After your eCommerce site is up and running in the cloud, what do you do? Is it enough to simply keep your inventory up-to-date and give the site an occasional facelift? Or should you do more?
The answer, not surprisingly, is yes, there is more that you should do. In order to keep your site functioning properly and delivering a high level of traffic and sales, you need to take positive steps to monitor both its performance and functionality, and maintain uptime.
Why is this true? Why can't you simply wind up your eCommerce site, and let it run? Consider the following points...
Even the best and most experienced developers wind up making changes to their software after the initial release.
Some of these changes are functional. There are problems which become apparent only after an application or website has been in use for some time. The code may be technically correct, but it can still have unanticipated side effects.
Many post-deployment changes are the result of discovering how users interact with the software. It may turn out that an element of the user interface which was simple in theory is awkward or difficult to use in practice.
ECommerce websites and applications may also need to be revised at the level of design—if, for example, users have difficulty finding their way around, or if they fail to go to important parts of your site altogether.
Your site may be a masterpiece, both in terms of design and functionality, but you can still run into problems. Most, if not all eCommerce sites rely heavily on third-party services, which can include such things as credit card authorization, image hosting, and database management.
The truth is that you cannot guarantee the continued functionality of any service provided by a third party. What you can do, however, is monitor your site's interaction with such services in order to respond quickly if one of them fails.
Your market is not static, and neither are your customers. You may have the luxury of operating in a market which changes very slowly, but even then, it will change. New products will become available from time to time, and demand will shift, based both on what products are available, and the uses to which they are put.
Most markets change much more quickly than that; they are likely to be very volatile, both in terms of the products available and the demand for those products, and you may be faced with a rapidly changing and sometimes very aggressive set of competitors.
Your customers' tastes may also change rapidly, and if your site does not keep up, they may become bored not only with the line of products that you offer, but also with the appearance and functional limitations of your site.
What can you do? The most fundamental thing that you can do, and that you need to do in order to keep your eCommerce site or application up-to-date and fully functional, is to monitor it, using a broad range of monitoring and analytics tools. What should you look for?
The single most important thing which you can and should be monitoring is whether your site is up and running, or whether it is down, either intermittently or for prolonged periods of time. Any period of downtime is costly, not only in terms of lost sales, but also lost customers.
Unless you're selling unique products which cannot be purchased anywhere else, when customers see that your site is down, they are likely to simply go to a site run by one of your competitors, and make their purchases there. When this happens, they may never return to your site again.
The best way to prevent this is to use monitoring tools which will automatically generate alerts whenever there is an indication that your site may be down. A service such as Alibaba's CloudMonitor provides close monitoring of key cloud resources, along with alerts by means of a variety of channels, including social networking, messaging, and e-mail.
Problems with basic functionality at an eCommerce website may show up in a variety of forms. If a problem generates an error message, that message will typically be logged. Your monitoring and analytic system should detect and flag logged error messages that indicate such functional difficulties.
Other problems with functionality may not generate error messages, but they can still have an effect on the operation of your site. Functional issues of this type may show up in unexpected patterns of user behavior.
If, for example, a significant number of users are leaving the site with items still sitting in their shopping carts, but without having gone through checkout, that may indicate a problem with part of the checkout process, or with the transition from shopping cart to checkout.
The actual problem could be something that affects only a subset of customers, such as processing for a particular type of payment, or for a particular method of shipping. It could even result from something as obscure as a specific combination of items in a shopping cart. When this is the case, the only practical way to detect and diagnose the problem is likely to be through monitoring.
Unexpected patterns of user behavior can also indicate problems of the level of design, rather than functionality. Users may be failing to move from one page to the next in the expected pattern simply because they do not see the button or link that they're supposed to click on. This can be the result of initial problems with design, or it could be caused by changes to a specific browser which render the link invisible or nonfunctional.
Any detectable change in user behavior away from what is expected should prompt a close look at the pages involved, from the point of view of user experience. What users see when they land on a page is not necessarily what the designer sees during the initial design process.
The actual appearance of the page itself may not have changed, but user attention may naturally follow a path which the designer simply did not anticipate. Even relatively subtle design issues can have an effect on the volume of sales at your site.
Overall user traffic flow can be an important indicator not only of problems, but also changing market trends and patterns of user interest. Understanding user traffic flow on your site by means of market-oriented analytics allows you, in many cases, to detect trends in user interest and product demand at a very early stage. This makes it much easier for you to keep up with or get ahead of your competition. By paying close attention to sophisticated analytics, you can even develop a reputation as a market trendsetter.
The bottom line? If you're involved in e-Commerce, you cannot afford downtime. You cannot afford functional problems which interfere with your sales, and you cannot afford design issues which make it difficult for your customers to purchase your products.
You need to monitor your site continually, you need to understand what your monitoring system is telling you—and you need that system to alert you to any major functional problems which can lead to downtime.
For some real, hands-on experience with the products and services which Alibaba Cloud has to offer (including CloudMonitor), check out Alibaba Cloud's free trial offer (https://www.alibabacloud.com/campaign/free-trial#free-products, with $300 credit). Alibaba offers a full range of solutions and services for eCommerce, including cloud hosting, development platforms, support resources, and monitoring.
@mazorstorn Michael Churchman started as a scriptwriter, editor, and producer of the game industry, working on the prototype for the laser-disc game Dragon's Lair. He spent much of the 90s in the software industry. During that time he developed a semi-automated system for managing localization in over fifteen languages. For the past ten years, he has been involved in the analysis of software development processes and related engineering management issues.
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