How richrelevance performed over Black Friday and Cyber Monday

At RichRelevance, we have been planning for the holiday shopping load since early summer. This was our first Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and since we provide recommendations for some big merchants, we knew this was going to be a critical test of our product architecture, infrastructure, and execution.   Now that the weekend is behind us we thought to share how we held up, along with some interesting trends in shopping behavior – and a few pleasant surprises.

Every online retailer focuses a huge amount of effort to prepare their site for the holiday load, and SaaS vendors like us have the challenge of preparing for holiday load across all our customer sites.   To prepare for Thanksgiving weekend, our goal was to have enough capacity to cover at least 3x our load expectations with zero degradation in quality of service.  We prepared for several disaster scenarios, such as one of our data centers completely losing connectivity to the Internet. Through the fall we upgraded our infrastructure, utilized new technologies to improve our performance, and ran load tests; for example, one test we replayed 8 hours of real-world mid-day traffic in 12 minutes.  Finally, we set up a 24hr on-call schedule and an escalation procedure should anything unexpected happen.

Well, RichRelevance is proud to say nothing happened.

Well not quite — I did play a lot of Rock Band 2 on Black Friday while monitoring our systems, waiting beside my laptop for an emergency to materialize.  And in the meantime, we served up 1.2 billion product recommendations and tracked approximately 300 million page views and recommendation clicks between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday – with zero downtime. 

The remaining holiday weeks will be very busy (even if slower than last year), but the biggest three days are over. Three?  Yes, Thanksgiving was on par with Black Friday and Cyber Monday in terms of load that we served.  Total sales volume on Thanksgiving is lower than the other big days, as you can see in this ComScore report, but the number of people browsing products was extremely high on Thanksgiving.  It appears that much of America went to the computer to “window shop” online Thanksgiving evening.  That is something you can’t do much of at a brick and mortar store that day, and it’s tough to rally for something outside the home after stuffing your face with all sorts of Thanksgiving goodness.  The busiest hour we had in terms of the number of recommendation sets served was 6PM to 7PM PST on Thanksgiving, with the following hour a close runner-up (a recommendation set displays multiple product recommendations).  During that hour, we served 4.4 million recommendation sets (27.4 million product recommendations).  The next 10 busiest hours so far belong to Cyber Monday and Black Friday; Thanksgiving morning through 2PM PST was half as busy as the two hours after Thanksgiving dinner, but busier than Saturday or Sunday.

Looking into the future, next Thanksgiving holiday we will have more customers, more load, and even more interesting trends to look at – but for now we’re excited about the rest of the holiday season (which runs about two more weeks), and we look forward to driving robust sales for our merchants with total reliability and no surprises.  That would be a great gift to our customers.

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