According to research by the SolarWinds® Pingdom® team, retail and e-commerce sites have plenty of room for improvement, as the global market generated revenues up to US$4.921 trillion in 2021. As more people look to the internet to make purchasing more convenient, online sales will become even more critical to businesses.
What does this mean if you’re a seller? Unlike your local neighborhood storefront, you’re competing against storefronts across the globe for your customer’s attention and money. When the playing field is this competitive, ensuring your storefront smoothly handles incoming customers shouldn’t be left to chance.
This is where monitoring tools come in. Best-in-class monitoring tools mean the difference between knowing a problem is developing and heading it off at the pass or not finding out about it until your customers call to complain.
In this post, we’ll learn the importance of monitoring your e-commerce website and the capabilities it should have.
What Is Website Monitoring?
Website monitoring tools observe your website and alert you if your website isn’t functioning optimally. The alerts can be based on a variety of performance metrics and other checks carried out periodically and within different geographical regions.
This type of distributed approach to monitoring ensures issues are identified whether they’re localized to a few users or part of a larger outage pattern. The best monitoring software uses worldwide networks of monitoring stations. This ensures your website is always up and running globally or in the regions most important to your business.
In addition to monitoring, it’s important for you to be alerted whenever something goes wrong. This is where the alert system comes into play. Modern monitoring tools allow you to define an escalating set of rules to ensure you get a notification for the alert. These alerts can be sent directly to your email, phone, or an external messaging app like Slack.
Monitoring systems improve the uptime of websites by detecting issues early. But is it important to keep your website running all the time? Won’t visitors who can’t access your website just come back another time? Let’s consider this while we talk about why it’s important to monitor your e-commerce website.
Compared to regular websites, which generate revenue passively (if at all), e-commerce websites actively generate revenue by selling goods and services. According to a 2018 survey, 70% of companies either already have a digital transformation strategy or are working on one. And with COVID-19 wreaking havoc with offline spending patterns, this number is likely much larger now.
Now more than ever, your online storefront plays a pivotal role in the survival of your business. Customers coming to your website to spend money should have a smooth and uninterrupted experience. This experience shouldn’t be marred by errors, warnings, or slow purchases.
According to research carried out by Akamai, 9% of visitors who experience an outage when visiting a website permanently abandon the website. This is a large chunk of revenue you’re never going to see again. This is even more important to businesses incapable of surviving from direct traffic. If customers discover your website through online ads, their attention and potential purchases could be lost forever as your competitors serve similar ads and fulfill their needs with fast and available sites.
It doesn’t take much to disrupt the user’s purchase experience. And there isn’t a lot you can do if your infrastructure provider goes down and you have a general outage (think about the AWS 2021 December outages). But even simple things like the checkout button not working or your website being slow can have a strong impact on your customer.
Now that we know what we’re up against, what tools are available to improve the customer experience? Let’s look at some of the services available in a monitoring solution.
At the most basic level, a monitoring system will keep track of your uptime by systematically checking if your website is up. But modern monitoring solutions go beyond simple uptime monitoring. In the Akamai study cited earlier, researchers found 28% of users didn’t return to a website if it didn’t perform sufficiently. So whatever monitoring solution you use, you need to make sure it monitors the aspects of your website users deem important.
Let’s look at some of the available tools in detail.
Availability monitoring is your bread and butter. Uptime monitoring tools keep track of whether your website’s pages are loading and showing the correct content. The more feature-rich solutions also provide tools such as status pages designed to automatically reflect the status based on your checks.
When using these tools, it’s important to configure multi-region monitoring from the start. You may have customers spread out across the globe, and their experience may vary from region to region. As seen by the recent outage of the AWS US East 1 data center, it’s vital to prepare for region-specific downtime.
These tools also help you measure your availability as part of any service-level agreements you may have with infrastructure providers. Additionally, it’s useful to have reporting functionality to review previous outages and identify patterns. For example, maybe it’s not a great idea to keep deploying a new version of the website on Fridays before all your engineers leave for the weekend!
A real user monitoring (RUM) solution provides insights into how end users experience your website. Though it’s easy to track how long a back-end request takes to process a certain action, it’s harder to do this for the front end. RUM monitoring solutions offer this insight by tracking the behavior of real users on your website and revealing them through easily understood and filterable reports.
For example, a misconfigured regional CDN might only affect users within a specific region. It’s never going to show on your back-end logs, and you’ll never run into the issue unless you’re also in that specific region. But a RUM solution would make it easy to identify this issue because all users from the affected region would have elevated response times.
RUM solutions also help you identify user flow issues by showing bottlenecks in your user journey. These could be based on region, operating system, device, or a host of other filterable factors. This information is key when measuring your ability to meet any service-level agreements you have with customers.
Speed is an integral feature of any website. As mentioned, 28% of users never return if a website doesn’t perform well. Additionally, your website’s core vitals are important to keep in mind as you optimize for search algorithms. So how do you measure how rapidly your website is performing for all your customers and crawling bots? Enter page speed monitoring solutions.
This type of monitoring solution tracks all things speed-related. Everything from the first response to the amount of time it takes for images to load is immediately available to you. The ability to view a timeline-based breakdown of your website’s loading times can be useful in identifying resources preventing or delaying your website from loading.
With built-in reporting, you can also keep track of whether the changes you’re deploying to the website are making things faster or slower.
Synthetic transaction monitoring is a powerful capability, as it lets you define important flows like user signups, adding to cart, or checkouts. It also helps your monitoring solution automatically check whether these flows are working properly. This means no more lost revenue because you accidentally deployed a buggy update and it broke your cart. Using synthetic interaction monitoring means you can deploy with confidence.
Unlike a traditional storefront, your e-commerce website is never “closed”; it’s always working and serving your customers. Constant monitoring is the best way to stay ahead of developing issues and ensure problems don’t impact your customers. This is doubly true when you consider the different devices and localities your customers might use to access your website. There’s no easy way to keep an eye out for all the different combinations in play.
As mentioned earlier, you’re not only competing with businesses in your neighborhood; you’re competing with businesses across the world for your customers’ attention and money. So you can either hire and train expensive DevOps personnel to monitor all aspects of your system 24/7, or you can pay for a monitoring solution and let it do the heavy lifting for you.
For best-in-class monitoring solutions, consider the products offered by Pingdom. Once deployed, these products ensure your e-commerce website is performing optimally, giving you the edge you need to stay ahead of the competition.
This post was written by John Pereira. John is a technology enthusiast who’s passionate about his work and all forms of technology. With over 15 years in the technology space, his area of expertise lies in API, large-scale web application development, and its related constellation of technologies and processes.