Find out how Walmart.com figured out that one second is worth $250 million. We look at the need to ramp up for the holiday season.


Last week we looked at the extraordinary lengths that retailers and those who support them go to, to prepare for the rush of holiday shoppers that make or break many businesses. OK, so it isn’t the rush of shoppers that breaks a business, it’s being unable to capitalize on their strong intent to buy something in time to present as a holiday gift. We looked at the hundreds of thousands of temporary workers that retailers, delivery services and the like hire to get through the season. We wrote about companies like BloomReach that provide vital tools and infrastructure to help retailers make the most of a two-month period that rounds out a quarter that accounts for as much as 40 percent of some companies’ annual profits. We talked specifically about the spike in server calls for one particular BloomReach service — BloomReach Commerce Organic Search, which saw calls increase 76 percent on Cyber Monday, compared to a typical day. And we looked at a measure of overall traffic that indicated that the peak of e-commerce activity on Cyber Monday was up more than 300 percent over the peak of a typical shopping day in October. But recently, we caught up with the BloomReach team that keeps tabs on BloomReach’s Commerce Search product, a tool that optimizes site search and personalization on a retailer’s digital sites. Not surprisingly, server calls to BloomReach related to Commerce Search were also humming as the holiday shopping season got going in earnest. By that measure, peak e-commerce activity doubled on Cyber Monday over a typical day. Chart showing holiday server calls for BloomReach Commerce Search (Note: The chart represents Coordinated Universal Time, which is eight hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.) The traffic peak, in fact, hit at 6:35 p.m. PST, reinforcing the notion that shoppers apparently waited to get home from work to indulge their Cyber Monday shopping needs. Or at least they waited until the work day was almost done, given the sustained high-level of traffic that we saw from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. that day. While the spike is dramatic, it wasn’t surprising. As we noted earlier, BloomReach was among those working in and with the retail industry that had prepared in advance for the holiday season, retail’s 100-year-flood. So, the spikes came and went without significant problems. Why does any of this matter? Well, money for one. When digital sites aren’t working properly, e-commerce operations can’t sell their stuff — or certainly can’t sell as much of it. You might remember news reports about trouble at Macy’s and some other large retailers, who were swamped on Black Friday. Nobody — not customers and not retail executives — want to see a notice that says, “heavier traffic than normal,” and suggests shoppers sit tight until things get cleared up. Ann Ruckstuhl, CMO of SOASTA, a company that measures and improves digital performance, laid out just how valuable those frustrated shoppers can be when we spoke to her at Shop.org in September. SOASTA’s research focused on the way a slow website can damage a business. Obviously, a website that won’t let a consumer order at all is far worse. “When you have a three-second delay, about 41 percent of your users are gone,” Ruckstuhl said in a video interview. “For everybody that leaves your site, based on our research with Aberdeen, each visitor cost the business from $21 to $80.”

Ruckstuhl pointed to Walmart.com as an example. She said the retail giant discovered that if they could speed up their site’s loading time by one second, they could make $250 million more in annual revenue. And beyond missing out on that immediate sale when your site is slow or overwhelmed, think about what that customer experience means in terms of ever seeing that shopper again. Not good. So yeah. Being prepared is a big deal. You can take that to the bank. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Photo by Mike Cassidy. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.