Cyber Monday is not only a busy time for online retailers, but also a critical time for their web hosting providers. Web hosts can spend up to a year planning for a peak period, and spend countless hours provisioning, testing, and re-testing their customer’s infrastructure to make sure it doesn’t fail under pressure. While Cyber Monday is certainly a peak time for many online retailers, hosting providers and merchants need to prepare for heavy traffic up until January.
Roland Breadner has worked at PEER 1 for three years, and is in charge of the retail vertical at the web hosting company. His role is to understand what sort of pain points online retailers have, and what sort of technologies PEER 1 can offer to help retail customers through their peaks.
“What we very quickly learned and understand is that the challenges an ecommerce customer has are completely different to a software as a service business or a gaming customer or someone who is looking to shift their internal infrastructure to the cloud,” Breadner says.
Unlike other customers, retailers tend to understand when and why they are going to have some kind of peak, whether it is related to new investments in marketing, or they are offering a special discount, such as a Cyber Monday deal.
“A lot of what we do is we educate the customer. They don’t want to be a specialist in hosting. They are retailers and it’s our problem to take away. It’s enabling that type of partnership where they enable our consultants our pre-sales team to size systems correctly. We want to be seen as an extension of their IT team,” Breadner says. “We both share in the success of the ecommerce site. We don’t want – and what’s very expensive for us – is when the site goes down at peak and there is not enough infrastructure provisioned and we’re rushing around to bring the site back up and adding more infrastructure.”
As a web host who deals with retailers big and small, there are several things PEER 1 does to keep its ecommerce customers happy, and online, through busy periods:
Understand the full picture to future-proof the hosted platform
Breadner describes PEER 1’s process in working with its retailers as a consultative approach. It is important as a hosting provider to understand a customer’s marketing plans in order to make adjustments to their infrastructure in order to future-proof the hosted platform.
“It’s far more consultative…what we don’t want is to be in the position of having to provision new kit at breakneck speed because the customer has just alerted us that they’re going to have a peak,” Breadner says.
Retailers are more predictable than other customers, so it is important to use this understanding to your advantage as a hosting provider.
Offer expertise in multiple ecommerce platforms
While PEER 1 is a close partner of Magento, and has seen a significant number of retailers adopt it over the past five years, it is not platform-specific, and works with a number of different ecommerce platforms.
“We have an understanding of what the strengths are of each platform…and what you need to do to effectively size it,” Breadner says.
Offer short-term contracts
PEER 1 offers customers short-term contracts so they don’t have to make a huge investment in infrastructure all year-round.
“We enable customers to take short term contracts on hosted equipment, whether that be dedicated servers, or in many instances working with them to ensure that their ecommerce platform can work with some form of hybrid cloud so they can scale up when they need it, rather than getting involved in a 12-month hosting contract for a lot of hosting infrastructure,” Breadner says.
“If you went back a year ago people were just throwing hardware at the problem and were continuing to have 12-month leasing agreements whereas now they are looking at buying stuff they need for two or three months.”
Don’t forget about mobile
There is no question that mobile shopping has exploded over the past two years.
“Last year we saw quite a significant difference, some of our largest retailers had literally gone from 10 percent on mobile or iPad to about 40-50 percent within a year,” Breadner says. “I think what we’ve seen this year is customers are probably a bit more aware about planning for these types of peaks.”
While PEER 1 doesn’t offer help with mobile development, it does make sure mobile sites and applications have the right level of redundancy built-in so they will sail through the heavy spikes in traffic.