Black Friday 2018: Best & worst website performance & uptime

Another Black Friday and Cyber Monday has come and gone. While all of you were frantically running from store to store and site to site looking for those great deals, we were watching. We followed 55 of the top e-commerce sites to see how they did regarding website uptime and performance during the peak shopping days, Black Friday, November 23rd and Cyber Monday, November 26th.

Predictions for 2018 said that Black Friday will be the busiest shopping day of the season with online sales increasing by 2 billion dollars over 2017.  Online sales for Cyber Monday are expected to rise by 2.5 billion dollars over the 2017 sales. Blackfriday.com conducted a study and found that the average shopper will spend 57 dollars more on Black Friday over Cyber Monday.

Whether site visitors are dropping the cash or just browsing, the influx of users over the holiday weekend will cause availability and performance problems for some of the top retailers. We monitored the top 55 e-commerce websites, and here is what we found.

Overall results

In our 2017 Black Friday monitoring post, we reported that Lowe’s had the worst uptime of all of our sites. Lowe’s was on track again this year to take the title for 2018. That was before the trouble started at J.Crew. J.Crew had a 61.57% uptime on Black Friday a full 23% behind Lowe’s. Shoppers on jcrew.com were frequently greeted with or bumped out of the site and saw:

J.Crews message in their holding queue.

The “sec” ranged from 30 seconds to several minutes.

From a performance perspective, Etsy took the top position with average load times of 3.76 seconds on Black Friday, while Saks Fifth Avenue landed at the bottom with an average load time of 20.21.

Cyber Monday saw similar results with J.Crew at the bottom of the heap again with 84.75% availability. Sam’s Club stole the show with the fastest site with an average of 3.70-second page load times while Saks Fifth Avenue stayed at the bottom with 21.99-second average load times.

Choosing the sites

We chose our sites from Alexa using the shopping category. We filtered out sites like Netflix and other download and streaming sites. We did have to say goodbye to Toys-R-Us this year since the brand shut down their stores and website (but coming back eventually).  For a complete list of the monitored sites and their uptime and load times, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

Our tests

We set up two monitors for each site: one HTTPS Availability Monitor to capture uptime and one Full Page Check Performance Monitor to capture performance.

Monitoring locations

Uptrends has 185 worldwide testing locations so that you can test your web assets from your users’ locations. For our testing, we used US locations only. Uptrends has 42 US checkpoints with more on the way. See all of our 185 worldwide checkpoints.

Website Uptime Monitoring

We used HTTPS Uptime Monitors to check each site’s homepage once per minute. Last year we had a combination of HTTP and HTTPS monitors, but we are glad to say that this year all the retailers switched to secure sites. To capture redirects due to site issues, we added content checks to make sure we received the homepage for each site and  didn’t redirect to an outage message or a holding queue.

Web Performance Monitoring

Uptrends’ Full Page Check (FPC) loads the homepage into a current version of either Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox browsers. For our testing, we used Chrome browsers. For each page element the FPC measures the timing for the:

  • resolve,
  • TCP connect,
  • HTTPS handshake,
  • send,
  • wait, and
  • receive.

The monitor displays the data in a detailed waterfall making it easy to follow the load time progression and spot bottlenecks and other pesky elements such as slow third-party content.

Black Friday: Week at large

With holiday presales, Thanksgiving Day sales, and the days that follow Black Friday through Cyber Monday, website traffic increases for all sites affecting performance across the board. The average performance for all of the sites shows a decline as early as Tuesday, November 20th starting at 5:30 am. EST.  At 10:30 am. Black Friday performance dropped by 2.5 seconds and hit a low of 10.63 second average load times at 12:30 pm and leveled back out at 7.5– to 8–seconds.  Although average performance stayed slightly elevated, the next major peak didn’t occur until 10:30 Cyber Monday when load times climbed up to 9.5 seconds.

Black Friday: Website uptime and performance

Black Friday was eventful as we watched our uptime and performance monitors.

Black Friday: Worst website uptime

In 2017 lowes.com had the worst availability hands down of any site, but Black Friday 2018 lowes.com had some serious competition for the worst uptime from jcrew.com. As you can see in the chart below, both sites maintained 100% uptime until noon EST Black Friday when Lowe’s saw its first dip in availability.  At 12:45 pm. J.Crew experienced its first issue.  The two sites battled it out for the next two hours until J.Crew beat out Lowe’s for the worst Uptime for Black Friday 2018.

Black Friday 2018 worst uptime over time for Nov. 23, 2018

The five sites with less than 100% uptime on Black Friday include:

Site Percent Uptime
yoox.com 99.46%
kohls.com 99.30%
lowes.com 84.79%
jcrew.com 61.57%

Yoox only provided an error code when it erred. The other three sites never went completely down, but instead, the sites redirected customers when entering the site or bumped them to a holding page where customers waited to be admitted or readmitted into the site. During manual testing, we experienced wait times from 30 seconds up to several minutes. Because our tests only identified the initial redirect from the homepage, we couldn’t capture issues that included people being bumped out of the site while shopping.

Our tests also couldn’t capture issues that affected shopping carts and checkout processes like shoppers at walmart.com experienced. To capture functional issues, we would need to set up Web Application Monitoring for each site.

Black Friday: Website performance

The average total time for all websites was 8.53 seconds with a spread of 16.2 seconds between the fastest and slowest sites.

Black Friday: Best performing websites

6PM, the fastest site of 2017, sinks to the third spot this year as their site dropped an additional 1.71 seconds in speed due to nearly doubling their page size from 1.41 MB in 2017 to 2.57 MB in 2018. Etsy improved their speed by .04 seconds and moved into the fastest site for our 2018 Black Friday monitoring research. Surprisingly they didn’t improve more considering they reduced their page size by .78 MB this year. Joining Etsy and 6PM at the top are Sam’s Club, CVS, and eBay.

Top performing sites Black Friday 2018

Black Friday: Worst performing sites

We’ve got an entirely new list for the worst performing sites of 2018. Sinking to the bottom of the performance heap we have:

Site Total time in seconds
Home Depot 13.11
JC Penny 14.00
QVC 16.97
Macy’s 19.41
Saks Fifth Avenue 20.21

The extra traffic of Black Friday had a significant impact on our list. As of Monday, November 19, 2018, only Saks Fifth Avenue and JC Penny were in the bottom five. The additional traffic cost Saks Fifth Avenue nearly 6 additional seconds on their total time, and Home Depot added 4.15 seconds to their load times. You can see in the chart below that the hours between 10 am. and 3 pm. were especially taxing on our bottom five sites.

Worst sites performance over time Black Friday 2018

Of course, many factors affect page load times, and as you can see by the chart below, the page’s size isn’t always the only factor affecting a site’s performance.

Worst performing sites Black Friday 2018

So what is dragging down Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and JC Penny? Several different things can contribute, but in the case of Sacks Fifth Avenue, their 593 elements kill their performance due to the number of round trips required to collect the content. Also, take into consideration that more than 80% of the requests on all three sites come from third-party contributors. In contrast, Etsy (our fastest site) only has 87 requests with one-third coming from third-parties (mostly Google and social media sites like Pinterest).

Cyber Monday: Website uptime and performance

The predictions for Cyber Monday were to expect higher sales than Black Friday. On Black Friday we observed an average performance hit from 10 am. through 4 pm. On average on Black Friday we saw a 2-second decline, but on Cyber Monday we only saw a maximum decline of about a second that peaked at 10:30 am. and dropped to its pre-Cyber Monday average by 3:00 pm. (see the Week at large above).

Cyber Monday: Best website performance

We did see a slight shift in the best website performance for Cyber Monday. Sam’s Club outpaced Etsy with an average of 3.70-second load time, 6PM dropped out of the top five while Overstock.com took the third position.

Best performing sites Cyber Monday 2018

Cyber Monday: Worst website performance

Although there was a slight shift in Cyber Monday’s worst performing sites, Saks Fifth Avenue continues to dominate the bottom position. Macy’s and Home Depot improved enough to slide out of the bottom five while Walmart and Neiman Marcus took their place.

Walmart saw an approximately 2-second drop in performance from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. The slide in performance could be due to the additional 40-page elements included on Cyber Monday. Neiman Marcus dropped into the bottom due to Home Depot improving their speed by two seconds.

Cyber Monday: Uptime monitoring results

Although less problematic than Black Friday, Cyber Monday wasn’t without availability problems. Two sites saw availability problems: jcrew.com and officedepot.com.  Jcrew.com had recovered from all of its problems over the weekend, but they started queuing site visitors again at 12:30 pm. EST on Monday.  Shortly after J.Crew’s problems began, Office Depot went down displaying the following graphic:

Office Depot outage message

By 2:45 pm. officedepot.com was back to business as usual.  The day’s availability for the two sites was:

Site Percent Uptime
officedepot.com 96.95%
jcrew.com 84.75%

The peak times for shopping on Cyber Monday based on the J.Crew’s and Office Depot were during the lunch hour in all four time zones with both sites experiencing problems between 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm. EST. By 7:15 pm. J.Crew’s problems worsened with a  full recovery just after midnight as you can see in the chart below.

Cyber Monday worst uptime

In conclusion

Amazon has announced that they experienced their busiest shopping day yet on Cyber Monday, and we expect to hear similar stories from other retailers. While Amazon also took performance hits on both days, they clearly have the infrastructure to sustain a large number of site visitors. Although many of our bottom performing sites have pushed their page size to nearly bursting, J.Crew did not. Using our Free Website Speed Test tool, we confirmed that J.Crew has a Google Pagespeed score of 85 with only 145 page elements. The small page size and higher performance score tell us that most likely J.Crew is a victim of its own marketing and does not have the infrastructure to support the influx of visitors on shopping holidays such as these.

The complete list and results

Site Speed(s) / Uptime Percentage
Black Friday Cyber Monday
6PM 4.93 / 100 4.78 / 100
Amazon 6.65 / 100 6.48 / 100
B&H 8.27 / 100 10.03 / 100
Barns & Noble 9.60 / 100 9.02 / 100
Bed, Bath & Beyond 9.12 / 100 9.84 / 100
Best Buy 9.26 / 100 10.19 / 100
Bloomingdale’s 9.76 / 100 9.59 / 100
Bodybuilding.com 9.49 / 100 9.76 / 100
Cabela’s 8.98 / 100 8.97 / 100
Costco 6.65 / 100 6.92 / 100
CVS 4.44 / 100 4.58 / 100
Dick’s Sporting goods 9.84 / 100 4.58 / 100
Dillard’s 9.42 / 100 9.03 / 100
DX 9.40 / 100 8.82 / 100
eBay 4.53 / 100 4.61 / 100
Etsy 3.76 / 100 4.02 / 100
Forever 21 9.51 / 100 9.43 / 100
GameStop 9.62 / 100 9.57 / 100
Gap 5.31 / 100 5.31 / 100
H&M 10.39 / 100 9.81 / 100
Home Depot 13.11 / 100 10.91 / 100
HSN 10.16 / 100 10.81 / 100
iHerb 6.38 / 100 6.55 / 100
J.Crew 4.55* / 61.57 5.81* / 84.75
JC Penny 14.00 / 100 14.34 / 100
K-Mart 10.17 / 100 10.44 / 100
Kohl’s 5.66 / 99.30 5.84 / 100
L.L. Bean 8.78 / 100 8.76 / 100
Lowe’s 5.34* / 84.79 8.72 / 100
Macy’s 19.41 / 100 10.04 / 100
Mango 5.22 / 100 6.18 / 100
Neiman Marcus 11.76 / 100 11.65 / 100
Newegg 11.64 / 100 10.55 / 100
Nike 9.10 / 100 9.28 / 100
Nordstrom 5.40 / 100 5.62 / 100
Office Depot 11.75 / 100  10.81 /96.95
Overstock.com 4.92 / 100 4.56 / 100
QVC 16.97 / 100 13.45 / 100
REI 6.58 / 100 8.88 / 100
Saks Fifth Avenue 20.21 / 100 21.99 / 100
Sam’s Club 3.79 / 100 3.70 / 100
Sears 7.05 / 100 6.76 / 100
Sephora 7.53 / 100 7.21 / 100
Sony 5.39 / 100 5.25 / 100
Staples 6.80 / 100 6.67 / 100
Target 6.37 / 100 7.47/ 100
Ulta 5.99 / 100 5.90 / 100
Urban Outfitters 8.27 / 100 8.48 / 100
Victoria’s Secret 11.76 / 100 11.16 / 100
Walgreen’s 8.02 / 100 8.24 / 100
Walmart 10.57 / 100 12.02 / 100
Williams Sonoma 9.33 / 100 9.68 / 100
Yoox 10.23 / 99.46 10.16 / 100
Zappos 5.29 / 100 5.49 / 100

*Redirects to holding/error screens have lowered the average load time.

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