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A major factor for a company to consider when choosing an ISP is whether the server is dedicated to one company or whether content from several companies is located on the same server. A dedicated server is best, but it will attract a premium price.

The availability of the web site

The availability of a web site is an indication of how easy it is for a user to connect to it. In theory this figure should be 100 per cent, but sometimes, for technical reasons such as failures in the server hardware or upgrades to software, the figure can drop substantially below this.

The extent of the problem of e-commerce service levels was indicated by The Register (2004) in an article titled 'Wobbly shopping carts blight UK e-commerce'. The research showed that failure of transactions once customers have decided to buy is often a problem. As the article said, 'UK E-commerce sites are slapping customers in the face, rather than shaking them by the hand. Turning consumers away once they have made a decision to buy is commercial suicide'. The research showed this level of problems:

• 20% of shopping carts did not function for 12 hours a month or more.

• 75% failed the standard service level availability of 99.9% uptime.

• 80% performed inconsistently with widely varying response times, time-outs and errors - leaving customers at best wondering what to do next and at worst unable to complete their purchases.

Similarly, SciVisum, a web testing specialist found that three-quarters of Internet marketing campaigns are impacted by web site failures, with 14 per cent of failures so severe that they prevented the campaign meeting its objectives. The company surveyed marketing professionals from 100 UK-based organisations across the retail, financial, travel and online gaming sectors. More than a third of failures were rated as 'serious to severe', with many customers complaining or unable to complete web transactions. These are often seen by marketers as technology issues which are owned by others in the business, but marketers need to ask the right questions. The SciVisum (2005) research showed that nearly two-thirds of marketing professionals did not know how many users making transactions their web sites could support, despite an average transaction value of £50 to £100, so they were not able to factor this into campaign plans. Thirty-seven per cent could not put a monetary value on losses caused by customers abandoning web transactions. A quarter of organisations experienced web site overloads and crashes as a direct result of a lack of communication between the two departments. SciVisum recommends that companies do the following:

1 Define the peak visitor throughput requirements for each customer journey on the site. For example, the site should be able to support at the same time: approximately ten checkout journeys per second, 30 add-to-basket journeys per second, five registration journeys per second, two check-my-order-status journeys per second.

2 Service-level agreement. More detailed technical requirements need to be agreed for each of the transactions stages. Home-page delivery time and server uptime are insufficiently detailed.

3 Set up a monitoring programme that measures and reports on the agreed journeys 24/7.

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