Downtime. Sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? For companies who sell online, it’s the exact opposite. In e-commerce, downtime is the online equivalent of slapping a gigantic ‘CLOSED’ sign on the front door of a store (or in some cases, ‘OPEN… but we’ll be so slow you’ll quickly leave’).
Online retailers are expected to be open for business 24/7, and when downtime gets in the way, sales aren’t made and profits can be hit hard. If your business sells products online, this beginner’s guide to e-commerce downtime is a must-read.
What is downtime?
• Server downtime
Server downtime refers to problems with the computer program that processes your network requests (think web server, mail server), and/or problems with the computer that the program actually runs on. Common causes of server downtime include: human error and mismanagement of the server, power outages, and security attacks on the server.
• Store downtime
Store downtime refers to operational issues with your online store that are not linked to – or caused by – your server/host. Often store downtime is a result of problems with the components of your actual online store. This could include missing page components, such as navigation buttons, or slow load times which often bump up bounce rates significantly.
What’s the cost of downtime?
Unfortunately, downtime – whether it’s as a result of problems with your server or store – is costly. If your e-commerce store isn’t functioning properly (or at all) you are missing out on crucial sales and income. Essentially, your store has a giant ‘CLOSED’ sign hanging from the door in the middle of a workday. This will affect other areas of your business besides your profit margin. You will also be looking at disruption and incurred costs relating to:
• Technical support charges
Surprise bills are every business owner’s worst nightmare. It may be that getting to the root cause of your downtime problem involves paying for advanced technical assistance not covered by your hosted service provider’s service level agreement (SLA).
• Your company’s reputation
If your e-commerce store isn’t allowing your customers to process their orders, or it’s sluggish and slow, you risk losing business to competitors who have fully functioning stores. Research into how load time affects e-commerce stores has shown that a business loses up to 25% of its online visitors if its site takes over four seconds to load. That’s a lot of potential revenue! Unless you have already established a good level of brand loyalty and a decent reputation, these customers may not return following a negative experience with your site.
• The day to day running of your business
It’s not always easy to trace the root cause of the problems causing your downtime, so any issues you have will involve a certain amount of problem solving on your end. And, as every business owner knows all too well, time is money.
What can I do to avoid downtime?
Minimising the disruption caused by downtime will require you to look at ways of managing both store downtime and server downtime. Here are some top tips for managing store and server downtime:
There are many ways to minimise the risks of downtime. Here are a couple to start with:
Make sure that your content management system (CMS), plugins and any other additional software your site uses are updated regularly. This will help you keep your site bug-free and give you access to features that could help improve your store’s overall speed and performance.
• Compress images
Research by Radware has shown that 45% of top e-commerce sites online don’t compress their images. Large images lead to longer load times, so making your images small should help keep load times short. If you need help resizing your store’s images, read this excellent article by Pixelz. It will show you how to improve conversions and page speed with product image compression.
Managing server downtime can be a little trickier because the root causes of most server problems will be out of your control. However, there are a few things you could consider:
• Failsafe servers
Failsafe servers can be used to keep critical services up and running in the event of a complete outage. This is not a comprehensive solution however, and can be costly.
• Hybrid cloud hosting services
Hybrid cloud hosting services offer incredible scalability and elasticity and give online retailers the option of temporarily adjusting server capacity to meet traffic spikes caused by seasonal sales or promotions.
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