Many online stores experience peaks in traffic due to events such as promotions, holidays or product launches. It’s precisely at these peak times that stores need to be and remain accessible to visitors. How, though? Fairphone faced this same challenge when they launched the Fairphone 3 last August. They handled the high demand for their new smartphone effortlessly, however, thanks to diligent preparations and close collaboration between Hypernode, Magento partner TIG, Fairphone and other parties. Read all about it in this detailed customer case study!
Fairphone produces a sustainable smartphone, and by doing so, the company hopes to inspire the electronics industry towards more sustainable and fair manufacturing processes. Manufacturing which prioritizes the climate, our planet’s fragile ecosystems and human rights. And Fairphone has managed this very well! Currently, over 100,000 people own a Fairphone, their community consists of 250,000+ members and the company employs 70 people from 20 different countries.
The challenge: launching the Fairphone 3 for more than 250,000 fans
Fairphone 3, the third generation of sustainable smartphone, launched in late August. This is a unique product, garnering much interest worldwide. Fairphone knew from experience that product launches result in extreme peaks in traffic to their online store. It was vital that the site continued to perform well even during surges in traffic, so that enthusiastic customers could order the latest smartphone without any difficulties. The website needed to have the resources to be able to serve all these visitors well.
The preparation: how do you determine how many hosting resources are needed?
Several weeks before the launch, Fairphone, web development agency TIG and Hypernode met up. Preparations for the launch were already well underway, and the time had come to consider site hosting. How many resources would the online store require to maintain performance, both leading up to and after the launch? To be able to come to a decision, we first estimated the expected numbers of visitors. We also drew up a roadmap for the actual day of the launch.
Marco Jorritsma, IT and Projectmanager Fairphone: “E-commerce manager Chiel created an overview of historic page load & checkout data for somewhat comparable situations. Based on this overview, we imagined various possible scenarios. As each launch is different and the impact of downtime on sales can be enormous, we decided to reduce the risk as much as we could by investing in hosting and queue management.”
Tip 1: use historical data
We calculated the expected numbers of (simultaneous) store visitors based on historic data. Fairphone defined three scenarios and assigned likelihoods to each.
The estimates took Fairphone’s various communication channels such as social media, mailing lists, PR and paid media into account as well. Making clever use of media can help manage numbers of simultaneous visitors to the store, by sending out newsletters in batches for example.
Tip 2: regulate the visitors as much as possible
However, managing traffic entirely isn’t possible; some uncertainty will always remain. Social media influencers for instance, can continue to affect traffic for days after the
Besides influencers, Fairphone’s site is also subject to so-called ‘watchers’. These visitors constantly press F5 to refresh the website prior to the product launch. This can create high loads even before the actual launch takes place. We offer a solution for this on our platform: smart request handling. This technique ensures that only the relevant requests are executed to prevent a high load.
To enable better traffic regulation, Fairphone decided to set up a virtual waiting room for their online store. This way, Fairphone maintained complete control over the number of visitors allowed access to the store. The virtual waiting room between the visitor and the store could be removed at any time.
Tip 3: prepare for even more visitors than predicted
The decision was made to upgrade to a hosting plan with more than ten times the previous resources a few days prior to the launch. If this proved insufficient, additional upgrading remained an option. And if the resources weren’t needed, Fairphone could downgrade at any time.
Together, the upgraded plan and virtual waiting room provided more than enough assurance that Fairphone’s online store would remain accessible to visitors – as long as the Magento application ran as it should 😉
D-Day: the launch of the Fairphone 3
On August 27, it was finally time for the launch of the Fairphone 3! Several hours prior to the launch, Fairphone locked down their online store. Just before 12:00, there were already 2,000 people present in the virtual waiting room, waiting impatiently to be allowed access to the store.
Using a shared chat, Fairphone, Total Internet Group (TIG) and Hypernode stayed in close contact. Fairphone tracked visitor numbers with the help of a Queue IT dashboard, TIG checked order and payment flows, and Hypernode took care of monitoring the server. This allowed us to make rapid decisions on how many visitors were permitted to the store.
At noon, 75 visitors per minute were given access to the online store. Within ten minutes, this was doubled to 150 visitors a minute. The chart below shows a nice gradual increase in the load as more visitors are let into the store.
Hypernode’s support department temporarily turned off any non-critical monitoring services that could impact site performance. At the peak, 450 visitors per minute received access to Fairphone’s online store.
The charts above show some great results. The average response time stayed nicely under a second, and the launch went off without a hitch. In the days following the launch, Fairphone and Hypernode continued to monitor both traffic and the server. After several days, we downgraded the hosting plan slightly, followed by another downgrade a few days later.
A great success thanks to thorough preparation, smart techniques and good communication
Marco Jorritsma, IT and Projectmanager Fairphone:
“Estimating expected peak loads will always be hellishly difficult. It’s great that Hypernode provides the flexibility to add more resources in case of need, but that still creates a (brief) moment of downtime. Making use of the virtual waiting room service allowed us to experience and exert a much higher level of control during our Fairphone 3 launch.
Once we’d communicated the exact date and time of the launch, a countdown page temporarily restrained watchers (hitting refresh) and loaded them to the Queue IT infrastructure. Using the queue, we could then gradually admit customers onto our online store’s server at Hypernode by Byte.
This is also where our intense collaboration with Hypernode during the launch itself paid off. As they have the best understanding of our Hypernode environment’s performance, each time we ramped up the inflow to the store we would first discuss this briefly over Slack. This let us manage traffic so well that ultimately, hardly any waiting was required, and following the initial countdown, most customers never encountered a queue page at all.
Furthermore, our IT team was able to inform its members on a minute-by-minute basis regarding the site load, the length of the queue at the time of launch, and how much additional traffic we could generate by sending out newsletters and estimating the batch sizes correctly.
This allowed us to actively balance marketing needs (more visitors at the right time equal more sales and better communication) with IT concerns (higher loads equal higher downtime risk). We’re very pleased with how Hypernode helped us manage our launch so well and make optimal use of the virtual waiting room.”
Are you expecting lots of visitors to your online store soon? Read these tips!
- It may sound cliché, but communication is key! Have clear agreements in place between yourself as the store’s owner, the developer and your hosting provider.
- Discuss possible optimizations for your online store with the store’s technical administrator. This could involve caching, temporarily turning off cron jobs to save resources, or tracking down and fixing slow database queries.
- Be sure to review the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for all parties. Who can you approach outside business hours in case of problems?
- Don’t forget to create a backup prior to your traffic peak. That way, if anything does go wrong, your store can be up and running again in no time with minimal data loss. Safety first!
- Explore whether you can use communication channels to partially manage the flow of visitors. When will you share what information on social media? Can you send out promotional messages in batches?
- Make sure your shop is prepared for high visitor numbers and traffic peaks.
- Keep a careful eye on your store’s performance during traffic peaks. You can use New Relic, for instance. This allows you to respond in good time, anticipating any problems.
- Dealing with large numbers of visitors requires additional resources. Ensure that your online store has (more than) enough capacity. You can also do as Fairphone did and make use of our disk swap technology, allowing up- or downgrades as needed in less than a minute.