Are retailers' sites ready for an onslaught?

* As the holiday shopping season kicks into gear, industry experts emphasize Web site performance

With Thanksgiving just two days away, retailers are about to find out how their Web sites will fare during the industry's high shopping season. A poor economy puts even more pressure on retailers to make sure Web visitors have an easy, speedy shopping experience.

“A lot of retailers are really counting on a good Web presence to deliver strong revenue, especially during the holiday season,” says Hon Wong, CEO of Symphoniq (and former co-founder of NetIQ). Symphoniq’s software monitors Web applications to provide IT with a picture of what end-users are experiencing and to pinpoint the root cause of any performance problems. 

I recently spoke with Wong about the challenges of Web application performance, particularly around the holiday season. A struggle for many retailers is making sure new site developments launched in time for the big season don’t derail application performance. Oftentimes performance is an afterthought for site developers, who are fixated on adding new bells and whistles, Wong says. “Along the way they tend to ignore performance.”

In particular, the increase in rich Internet applications makes it tougher to ensure an end user’s experience is a positive one. “A lot of the computing is now pushed down to the end user’s PC,” Wong says. “If an end user is expected to run some significant amount of computing in order to show a page, like a Javascript execution, that’s another part of the whole equation that’s beyond IT’s direct control.”

Dennis Drogseth, a vice president at research firm Enterprise Management Associates (and a Network World columnist) also weighed in on the issue of end-user monitoring. He’s seeing a growing interest among companies in so-called Quality of Experience (QoE), which is about monitoring and measuring customers’ experience (satisfying or not) using the services of a company.

“It’s definitely a growth area,” Drogseth says. In its latest research EMA found a striking 81% of survey respondents felt that QoE is becoming a more important factor in their organization. Just 2% felt it was becoming less important, Drogseth says.

Monitoring quality of experience is something that’s important to both business and IT teams, and it encompasses both customer feedback and technical metrics such as response time. “QoE is very central to effective business alignment,” Drogseth says. “In terms of the real-time dynamics of business alignment, I can’t think of anything more relevant that QoE.”

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