Why 99.99% uptime during Xmas is no longer enough

Online E-commerce merchants will be greeting the upcoming festive season with both glee and trepidation as they bank their faith in web servers and hosting providers they hope will perform flawlessly under the weight of online shopping transactions.

This is serious stuff, with expectations high after a successful 2009 season, which recorded an average UK retail uptime of 99.88%, and almost 100% in network availability.

This puts online retailers under even more pressure to perform as analysts predict that more than 43% of last year’s shoppers are expected to spend more cash during Christmas 2010 as a result of their positive experience in 2009.

Analysts released figures showing that in 2009 online sales increased 29% to £132m on Christmas Day 2009, compared with the previous year. Sales of £281m were made on Boxing Day.

These big numbers will be even BIGGER in 2010 as more and more people connect to the Internet and access trusted networks that have a built up solid E-commerce and site reliability credentials over the past several years.

But, even as more money goes online, shoppers will now be far more selective and targeted in which sites they use to complete their Xmas wishlist.

“Reduced personal budgets this Christmas will mean people are more conscious of where and how they spend their money. While they may initially gravitate towards well-established, trusted brands online, what consumers really want is a seamless experience from the home page to the checkout and the reassurance of after-sales care,” said Chris Russell, Director of eDigitalResearch.

And, you guessed it: This seamless experience will require an uptime guarantee approaching 100% that only a few top-level hosting providers can offer to merchants competing in a crowded marketplace.

Google Insights offers us a visual perspective of the metronomic habits of annual Xmas shoppers as they seek out online specials and attempt to put their hard-won savings and end-of-year bonuses to work.

Google Insights Reveals Metronomic Habits of Online Shoppers

Those lovely spikes above represent both opportunity and risk for E-commerce merchants as they seek to reap the trust and credibility they earned from UK shoppers in 2009.

One glitch in the checkout process due to faulty load balancing or network switchovers and it’s game over. The shopper immediately takes his business elsewhere. After a quick Google search he will pick out another merchant deal offering a 25% discount.

EasyBus, a Virtual Internet customer, further amplified this point recently:

Time is money for our customers, so is a quick loading site, in Sydney, Madrid, in Warsaw or wherever in the World bookers are from, means easyBus customers stay online, and for a shorter period, saving their own time which equates to money in their pocket,” said Derek Wilson, head of marketing for easyBus

The temporary spikes in demand that accompany special promotions and discounts leading up to Xmas and beyond are perfect illustrations of why many merchants are now racing to sign up for private and public cloud hosting services.

Take look at what happened to Debenhams in 2008 when it failed to anticipate a sudden spike in traffic resulting from pre-Xmas specials.

Further, while uptime is critical, another complementary weapon in any online merchant’s arsenal should be server monitoring tools which helps with capacity planning as well as a real time overview of how your servers are performing.

In June of 2010, Internet World Stats reported that 51.4 million people in the UK went online representing 82% of the population. We also reported in a recent whitepaper that while there are roughly 1 billion devices currently connected to the Internet this might well top 100 billion (mostly mobile) by 2020.

This Xmas, analysts predict that at least 18% of consumers plan to do some of their Christmas shopping using their smart phones which creates further challenges for retailers to be ready for a sale at anytime of the day as shoppers defy using traditional online channels or technology.

All these numbers quoted above are staggering but the implications are even clearer: Any merchant going into the Xmas period without a heavy duty hosting provider that can provide a 100% network uptime and availability guarantee is risking a massive drop in both earnings and credibility.

You can bet on it!

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