement through beautiful digital experiences that are optimised to deliver the best assets to users. Asset managers can also deliver fast and engaging content tailored for every device device.

Traffic management is also another method to ensure high availability and performance during peak holiday traffic periods. By implementing content delivery networks, retailers can ensure 100 per cent uptime and be confident customers are always able to access the website. For scalability and reliability, retailers should work with their cloud providers to ensure the platform and apps can scale to meet demand and are protected against attacks.

Retailers can also explore intelligent performance optimisers to help deliver better web and mobile experiences. Such platforms help optimise load times by accelerating content and routing around web congestion points. Technology like machine learning allows applications to adapt so users can receive the best digital experience automatically, increasing conversion.

This year online shopping has dominated sales. As consumers become more comfortable with online shopping and savvy with finding online deals, it has never been more important to ensure consumer demands are being met. The digital retail experience needs to be top of mind to ensure conversion. Therefore, retailers must invest in the tools and infrastructure needed to meet consumer expectations, while being able to facilitate a significant surge in web traffic during peak periods. By focusing on web performance, retailers will be able to improve the user experience and ultimately lead to better conversion and growth.

Dominic Lovell is senior lead solutions engineer at Akamai Technologies.