Ecommerce Prep Guide
Our guide to preparing your infrastructure, application
and marketing for the upcoming holiday season
Ecommerce Preparation 2
Part One – Infrastructure
5. Assess your Infrastructure
6. Secure your environment
Part Two – Application
14. Optimize your site
15. Monitor your environment
16. Find Free Capacity
Part Three - Marketing
19. Campaign Best Practices
21. Email Best Practices
24. Promotions and Discounts
Part Four- Planning
30. Test. Test. Test.
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Capacity and Performance Assessments are at the cornerstone of your holiday
planning. Understanding your organizations ability to fulfill orders during the
holiday season includes your ability to receive them. Your infrastructure, and
application capacity is critical.
Assess your Infrastructure
If your infrastructure provider is not performing a
holiday capacity assessment with you and your
team, request one. Reach out to vendors providing
integration points for your application.
Understand their limitations and how to increase
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Check your Baseline
Start off with assessing your current performance
and capacity. If you are seeing issues now, that
won’t change when you add more users. Look at
your traffic projections for the upcoming season, If
you have a history of unexpected spikes, use that
spike as a benchmark for adding additional
Ensure all areas of your application are assessed from hardware, network, storage
through to the session limitations at your database level. Include your Systems
Integrator or application support group in your assessment. This will ensure that
your application is tuned for the level of traffic you are expecting.
Increasing capacity during an incident (or unexpected downtime) often takes
longer than anticipated. If you have limited budget, now is the time to invest in
temporary capacity increases.
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Understand your vendor’s capacity
Increasing capacity during an incident (or
unexpected downtime) often takes longer than
anticipated. If you have limited budget, now is the
time to invest in temporary capacity increases.
Speak to your vendors about the process for
adding capacity during an incident as part of your
holiday planning. Can they automatically scale to
capacity increases or if they will throttle you? For
example, some infrastructure providers will limit
your bandwidth capacity to your commit level,
others will allow you to spike but you will be billed
for it later.
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Do a load test
The true capacity of a website is determined by a
combination of the website code and the
infrastructure it uses. This means that testing
any one part does not give you a true picture of
what the environment can handle. Including a
load test prior to the start of your holiday
campaign season will not only provide comfort on
what your capacity can handle but also can
uncover problems which occur when an
environment is under stress.
Develop an emergency capacity
Determine if your vendors can add capacity on a
temporary contract, and if they have different
pricing options for devices that are staged and
powered off. If you pre-stage additional capacity,
this gives you the option to test and tune it before
the holiday season.
Tester is our fully
testing service. By
load on your site it
issues in real time.
Best of all, because
it is cloud based
we can simulate
load across a range
device types and
networks and keep
the cost affordable
for a mid sized
Ecommerce Preparation 9
Secure your Environment
Make sure you’re up to date
Understanding your infrastructure provider’s
patch and vulnerability program is critical to the
security of your platform. Make sure you have
either opted in to your provider’s program or patch
your servers yourself.
Your final patch (unless an emergency patch is
released) should be at the beginning of October.
Some ecommerce applications have restrictions on
which servers can be patched, but most will allow
for public web servers to be updated without
violating support agreements.
Ensure those servers which cannot be patched are
not accessible to the internet, and have other
mitigating controls in place like firewalls between
them and your public facing servers.
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secure is not
busy season; it
that should be
in your DNA
Develop an emergency patch and
Plan for problems in the future, make sure you
have a plan in place to handle emergency security
issues like emergency patching or an unexpected
security vulnerability. Know which teams you will
need to assemble to resolve those issues quickly.
Limit access to your environment to authorized
personnel. Require your personnel to use strong
passwords and regularly review your access list.
Complete an audit of users who can access your
environment prior to your busy season.
Run a Vulnerability Scan
Vulnerability scanning is an important tool in your
security toolbox. Running a scan can help you
identify known vulnerabilities in your
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Denial of Service Attacks can bring
your campaign strategy to a screeching
halt and historically, November is a
busy month for DOS Attacks. Denial of
Service Attacks should be part of your
disaster planning and your pre-
campaign checklist. Understand your
provider’s policy and response plan for
Most vendors will remove the attack
target from their network. This means,
if you are the victim your website will
be unavailable to the outside world
until the attack subsides and the risk
level for your bandwidth provider is
DoS mitigation providers can be very
expensive. If you don’t have room in
your budget to be behind one year
round, now is the time to move behind
a mitigation service. To further
manage costs of this program, look at
an always on versus pre-staged
protection. Pre-staged allows you to
have the service contracted and
effectively turned off until you are
attacked. If an attack occurs, your
traffic can be routed to the mitigation
service with a simple firewall change.
The difference can mean 20 minutes of
downtime versus much longer period.
On average, it takes 24 hours to move
behind a DoS mitigation provider and
can take up to 5 days to tune the
environment so that all aspects of your
site are rendering.
Plan for an attack
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Key Security Checks
Make sure security checks are a part of
your pre-holiday season checklist,
include key items like:
Open Port audit (JBOSS Management
Port Open to the world)
Check that administration pages are
inaccessible to the outside world or have
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All applications need to be tuned from time to
time and there is no better time than the present.
Speak to your application team about the health
of your environment. Have them look at session
limits, long running queries, and activities that
use a lot of resources.
Optimize your site
You can gain capacity and speed up site
performance by leveraging a Content Delivery
Networks or CDNs. However, CDNs take time to set
up and tune appropriately to get optimal
performance. It is best to start this activity well
before the holiday season.
Tenzing Site Optimizer is
a site speed and
optimization solution that
goes beyond the
capabilities of a CDN. Our
service identifies the
performance profile of
your shoppers and applies
a variety of techniques to
optimize your store for
their profile, with
dramatic effect on load
times and conversions.
This fully managed, cloud-
based service can be
deployed and configured
in a matter of hours with
no disruption to your web
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Monitor your Environment
Once you have your infrastructure and application
in an optimal state it is important to monitor the
performance as you move through the holiday
season. There are activities leading up to Cyber
Monday, like Back to School which give you the
opportunity to see how your environment is
performing and make changes before your big
Measure, Analyze, Act
Make sure your monitoring strategy is holistic. Infrastructure availability,
application performance, end user experience and traffic levels are all elements
you should be paying close attention.
Don’t forget to include monitoring around connections to third party systems. You
want to understand how links to payment gateways, and postal outlets are
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Find Free Capacity
There are lots of opportunities to find hidden capacity in your environment. It is
important to regularly review your application performance and tune areas that
are resource intensive, particularly before peak season.
Adjust your Caching
Caching can save system resources by holding information in memory but when
the cache has to be refreshed it draws system resources to complete this activity.
During peak times increase the time between caches.
Adjust ‘type ahead’ search
Type ahead search uses additional sessions and threads within your application.
Increasing the number of characters before the search is initiated or how long the
system will wait before it starts searching will give you added capacity when you
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Remove/adjust view all options
Giving customers the option to view all items in a
category is available on many sites but if you have a
large catalog the loading of these elements take
time and resources. Review all the areas where the
option to view all is available and restrict the
number of items that can be viewed when it is
Limit your publishing during peak times. Catalog
updates on mass are resource intensive because in
most applications the database and search engines
need to re-index, in addition caching has to be
Manager can help
This service can
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Communicate to all your stakeholders your
campaign plans – dates and times of future
traffic increases helps during the
troubleshooting process. Monitor your
Initial campaigns in the holiday season will
give you an idea of your application
performance in the upcoming weeks. If you
received a higher than anticipated response or
your application did not perform as expected
this is a good indication of problems to come.
Small changes to how the business or marketing teams manage their campaigns
can help to make the holiday season less stressful for all those involved.
Campaign Best Practices
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Establish a campaign change process
Identify who can approve changes to a campaign strategy and how they
are communicated out to stakeholders.
Once you have prepared your environment and planned your campaigns
STOP making changes. Freeze your environment and communicate
these dates to your vendors. Make sure you understand all your vendors
change policies and if they have a freeze which could impact your
Publishing and catalog changes are a huge drain on system resources.
Establish a policy and process for applying these changes and be
disciplined in following. This may mean you have to plan your changes
better but it is worth the effort.
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Email campaigning remains one of the top methods
for engaging and pushing customers to ecommerce
sites. It also has the potential to cause a self-inflicted
Denial of Service Attack to your own environment.
This can happen if you send a campaign with large
images that clients need to download to their email
browser, or when a discount code causes
unnecessary traffic to the database. Ensure that your
email campaigns don’t overwhelm your site with
these simple best practices.
Email Best Practices
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Segment your list
Segment your campaign into blocks. Rather
than sending out one email to 1,000,000 users,
consider breaking the campaign up into
smaller groups. This allows you to better
control traffic spikes and will spread activity
over multiple hours as opposed to creating a
The practice of staggering your campaigns
extends the life of your capacity as users are
alerted to the sales over a longer period rather
than a mad rush when the sale starts. Problems
can be better mitigated when you stagger,
limiting the negative customer impact if you
experience a problem.
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Manage your media content
The use of media in an email campaign can have a positive
impact on your campaign, but using multiple or large
images can increase bandwidth use and traffic to your
environment. As customers receive the email, they will
begin downloading the images to their workstation
resulting in additional traffic to your environment. On a
large scale this can cause performance degradation.
To avoid this consider saving your collection of images as
flat files to manage their size. You can also store email
pictures or media on a separate server to avoid affecting
your site performance. If you are using video, host it on
Youtube, again this will help you manage site performance
and bandwidth costs.
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Promotions and Discounts
Discount codes are a key driver to holiday selling. We have
seen a number of campaigns go horribly wrong when
discount codes were incorrectly configured in the application
or not tested appropriately.
Don’t get fancy
Make sure you do not introduce new discount structures in your
peak season. If you have never used a “first Time purchaser”
discount previously, now is not the time to use it. Use new
discount structures during off-peak times as a test before
applying them in your peak season.
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Test Test Test
Test all discount codes before using them. Test the new discount code, and
perform regression testing with codes that are both active and inactive. Treat a
discount code like an application launch and come up with standard test cases
that can be used for each code release. Make sure your test cases both meet and
break the rules of the discount. This is a good time to use your end user test group.
Customers will always try doing things testers and application developers don’t
Avoid Database Searches
Avoid discount codes which can put unnecessary load on
your database. Returning to the First Time Purchaser
example, this type of discount requires your application to
search your database to determine if the user is eligible to use
it. The larger your database the longer the search. This
activity will put unnecessary load on the database impacting
other users using your site.
Keeping a library of your discount codes and their
parameters helps with designing your test plan for new codes
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Even with the best planning you can still run into problems.
A well placed campaign can return higher than expected
volumes to your site. For example, last Christmas one of
our clients discounted a single item to $1.00. The result
was a 940% increase in traffic to their site in a 10 minute
period. This was well over the 40% increase in traffic they
Make sure you look at your environment and identify the
areas at the greatest risk to have a problem and prioritize
planning around those areas.
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Plan for the inevitable
In our experience it is inevitable that something with go awry, but the
most successful teams aren’t those who are prepared. On that note,
make sure you develop an emergency response plan. When creating one
make sure you cover scenarios for Traffic overload, unplanned
downtime, and unexpected security incidents.
Create specific plans for
As part of your plan identify the resources you will need to resolve the
issue, how to contact them and rules for triggering the plan.
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Communication is key to
Communicate key traffic
days to all stakeholders.
Share your emergency
planning with everyone who
needs to be aware including
marketing, IT, customer
service and appropriate
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Test. Test. Test.
Testing your environment end to end is the best
way to be prepared for the holiday season. Make
sure you plan your campaigns, assess your
campaign needs and capacity, Test, test and do
more tests and communicate your plans to your
One of the best tools in your holiday preparation
is a load test. By simulating a high volume of
users you can identify bottlenecks and the levels
at which degradation occurs. This can help you
decide at whether to invest in additional
resources for your peak season.
As mentioned earlier Tenzing
has recently introduced a fully
managed, cloud-based, multi
endpoint load testing service.
Tenzing Site Tester simulates
peak load on your website
across a range of geographies,
device types and networks. It
speeds root cause analysis and
remediation by pinpointing
performance issues in real
We hope you’ve found this guide
useful but there is plenty more where
it came from. Don’t hesitate to reach
out to firstname.lastname@example.org with
any questions related to the contents
of the ebook, or the products
Good Luck this holiday season!