How to ensure effective website scalability all-year-round (not just during holidays)


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Retailers and brands spend a lot of time and resources preparing for the onslaught of traffic that Black Friday brings, but recent events have shown that scalability must always be a top priority.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all physical retail stores for over a month, consumers flocked online to shop. Even as the US begins to reopen, we’re still seeing month over month online traffic increase – probably because store capacities are still limited and many aren’t yet comfortable taking on the extra risk of shopping in-store.

Scaling to support the onslaught of traffic has been a challenge for many retailers and brands. Even the biggest retailers with sophisticated ecommerce set-ups can struggle to ensure optimal performance and prevent website crashes when traffic suddenly spikes. The consequence is a negative customer experience that can lead to lost revenue and poor brand perception.

Unfortunately, these mishaps usually make the headlines, further amplifying the negative brand recognition. And it’s not just in the news, shoppers take to social media to air their grievances as well. Before you know it, your brand is trending – and not for a good reason.

It’s a difficult problem to solve because it takes a lot of effort with the traditional ecommerce set-up. This is due to the fact that:
There’s complexity in gaining parity across non-production and production environments.
There’s more and more critical path dependencies every year (more systems, vendors, and SIs in play).
There’s pressure on margins creating budgetary cutbacks and skill set gaps.

The good news is the ecommerce landscape is evolving, and the emergence of headless commerce presents an opportunity for retailers to solve these challenges so that the only result from a large traffic surge is a big revenue bump.
How to effectively scale to support traffic spikes
Separating the web storefront from backend systems – i.e. taking a headless commerce approach – allows the web experience to scale independently of the backend. There are four factors in a headless environment that help ensure the website effectively scales to prevent outages or degraded experiences.

Serverless: Utilizing a serverless web storefront enables you to add near-infinite scaling capacity and remove front-end scalability as a possible bottleneck – especially if you’re able to re-architect your storefront to take advantage of modern best practices around scaling. A “serverless” approach means the system detects when it’s reaching capacity limits and automatically adds more capacity on-demand, without any manual intervention.

Caching: Proper usage of caching at the content delivery network (CDN) and front-end application level is also key to minimizing bottlenecks. Headless approaches let you add in several layers of caching at key points, which if done correctly, minimizes the need to hit backend systems when they are already under increased stress.

Ongoing iteration on performance: Moving to a headless, serverless approach lets you identify quicker the next performance and scaling bottleneck, allowing you to measure and course-correct more often.

Performance monitoring: If performance does degrade or your site goes down, your ability to quickly correct it is based on what data you have on hand and how quickly you can dig further. Having real-time user monitoring during Black Friday is key, and having monitoring in place across the web storefront and all backend systems for traceability is a must. In a modern headless architecture, the complexity of monitoring increases so easy-to-use, centralized tooling for monitoring and logging becomes critical. If you can’t easily tell within minutes which component is degrading the performance, you’re leaving revenue on the table.

Scalability helps put customers first
Black Friday traffic surges, viral fashion trends, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic show that scalability must be an ongoing priority for ecommerce businesses to put customers first. A headless commerce approach presents the opportunity to mitigate the risk associated with traffic surges, and consistently deliver a fast, reliable customer experience online.

Drew Lau
An ecommerce veteran with over a decade in leadership roles at innovative ecommerce technology companies, Drew has led and advised successful ecommerce projects around the world with brands such as Symantec, Time Inc and Debenhams. Drew is passionate about the Web as a platform, API architectures and data-driven insights. Drew leads the team in charge of product strategy and roadmap at Mobify, with a key focus on leadership, team development and technology partnerships.


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