It is clear that for online commerce, this season is starting off very well, with comScore analysis stating that Black Friday sales topped $1B for the first time. This near-explosive start to the holiday shopping season has analysts somewhat unsure if this indicates a positive start to a successful season or just an initial rush leading into a normal shopping season.

One of the key indicators we are watching is the volume of traffic coming to the retail sites included in our Ecommerce and Retail Real User Index. The massive increase in traffic to the monitored sites that started on Thanksgiving Day evening continued throughout the weekend, with volumes up 50-100% over the rest of November 2012.

Even with a surge in visitor volumes, the performance of the vast majority of sites reviewed by Compuware showed little or no performance degradation directly related to core site functions. The lack of a significant web performance event starting from Thanksgiving Day evening indicates that retailers are prepared for the holiday shopping season.

That said, on Cyber Monday morning, a big sale at a popular technical book seller saw their servers begin to show poor performance and timeouts. Even those that are prepared can sometimes be surprised by their own success.

Even with the uneventful start to the online shopping season, their may still be surprises that appear in January 2013. When reviewing the events of the holiday shopping season, we recommend that all firms, especially those that are successful this year, closely examine the cost of their preparedness. Special attention should be paid to the spend on hardware, cloud services, third-party services, and CDNs to ensure that the cost of these did not cut into business success achieved by being able to handle a greater volume of traffic.

Mobile continues to be the big new story this year. After years of hearing of the arrival of mobile commerce, the promise has been fulfilled this year. Compuware data shows that the volume of iPad and iPhone page views through the Thanksgiving weekend was substantially higher than the previous week,with iPad and iPhone shoppers increasing nearly 35% over 2011 for the sites on our Ecommerce and Retail Real User Index. This obscures the staggering increase for both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, both of which were up over 250% when compared to 2011 This trend will have the effect of re-shaping online commerce, as mobile shoppers are now the fastest growing segment of online commerce.

We have tracked one interesting performance story over the weekend. Compuware data showed that out of all of the retailers we have been tracking, only one made a substantial shift to a larger, more complex page in advance of the Thanksgiving weekend. On November 22, this retailer made the following changes to its site

  • Doubled the page size
  • Doubled the number of Hosts
  • Doubled the number of Objects
November 2012 - Change in Bytes, Hosts, and Objects - Company H
November 2012 – Change in Bytes, Hosts, and Objects – Company H

While Compuware has no data on the retail success of this retailer, we did track that there was almost no change in response times from the Backbone response time data we collect. However, most consumers do not access the internet directly on high-speed, datacenter-grade connections using server-class machines. By shifting the performance perspective, we tracked an increase in response time from the Last Mile, the connections we all use every day, in the range of 3.0-3.5 seconds.

November 2012 - Change in Response Time, Hosts, and Objects - Company H
November 2012 – Change in Response Time, Hosts, and Objects – Company H

This is a very unusual trend for a time of year when retailers are focused on speed, performance and consistency, and we will continue to watch this retailer throughout the holiday season to see if the site returns to the smaller size.

Watch for our next post at midday, with a focus on the morning data from Cyber Monday.