Today’s world is driven 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 is a host of microservices that work together to deliver the seamless digital experiences we expect.
This modern reliance on digital is what made Primark’s business model so unique, as it managed to dominate its industry by avoiding the e-commerce market. Instead, to take advantage of the retailer’s low prices, customers had to visit its flagship stores.
For years, this model worked well, with customers happy to travel to High Street for the retailer’s low prices, until the pandemic forced the chain to close its stores. In the twelve months leading up to November 2021, Primark lost £2 billion in sales and a third of its business days due to its business model based solely on physical stores. And while its post-pandemic numbers will surpass 2019 sales this year, the company last week decided to branch out by giving customers 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 a half of businesses say they experience high-business-impact outages at least once a week, and 29% say it typically takes more than an hour to recover from them. When an outage occurs, the business impact can escalate rapidly. The IT team is not only trying to get the system working again, but also receiving what can be a massive influx of requests ranging from internal stakeholders to board level to customer complaints. . Minimizing the time to understand the problem is critical. What makes this difficult is that most companies have observability data scattered all over the place.
Fortunately, there are steps online retailers can take to avoid software outages. The first thing any business should do to troubleshoot is to focus on connecting the data across their systems, ideally storing it all together so they can get a single pane of glass view of their system to resolve issues quickly, minimizing the impact on their end users. Redundancy in the form of failover, multiple clouds, and more is also important to the resiliency of your system.
Traditional monitoring is simply not up to the task, requiring engineers to spend an unreasonable amount of time piecing together isolated data and switching context between a patchwork of insufficient analytics tools for different parts of the stack. A mature observability practice employs at least these five characteristics:
- Unify telemetry (metrics, events, logs, traces) in a single dashboard for cross-team consumption
- Shift developer and engineer time from incident response (reactive) to higher value work (proactive)
- Improves collaboration between teams to make decisions related to the software stack
- Mitigates service interruptions and business risk
- Improve revenue retention by deepening your understanding of customer behaviors
Kurt Geiger has been using New Relic’s observability platform for years and now applies it to monitor his five e-commerce sites. If something goes wrong, your IT teams are instantly alerted. For example, with personalized telemetry sent from payment apps, they can see if customers can 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 the complete visibility of these details that allows the brand to provide its customers with the perfect customer experience that they are looking for.
The importance of observability
Every company is now a software company, which means that every company needs to have a complete view of its systems. Without an effective technology infrastructure, they can’t function, whether it’s internal systems used by staff or customer-facing applications or websites. That’s why it’s critical that they focus on employing practices that ensure they can deliver the seamless customer experience they expect.
In the same way that brick-and-mortar stores need to ensure that customers can physically walk through their doors, online stores must also ensure that they are prepared for the holiday onslaught. Businesses need to ensure that they provide a seamless customer experience so that their customers can move without friction. If customers can’t access certain pages or certain features are hard to use or broken, they will abandon their cart and look elsewhere.
But instead of ensuring checkouts are up and running, e-commerce sites rely on a properly functioning IT infrastructure. Without it, they can’t make sales, so it’s imperative that these websites account for increased traffic, especially during peak sales periods. You may have the best prices or the most ethical products, but it’s no use if your website fails.
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 reduce disruption and ensure their digital doors stay open well into the New Year.
Mark Crawford is Vice President of Strategy and Execution at New Relic