Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2017: The web’s best & worst performers

Retailers continue to rake in the cash during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to Business Insider, online sales soared to 7.9 billion for the Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday sales surpassing 2016’s numbers by 17.9%. In 2016, as reported by Fortune, 10 million more Americans shopped online than in stores on Black Friday weekend. In another article, Forbes states that Cyber Monday 2016 was the largest online sales day in history. This year, as you expected, the 2016 record was shattered by more than a billion dollars with 6.59 billion dollars in sales on Cyber Monday 2017 as reported by Fortune. Well, we’ve been watching 49 of the top online retailers to see how their sites perform under the stress brought on by Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What we did

We gathered our list of the top e-commerce sites from Alexa. We set up an Availability Monitor and a Performance Monitor to watch each site. The uptime monitor not only checked each site for a successful return code once a minute, but we also added a content check to make sure we got back the content we expected. We used Full Page Checks to monitor performance. A Full Page Check uses a real browser to connect and load the returned page content. Uptrends measures the time of each request to complete the resolve, TCP connect, HTTPS handshake, send, wait, and receive along with timeouts. The data is displayed in an easy to read waterfall report.

Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become a global event, we kept our monitoring local to the United States. Uptrends has 168 worldwide checkpoints, and we used the 34 US checkpoints to watch our retailers. Our checkpoints connect with the site every minute for uptime monitoring and every five minutes for performance monitoring.

Black Friday results

On Black Friday the sites get hit hard with in-store and online shoppers comparing merchandise, checking reviews, and watching prices. If a site is to experience availability or performance issues due to load, Black Friday is sure to bring on trouble. Although we noticed problems on some sites as early as Thanksgiving Day, we’ve restricted our reporting to the 24 hour period on November 24, 2017, based on the Eastern Standard Time zone. So, what did we find on Black Friday 2017?

Black Friday website availability

The goal for most websites and service providers is 99.99% availability, and 44 of our 49 sites maintained 100% uptime. When monitoring for availability, we’re looking for page errors and other unexpected results. When one of our checkpoints experiences an error, we consider it non-confirmed. We test again from another checkpoint, and if we receive another error, the error is considered confirmed. We begin calculating downtime at the time of the last non-confirmed error prior to the confirmed error, and Uptrends considers the site down until it receives a positive result (learn more). Although we saw many unconfirmed errors on some sites, because the errors weren’t continuous, we don’t include them in our downtime calculation. We had five sites that had confirmed downtime (see Table 1).

Table 1. Uptime result data for sites with less than 100% uptime on Black Friday 2017

Uptime % Confirmed Errors Downtime in minutes
Office Depot 99.30 1 1.03
Cabela’s 99.83 1 2.50
Toys “R” Us 99.59 3 5.90
H&M 96.73 47 47.08
Lowe’s 94.91 73 73.35

Lowe’s comes in at the bottom of the list with over an hour of accumulated downtime. We noticed the first confirmed issue at 9:47 a.m., and the last error occurred at 5:45 p.m. In total, we encountered 243 service unavailable errors, but could only confirm 73 of them. Instead of the Lowe’s homepage, users saw the message in Figure 1.

Lowe's error message

Figure 1. Lowe’s buckled under the load on Black Friday 2017 delivering this message to some customers.

H&M customers received a similar message when customers tried to reach their home page. Our monitors for H&M encountered 111 errors with 43 confirmed starting at 8:29 a.m. and ending at 8:01 p.m. The other three sites saw a few hiccups. We counted a total of 54 errors (three confirmed) for Toys “R” Us starting at 11:00 a.m. and lasting for approximately a twelve hours.  Cabela’s and Office Depot both saw just a couple errors with only one of them confirmed.

Black Friday website performance

Poor performance can drive customers directly to the competition, and if a site isn’t interactive within 2 seconds, users begin to drop off at a rate of 45% by the third second. So performance monitoring is a must for the successful e-commerce site. Our checkpoints reached out every five minutes to check the performance of the 49 websites. We present our findings here based on the full page load time for each site (see Figure 2).

Black Friday total time in seconds chart

Figure 2. Black Friday’s top five and bottom five performing e-commerce sites.

We were surprised to see that only one of our top performers from our 2016 Black Friday monitoring made the list of top five this year. Costco, which was our second fastest site last year, came in at number four this year followed by Barnes & Noble in fifth place. 6pm takes the top spot this year with Etsy and Zappos in a distant second and third (See Table 2).

Table 2. Top performing websites Black Friday 2017

Total Time in Seconds Requests
6pm 2.63 64
Etsy 3.83 91
Zappos 4.13 98
Costco 4.52 108
Barnes & Nobel 4.55 150

Although we only saw one returning site in the top five performers, three of our bottom performing sites from 2016 made the list again. Newegg finished dead last two years running, Sephora managed to work its way up to fourth slowest site from second last year, and Office Depot slipped a slot to the fourth slowest site. The Gap makes a surprise appearance as second slowest site while Toys “R” Us finished third (see Table 3).

Table 3. Worst performing sites Black Friday 2017

Total Time in Seconds Requests
Sephora 9.54 206
Office Depot 10.04 282
Toys “R” Us 10.78 310
The Gap 11.07 212
Newegg 11.27 339

Taking a closer look at the top and bottom performing sites, we can see that the number of requests has a direct correlation to site performance (see Figure 3). In the case of The Gap, heavy site traffic caused download times to nearly double. Using a chart based on The Gap’s performance starting several days before Thanksgiving, you can see where on November 23 The Gap’s total time skyrockets with the surge of buyers on Thanksgiving Day (see Figure 4).

Black Friday request per page.

Figure 3. The total number of requests made for each web page for Black Friday 2017.

 

Total load times for The Gap November 16-28, 2017

Figure 4. Total load times for The Gap November 16-28, 2017

Cyber Monday results

From Friday to Monday isn’t much time, but it is enough time to give brands time to correct some problems found on Black Friday. Cyber Monday doesn’t have the heavy hit from the masses of people doing in-store shopping combined with online shoppers, so we did notice some slight changes from Friday to Monday. With only a few changes in our top and bottom sites from Black Friday, let’s take a look.

Cyber Monday availability monitoring

H&M, Cabela’s, Toys “R” US, and Office Depot dropped out of our list of sites with less than 100% uptime, while Lowe’s improved their availability considerably on Cyber Monday (see Table 4). The worst uptime belongs to DX (Deal Extreme). Without our content checks, we may have never captured the errors on DX’s website. DX’s site was sending a successful return code (200), but there was no content. The user saw a blank page. Because of the successful return code, our monitors would not have captured their downtime without the content checks; therefore we recommend that every monitor setup include a content check to capture these types of errors.

Table 4. Uptime results for sites with less than 100% uptime on Cyber Monday 2017

Uptime % Confirmed Errors Downtime in minutes
eBay 99.83 1 1.35
Lowe’s 99.59 7 7.05
GameStop 96.73 3 9.02
DX 98.1 27 27.40

Cyber Monday performance monitoring

We did have some minor changes in the top and bottom five websites in regards to performance. The Gap corrected their problems making room for Sam’s Club to join the bottom five performing sites, and Barnes & Noble slipped down a few tenths of a second enabling J. Crew to take its spot in the top five performing sites (See Table 5).

Table 5. Performance data for the five top and bottom performing sites Cyber Monday 2017

Total Time in Seconds Requests
6pm 2.63 63
Etsy 3.70 82
Zappos 4.17 94
Costco 4.24 93
J. Crew 4.70 154
Sam’s Club 9.44 288
Sephora 10.48 248
Office Depot 10.93 259
Toys “R” Us 11.35 327
Newegg 12.07 317

Conclusion

All in all, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were very good for our 49 monitored e-commerce sites. Each year brings new challenges as brands learn new lessons as the consumer behavior changes in store and online. Setting up the right monitors to watch your brand’s digital assets helps preserve brand reputation and revenue, while Real User Monitoring can help keep a close eye on your actual users’ experience.  Until next Black Friday, we wish you joyful holidays and happy monitoring.

Table 6. The complete list of monitored sites

6pm Home Depot Red Bubble
Amazon HSN REI
Bed, Bath & Beyond iHerb Sam’s Club
Barnes & Noble Ikea Sears
Bloomingdale’s J. Crew Sephora
Body Building JCPenney Sony
Cabela’s K-Mart Staples
Costco Kohl’s Target
CVS Lowe’s Toys “R” Us
Dick’s Sporting Goods Macy’s Ulta
DX Mango Urban Outfitters
eBay Newegg Victoria’s Secret
Etsy Nordstrom Walgreens
Forever 21 Office Depot Walmart
GameStop Overstock.com Yoox
The Gap QVC Zappos
H&M

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