Merchants Risk Holiday Crashes–Because They’re Cheap!

Dec 13, 2006 7:50 PM  By

(Magilla Marketing) As online merchants ramp up their e-mail efforts, many risk being unable to handle the resulting spikes in Web traffic–all because theyíre too cheap to spend a little more money on the necessary equipment, according to one expert.

And as near as we can tell, he’s not selling the equipment.

“If you ask 100 online merchants,’Have you ever sent out an e-mail campaign that took your site down?’ 95 will say yes,” says Ken Burke, founder/CEO of e-commerce technology firm MarketLive. And too often, it’s because the merchant was too cheap to spend around $7,000 each for a couple of extra servers, according to Burke.

“Retailers and catalogers are frugal,” Burke says. But when it comes to handling the resulting traffic from e-mail campaigns, hardware is not the place to cut financial corners, he adds. “A server is $7,000. Do not chintz out on your hardware. It is the stupidest, most narrow-minded thing a merchant can do.”

That $7,000 will buy the merchant a server can handle 750-1,000 more users concurrently, Burke says.

Typically, however, a merchant will balk at buying the extra hardware needed to handle peak-season traffic. As a result, the site slows or crashes, and the retailer ends up lamenting that its site didn’t scale, says Burke.

According to a recent report by JupiterResearch, more than one-third of shoppers who were dissatisfied with an e-commerce site’s performance because of error messages, a site crash, or slow page loads abandoned the site. And, of course, the worse time for a slowdown or crash is during a peak in traffic.

“The time you want to be a rock star is when you’ve got all these new people coming to your site, and that’s the time that you fail,” Burke says.

Burke recommends “hardware-capacity planning” every six months to a year. “If your [online business is] growing 20% a year, then [reviewing your capacity] every year is fine,” he says. “But if you’re growing at 100% every year, you better be looking at your hardware profile every six months.”

Burke adds that beyond buying more hardware, one way to help prevent e-mail-driven site crashes and slowdowns is to do what’s known in the industry as throttling, or sending e-mail campaigns a little at a time. Many e-mailers throttle already because inbox providers limit the amount of e-mail they’ll accept at any given time. But throttling also helps e-mailers limit the resulting strain on their own sites, Burke says.

“There’s no reason to throw a million e-mails out there all at once and have everybody cram onto the site all at once,” he says. “You can increase your house file and not need to worry too much about your hardware if you just increase your throttling a little.”