Astonishing insights from 2020 online traffic

  • Ecommerce
12 mins reading time
John Williams | December 16, 2020
I have been waiting with bated breath to see traffic volumes for this years peak period. This year the restrictions to physical shopping are driving up online traffic, and many large retailers decided not to open stores for Black Friday. Historically November has always been the largest month of the year for our customers and our platform.  I expected this November to be a big month, but even I was surprised at just how big.

If we take a look at the Black Friday period, you can see we delivered some incredible numbers. On Friday alone, we delivered 14 billion(bn) content objects globally totalling 545 terabytes (TB) of data. This was an increase of 35% from 2019.  At one point during the day, we reached 308,000 requests per second that are the same as delivering content to everyone in 5 packed football stadiums at the same time every second. 

Over the 10 days, objects delivered were at 96 billion and with a total bandwidth of 3,600 (TB) equivalent to 20 years' worth of 4k Video.

Looking at November, the trend is showing a similar trend. Traffic was up a record 38% to 224bn requests from 2019s 162bn requests. Looking at the chart, it appears the pattern of traffic is consistent with last years just significantly amplified by the current situation.  

Lockdown effects on traffic volumes

Lockdowns across the world have had an enormous impact on our browsing habits. The UK went into a nationwide lockdown on the 5th of November till the 2nd of December. Looking at our data specifically for the UK can help us understand some of the impacts that a lockdown has on traffic.

We have observed that generally, online traffic increases a little during weekends in the UK. However, the weekend following the beginning of lockdown, we saw a larger peak than expected. We also noticed an unexpected rise in traffic on the same day the lockdown finished

Social distancing and shielding are effecting how many of our festivals and holidays can be conducted. Saturday the 14th of November was the Diwali festival, and it may go some way to explain the exaggerated peak that weekend.  Although during that same week, we saw 1.4 million content items published of the total 5.9 million publishes for November.

If you compare the UK to the US data, what's very distinct this year is that Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday are very prominent in the US with Black Friday being the only noticeable peak. However, the UK seems to spread the promotion further across November. For all the gamers reading, there was a prominent peak correlating to the releases of the next-gen consoles.
Germany is similar to the US with a double peak except its on a Sunday rather than Monday. What interesting is how online events such as singles day are also playing a more import role in eCommerce.
It's incredible to see the stark difference in numbers when you compare the Novembers going back to the last two Black Fridays. But even looking at the numbers for the start of the pandemic lockdowns show traffic volumes increasing over April, May and June to a level of peak volumes of previous years. The only anomaly in this was August where traffic was slightly lower than the last year this could be due to the restrictions on travel and the removal of restrictions on physical shopping in many countries.

I took the retail data from the UK Office of National Statistics and plotted the UK growth in retail sales against our edge data, and the results are surprising. Usually, there doesn't seem to be much consistent correlation between our traffic figures and reported sales growth – may be down to the statistics being seasonally adjusted. 

However, when the UK went into full lockdown sales numbers dropped by -5% and -18.1%, while at the same time, our traffic peaked to previous Black Friday levels. In May UK retail sales started to readjust with a growth of 12.3% despite non-essential stores still being closed. Again this could account for the sustained traffic volumes we saw online.

What's astonishing is when Stores did reopen in June retail sales increase by 13.8%, but we even saw record traffic numbers as the customer still seemed to prefer online over the socially distanced stores. In summary, from the start of the COVID restrictions till today, we see record traffic volumes on our platform. Could the sudden flip in growth between March and June signify the switch to Digital being the primary channel?

Changing behaviours in device usage

In previous years we have seen traffic to mobile devices increase combined continuously mobile and tablet traffic has been close to 70% for the last three years. However, since the pandemic restrictions, we have seen a change in how customers are consuming content. Desktop traffic moved up 6 over percentages points to 37.11% of our traffic. I'm assuming that more working at home and significantly less commuting is affecting online behaviour.

Digital channels mix

Another interesting fact is that there is more distribution when it comes to delivering content to digital channels. We saw traffic to native Apps equalling 13.6% more than double that of a tablet.  When you consider the traffic breakdown, it's clear that mobile-first is still a great strategy but not mobile-only.

Media Optimisation

Although our traffic has massively increased the throughput or bandwidth has not increased at the same rate. During the peak, our volumes were up by 38% however our object sizes were down by almost 2%. This is in contrast to the trend, where have been seeing image sizes increasing due to new screen technologies. Between 2015-2018, we saw image sizes increase by over 20%. It seems our users are taking advantage of Dynamic media to not only counter the need for larger images but also optimising their overall page weight.

Summary

This peak season has been tremendous, almost 38% more traffic than last year. In-fact this whole year has been a record year for online traffic we have been running at peak level traffic since the start of the pandemic rt restrictions. The increasing traffic volumes and the growing sensitivity of traffic patterns now to offline events point to the digital being the primary channel. 

The changing states in how customers are consuming content show us that understanding your digital channel mix is crucial.  Delivering content and services using headless technologies is critical for engaging with customers digitally, as the dominance of a single digital channel like mobile or desktop is becoming a thing of the past as content delivery is more distributed.

On a final note, delivering this level of traffic to a 99.99% SLA require great technology and architecture, but what is more important is the fantastic team we have that works hard to make sure we are always ready for the next peak.