Peak Traffic? No Problem. How to Scale and Prevent Website Downtime

Is your storefront ready for peak shopping? Here’s how to scale smoothly.

October 31, 2023 | Time to read: 7 minutes

Picture this: It’s Cyber Monday and you’ve waited all year for epic deals on big ticket items. You need a new refrigerator because yours has been on the fritz since June, so you browse the product listing page of a familiar appliance retailer. But as you browse, the pages won’t load. Images don’t appear. You get error messages — and it’s frustrating. So, you do what any customer would do: You find another retailer with faster load times and a better shopping experience.

That’s what website downtime looks like from a customer’s point of view — and it’s a bad experience whether it’s peak shopping season or any other time of the year. Website downtime is equally frustrating for businesses. Site speed and availability are critical when it comes to ecommerce, especially during high traffic moments like holidays and sales. Just a few moments of website downtime during peak traffic can take a big chunk out of your yearly revenue.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to avoid website downtime and scale for peak traffic.

First things first: What is website downtime?

For ecommerce businesses, highly trafficked storefronts are what dreams are made of. But sluggish load times and other site issues during peak traffic can quickly turn into a nightmare. When a website isn’t accessible or doesn't function well enough for end users to complete a task, this is known as website downtime. The result is a snowball effect that starts with an exodus of site visitors and ends with unrealized revenue, reputation damage, and loss of customer trust. The good news? The right commerce strategies and a trusted platform with 99.99% uptime can help you avoid this situation altogether.

The stakes are high for ecommerce businesses: Customers estimate that more than half (52%) of their interactions with companies next year will be online. For every moment of website downtime, businesses miss out on all that potential revenue. But there’s good news: With the right strategy and effective technical oversight, businesses can maintain their revenue, reputation, and customer loyalty. The first step is to understand what causes website downtime in the first place.


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What, exactly, causes website downtime?

We’ve all seen the notices: “Our website is currently down” or “We’re having technical issues.” But what leads to these disruptive moments? Usually, website downtime is caused by one of three culprits.

1. Software and hardware issues

Power outages. Outdated hardware. Coding errors. These are just a few of the hardware and software issues that can lead to website downtime. To ensure that you can react quickly in these instances, it’s critical to have a support plan in place. Arrange 24/7 coverage — both for planned peak traffic periods and emergencies as they arise. Keep external partners in the loop, too. Maintain and regularly update contact information for team members and critical third-party providers, such as the DNS provider. Every second counts in an outage, so quick resolution is key.

2. Cyberattacks

Not all website traffic is created equal. In fact, some traffic can be downright malicious. For example, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a cybercrime in which a hacker floods your server with illegitimate internet traffic to prevent real users from accessing your site and services. The intent may be to hold your site ransom in an attempt to get cash, or it can be a competitor’s attempt to discredit your business. Regardless of the motive, the result of website downtime is the same: damaged reputation and dwindling revenue.

That’s why security is critical to maintaining your site — and customer trust. Here’s where to start.

Stay on top of security technology and regularly run checks. Ensure two-factor authentication; it’s a best practice and a simple step that prevents most security attacks, including phishing, card skimming, and form jacking (which is when cybercriminals use a form on your site to insert malicious code). Stay up to date on privacy regulations at the regional and country level. Your commerce provider should assist you with compliance — from GDPR to CCPA. Secure design and implementation of custom code, sourcing, deployment, and maintenance of third-party integrations and extensions. Implement continuous monitoring and incident response on customer and custom third-party integration assets. Create anti-abuse, fraud detection, and prevention measures.

3. Third-party integrations

When a shopper visits your site, their experience is created as their browser reads and executes your code. However, anytime their browser reads a third-party script, it momentarily pauses to load data from other sources, servers, and services. And all of these pauses add up.

This is why it’s so important to analyze all third-party services to see where any slowdowns occur. Perform load testing to make sure integrations hold up under the pressure of high traffic.

How much can it cost if your site goes down?

To calculate the true cost of website downtime for your business, you’ll need to gather a few key metrics. Here’s how it works.

First, determine how much of your revenue comes from your website. If your business is entirely online, this number is very straightforward. However, if your business is a mix of channels including a digital storefront and brick-and-mortar locations, or if you rely on your website for lead generation, you’ll need to take this into account when determining total revenue from your website.

Next, divide that number by months, weeks, days, minutes, hours, and seconds. Granted, the revenue from your website likely fluctuates throughout the year and isn’t consistent month to month. However, the easiest way to determine the cost of website downtime is by simply dividing the total annual revenue until you arrive at cost per second.

Including planned maintenance of your website, determine your uptime benchmark. Sometimes, website downtime is planned and necessary. For example, you’ll need to shut down or limit access to your site from time to time to allow for repairs, upgrades, and testing. Determine how much time you’ll need to perform routine maintenance on your site, then use this number to come up with an uptime benchmark. An excellent uptime benchmark is 99.99% (colloquially known as “the four nines”). The four nines allow for precisely 4.38 minutes of downtime per month, or 52.56 minutes per year.

Finally, calculate the cost of website downtime for your business. Now that you’ve determined the cost per minute of website downtime for your business and you have an uptime benchmark, you can multiply the two figures to come up with an estimated cost of your annual planned downtime. While this cost is part of doing business online, anything outside of the downtime you plan means unanticipated revenue loss.

There are also intangible costs of unplanned website downtime, like reputation damage and loss of customer trust. This is especially true if the downtime occurs during peak traffic when demand for your products or services is particularly high. Here’s what it takes to run a reliable, trustworthy website.

How to ensure uptime … and check for website downtime.

To address a problem like website downtime, you need to first be aware that it’s happening. That’s why monitoring your ecommerce site daily and tracking key metrics is critical. If you’re familiar with your website’s typical performance, it’s easier to spot anomalies — even during peak shopping seasons. Here are a few key metrics to monitor and tests to run regularly.

Data: Make it a regular habit to sift through old data. Purge old campaigns, catalogs, promotions, coupons, content assets, and wish lists. You might want to retain inventory records, product lists and prices, and coupon redemption data.

Caching: Cache pages that customers access regularly, such as the homepage and search pages. Do not cache pages that are customer-specific or that have data that changes often.

Troubleshooting: Check pipeline and script runtimes to identify problem areas of code. Consider a searchable log center to find error messages quickly. Monitor external services and review and address quota concerns, since these can hurt performance.

Traffic flow: Consider how traffic should flow through your site. In an optimal architecture, most requests are handled at the web tier. A much smaller amount will reach the computationally heavy application tier. An even smaller amount of traffic should reach the database tier. This last layer also includes caching.

Let’s talk about site speed.

While the phrase “website downtime” might seem to indicate that your site has gone completely dark, it can also mean that your load times are simply too long. The highest ecommerce conversion rates occur on pages with load times between 1–2 seconds. With each additional second of load time, website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42%. Ultimately, this means that every millisecond you can shave off of your load times can potentially boost your revenue.

Site speed affects more than just your user experience; it’s also critical for search engine optimization (SEO). Fast page load times are preferred by Google, and the higher you rank on search results pages, the more visitors and conversions you’ll see. Nearly half (46%) of consumers start their online shopping journeys with a search engine, so site speed plays a major role in whether your storefront is found.

Here’s where to start if you want to optimize your site speed.

Performance testing: Regularly perform website speed testing to identify any throttles. Image size is a common one, so make sure your image optimization process is up to date — and your content team is trained on it. There are also common development mistakes in CSS and JavaScript that can affect load times. Ensure your dev team knows best practices to keep your site running smoothly.

Response times: Pay special attention to metrics for product search pages and product detail pages. Ensure the average response time for non-checkout activities does not exceed 500 milliseconds. Adjust caching as needed. Your most-visited pages should fall within average response times and cache-hit percentages. Avoid too many products on a page (a best practice is to ensure that the total number of hit tiles per page does not exceed 24).

Load testing: Regularly test your site (along with third-party systems) to see how it holds up under peak visits, searches, and orders, all the way through to checkout. Remember: Bot attacks can occur during flash sales, so account for this stress as well. Some are for SEO purposes, but others are more aggressive and should be blocked.


Nearly half (46%) of consumers start their online shopping journeys with a search engine, so site speed plays a major role in whether your storefront is found.

Buckle up and prepare for peak traffic.

Reputation and revenue are hard-won, but easily lost in moments of website downtime. The key to preventing website downtime is to set aggressive goals around your maximum possible traffic and prepare your storefront to handle it.

Commerce Cloud was built with busy seasons in mind. You can trust that your site won’t black out on Black Friday with:

  • 99.99% historic uptime*
  • 99.999% uptime during Cyber Week 2022**
* Salesforce Commerce Platform Metrics
** Salesforce 2022 Cyber Week Metrics
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