The Secret Marketers Are Using To Prevent Website Crashes

Everyone knows the frustration of visiting a website only to find it’s crashed. For customers, it’s a nuisance. For marketers, it’s a nightmare.

70% of retail marketers are concerned about technical difficulties and crashes this holiday season, and with good reason. All the promotional activity, optimization of website content, and building of brand reputation are rendered useless on a website customers can’t access. And with 88% of enterprises reporting downtime costs exceeding $300,000 per hour, the losses add up quick.

The impact of crashed websites extends far beyond the time the website is down. 50% of customers will switch to a competitor after just one bad experience, and after more than one, that number jumps to 80%. Even a carefully curated customer experience (CX) can be ruined by just one bad brand interaction, meaning slow load times and 404 errors pose a threat to customer retention.

The irony of website downtime is that it’s often all this marketing activity and CX optimization that indirectly causes websites to crash. The most successful marketing campaigns are those that drive customers to a website to buy, and the most successful CX strategies are those that keep them coming back for more. But it’s often this high website traffic that brings websites crashing down.

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Why websites crash and scaling isn’t enough

There are many reasons why websites crash: code errors, DDoS attacks, domain name system provider failures. But traffic spikes are among the leading causes of downtime, according to a LogicMonitor survey of global IT decision makers.

While most businesses understand that too many concurrent users can crash their website, few understand that there are ecommerce bottlenecks beyond simple website capacity that contribute to crashes and slowdowns.

The two most common bottlenecks for retailers are inventory systems and payment gateways. So, while a home page might handle two hundred thousand simultaneous visitors without any issues, the checkout flow and inventory system may be limited to a hundred customers a minute. And it’s when these numbers are exceeded that even the biggest of websites fail.

A website is much like a restaurant in this way. The restaurant capacity may be 100 people, but the number of orders than can be taken at once is limited by the staff. The amount of food that can be prepared is limited by the kitchen. The amount of payments that can be made is limited by the number of card machines and cash registers. Operational capacity is different to overall capacity.

While cloud-based servers and autoscaling have greatly improved website resilience, they don’t address ecommerce bottlenecks that are the prime culprits behind crashes and slowdowns. Payment gateways and plugins run by third parties remain vulnerable even if retailers manage to successfully scale their own infrastructure.

The secret tool marketers are using to prevent website crashes

The shortcomings of autoscaling are less about the capacity of website servers, and more about the number of customers and their on-site behavior. So, when autoscaling isn’t enough, the solution is to manage and control the traffic.

This is what virtual waiting rooms do. They keep websites running at operational capacity by handling what autoscaling can’t: the customers.

Virtual waiting rooms monitor web traffic and redirect visitors to a branded waiting room if a site or app’s capacity is reached. When it’s the customers’ turn, they’re throttled back to the website in a controlled, seamless, first-come, first-served order.

If a retailer is planning a product drop or flash sale that will receive high traffic, a virtual waiting room can also act as a countdown page to capture early visitors. Once the sale starts, these visitors are randomized and placed into a waiting room. They’re then throttled to the site at a rate it can handle, giving customers fair access to limited-inventory products.

Virtual waiting rooms for a better customer experience

When most marketers first hear about virtual waiting rooms they think “Put people in a queue, are you serious? We want as many people on our website as possible.”

But availability and reliability are the foundational aspects of CX design on which all other elements rest. A website can be the best in the world, but if customers can’t access it, it doesn’t matter. And if it isn’t reliable, they’ll seek out a website that is.

Research from Salesforce found 80% of consumers believe the buying experience is just as important as the product or service itself. And for many marketers, virtual waiting rooms have become an important element this experience.

For customers, there’s a massive difference between 404 errors or generic “We’re busy, check back later” pages and a waiting room. Waiting rooms are tailored to customers’ needs, questions, and concerns. They explain to visitors why they’re waiting. They include transparent information like their spot in line and estimated wait time. And they let visitors receive real-time communication on inventory status, sales updates, and more.

Beyond the core benefit of ensuring reliability and availability for websites, these features of virtual waiting rooms offer other key CX perks for retail marketers. By tapping into queue psychology and social proof, they put customers at ease, generate hype, and lift conversion rates.

Improving CX with queue psychology

Queue psychology helps us understand why some waits are painless and others are agonizing. Studies have shown that when it comes to queuing it’s not the wait time, but the waiting experience, that makes all the difference. The central tenets of queue psychology are that:

  • Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time
  • People want to see their progress
  • Anxiety makes waits feel longer
  • Certainty makes waiting feel shorter than uncertainty
  • Explained waits are better than unexplained waits
  • Waiting is easier when people feel that the wait is fair

It’s these principles which explain why the simple progress bar is so ubiquitous in computing and web design. Why people love to track their parcels. Why doctor’s offices are filled with magazines. Why people are so frustrated when someone cuts in line.

It’s these principles which explain why most people will wait in an online queue for 10 minutes but won’t wait even a minute for a website to load.

Virtual waiting rooms tap into these insights of queue psychology to ensure the customer experience is as transparent, seamless, and stress-free as possible. And an added benefit of this queuing experience is that it leverages the power of social proof.

Lifting conversions and building hype with social proof

As every marketer knows, social proof is one of the most crucial levers of influence for improving purchase intent and conversions. People will camp outside stores and line up for hours to buy a hyped item, all because they know others will be doing the same. Researchers have shown the huge impact of queues, finding that the longer people line up, the higher their purchase intent and average spend.

Virtual waiting rooms bring this form of social proof online. When customers enter a website and are put in a queue, they see their number in line, how many others are waiting with them, and that the website in such high demand it can’t even handle the traffic.

Seeing this, customers realize they’re onto something—that thousands of others are waiting for the same items and deals they want. They see they’re progressing through the line with people still waiting behind them and realize they need to stick around—if they don’t buy, then someone else will.

Social proof not only generates extra excitement around online shopping, but it also makes visitors who reach the site more likely to convert into customers. A virtual waiting room makes the retail shopping experience into an event that’s shared with hundreds or thousands of others, assuring each of the customers they’re making a savvy decision by shopping with that retailer.

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Capturing sales, no matter the demand

For retail marketers, a website crash is a worst-case scenario. Crashes pose a threat not only to the short-term success of marketing campaigns, but also to the customer experience.

Virtual waiting rooms create website availability and reliability for online retailers in ways scaling alone can’t. In the face of high demand, online retailers can give customers a fair and seamless online shopping experience with queue psychology. They can generate hype and boost conversions with the power of social proof. And they can capture sales from successful marketing campaigns, no matter the demand.


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