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Beyond Black Friday: 3 Tips on Preparing Your APIs for a Major Event During Any Season

By Ashley Waxman on .

Black Friday is around the corner, signaling the beginning of the holiday crunch. For retailers, this is make-it-or-break-it season, a crucial revenue period when they absolutely can’t afford to their apps or their website break or fail. Part of that means making sure their APIs are rock solid. Even a short outage on Black Friday or Cyber Monday can mean huge losses for retailers and their partners. During last year’s holiday season, mobile accounted for 45 percent of all online traffic, a year-over-year increase of more than 25 percent.

But retailers are not alone, and many businesses will encounter a time in which they can’t afford even the slightest breakage: the Super Bowl for media, tax day for finance, a big event or launch announcement, or the close of a long release cycle. You want your code to be functionally complete and protected from introducing any new changes to prevent what could be a very costly and/or public failure.

Since retailers do this every year, there’s a lot to learn from the practices they have down pat. We’ve organized three tips that we’ve seen in the retail industry to get you ready for crunch time so you’ll be ready to face any mission-critical event—even Black Friday.

1. Go into a development lockdown

To refrain from introducing any regressions, slow performance or otherwise screw up the customer experience during the holidays, nearly every retailer puts a freeze on their code as early as October or the first week of November in preparation for the retail season. This is not the time to experiment with brand new things that could destroy your numbers.

“During a major event that brings a significant number of customers to our site and apps, it’s critical that we don’t introduce any unnecessary changes that could impact the consistency and reliability of the customer experience,” says Roberto Lancione, IT Enterprise Architecture Manager at ALDO.

The most minor aesthetic change can alter the way customers interact with your site or your mobile app, so put A/B testing to a halt as well. Keeping your UI consistent will keep your users comfortable and unaware of the potential frenzy going on behind the scenes.

2. Test everything, everywhere

While A/B testing introduces unnecessary complexity, testing your system as a whole is essential to ensuring the end-to-end customer experience is seamless. You want to prevent any performance issues during days of peak traffic to your site or app. One of the largest retailers in the country tests its production environment to the point of almost bringing its site down to stay ahead of any issues as much as possible.

One way to do this is ensuring that your app works across all devices. AWS Device Farm is a handy testing tool that lets you simulate your mobile app on hundreds of different smartphones and tablets so you don’t have to build these tests in-house, and can plan for performance across devices you might not have thought of.

Once you’ve tested your system internally, it’s time to put those tests on a schedule to monitor performance so you’re the first to know when a service goes down. Monitoring the APIs that power your infrastructure and your apps from locations around the world ensures that you have your customers’ backs, no matter where they’re located. Make sure that your web UI is interacting with your APIs as expected and data isn’t being cached the wrong way. Easy-to-use tools like Ghost Inspector give you full coverage between your APIs and your websites.

3. Monitor API dependencies

Putting on a code freeze and monitoring your services is great for your own infrastructure, but what about the external services your business relies on? Most apps, let alone businesses, today integrate with multiple partners or third-parties to add to or enhance their product or service, such as payment transactions, email confirmations and receipts or a CRM. 

First, don’t change providers during a critical event like Black Friday. Even if you’re looking to make a switch, this is not the time to introduce external changes when short-term success is the goal. Get all your SLAs in order so you know what to expect from those providers in case their services go down.

Second, keep an eye on the production traffic that matters to your business by setting up real-time monitoring. Live Traffic Alerts notifies you the second a customer gets a 403 error that prevents them from paying for your product or getting an email receipt. You can then send the response body data to your provider instantly to let them know there’s an issue on their end faster than waiting for support tickets to come through.

We all face periods where our web services and mobile apps are put to the test. Even if your only participation in Black Friday this year is buying the perfect present for your mom, you can still reap the benefits of the long-standing work that retailers have done to build best practices for preparing for those events. Happy shopping and monitoring!

Categories: apis, api ecosystem, community, howto

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