Today’s world is powered by digital experiences. Everything, from how we communicate with friends, family, and co-workers to online shopping and entertainment, is expected to work quickly, easily, and securely. But behind every website or app are a host of microservices working in conjunction to supply the seamless digital experiences we have come to expect.
This modern reliance on digital is what made Primark’s business model so unique, as it managed to dominate its sector while eschewing the ecommerce market. Instead, to benefit from the retailer’s low prices, customers had to visit their high street stores.
For years, this model worked well, with customers content to travel to the high street for the retailer’s low prices, until the pandemic forced the chain to shutter its stores. In the twelve months leading up to November 2021, Primark lost £2 billion in sales and a third of its trading days due to its business model relying solely on brick-and-mortar stores. And while its post-pandemic figures are this year set to exceed its 2019 sales, last week the company decided to branch out by providing customers with a click-and-collect service.
Unfortunately, hours after its launch – which Primark’s chief executive called ‘a milestone’ moment – the retailer’s website crashed.
The risks of outages during the festive season
Outages like this can happen to any company at any time. In fact, more than half of businesses say they experience high-business-impact outages at least once per week, with 29% saying it typically takes more than an hour to recover from them. When an outage happens, the impact to the business can snowball really fast. Not only is the IT team trying to get the system back up and running, they are also fielding what can be a massive influx of requests ranging from internal stakeholders up the board level to customer complaints. Minimising the time to understand the issue is critical. What makes this difficult is that most companies have observability data scattered everywhere.
Fortunately, there are steps online retailers can take to avoid software outages. The first thing any company needs to do to fix the issue is to focus on connecting the data about their systems together, ideally storing it all together so that they can gain a single pane of glass view of their system to resolve issues quickly, minimising the impact to their end users. Redundancy in the form of failovers, multi-cloud, and more is also important for the resilience of their system.
Traditional monitoring is just simply not up to the task as it requires engineers to spend an unreasonable amount of time stitching together siloed data and switching context between a patchwork of insufficient analysis tools for different parts of the stack. A mature observability practice employs at least these five characteristics:
- Unifies telemetry (metrics, events, logs, traces) in a single pane for consumption across teams
- Shifts developer and engineer time from incident response (reactive) towards higher-value work (proactive)
- Improves collaboration across teams to make decisions related to the software stack
- Mitigates service disruptions and business risk
- Improves revenue retention by deepening understanding of customer behaviours
Kurt Geiger has been using New Relic’s observability platform for years and now applies it to monitor all five of its ecommerce sites. If anything goes wrong, its IT teams are instantly alerted. For instance, with custom telemetry sent from the checkout applications they can see whether customers are able to transact on the website. They have also created dashboards that allow them to track active visitors so they know when to prepare for surges. It is complete visibility into these details that allows the brand to provide their customers with the seamless customer experience they are looking for.
The importance of observability
Every company is now a software company, which means every company needs to have a complete view of their systems. Without a performing tech infrastructure, they cannot function – whether that means internal systems used by staff, or client-facing apps or websites. That’s why it is critical they focus on employing practices that ensure they can provide the seamless customer experience they expect.
In the same way that brick-and-mortar stores have to make sure customers are physically able to get through their doors, so too must online stores make sure they are prepared for the festive onslaught. Businesses need to make sure they supply a seamless customer experience so their customers can move through without friction. If customers cannot access certain pages or particular functions are difficult to use or broken, they will abandon their basket and look elsewhere.
But rather than ensuring the tills are operational, ecommerce sites rely on properly functioning IT infrastructure. Without it, they cannot make sales – so it is imperative that these websites take into account the increased traffic, particularly during peak sales periods. You may have the best prices or the most ethical products, but it all counts for nothing if your website crashes.
With the festive season just around the corner, what could be more important to any retailer than making sure they’re open for business? By investing in the right IT infrastructure, they can cut out outages and make sure their digital doors stay open through to the New Year.
Mark Crawford is VP, strategy and execution at New Relic