In 2021, as the Covid pandemic that pushed e-commerce into the dominant way of shopping, it became clear that existing challenges to e-commerce persist: site availability and speed. The new levels of demand placed on e-commerce platforms and websites challenged their resilience, taxed the patience of consumers, and ultimately changed the way e-commerce companies think about the technology they rely on to power always-on shopping for the nonstop, 24/7 nature of online retail post-Covid.


Always-on e-commerce

We are living in a multichannel e-commerce world in which retail platforms sell online, and social media channels are seamlessly integrated into the recommendation and sales ecosystem. Consumers are enjoying end-to-end personalized retail experiences across all their devices, and the technology to power this 24/7, always-on shopping experience continually shifts to accommodate new demands and requirements. 

The leaps forward in use taken by e-commerce during 2020 appear to be enduring, with 2020 reaching more than USD two trillion in global e-commerce purchases. And for the first time, mobile shopping, long a laggard, has begun to charge ahead, having grown 25% in 2020. 

As consumers expect online shopping to meet their always-on demands, retailers have responded with major upgrades to their digital infrastructure, anticipating that demand will remain high and digital first. Normal shopping traffic peaks, such as Black Friday, while still important, do not represent as great a proportion of traffic (or sales) relative to the rest of the year now, which means that the e-commerce site infrastructure needs to support always-on shopping all the time. 


Shopping without dropping

All of this adds up to a new level of demand for engineering support and effort, focusing in on some of the make-or-break basics of web performance. Despite years of experience working with peak traffic, and the floods of Covid-related traffic response, the basics are still hardest, but most essential, to master, for example: 

  • High availability: If your site is down, or unresponsive, you lose revenue and customer trust. High availability provides a backup in case your backend server does fail, ensuring that your site remains shoppable even when the site itself is struggling
  • Origin shield: Protecting your backend servers from overload is essential to guaranteeing that your site remains highly performant and functional
  • Intelligent caching: The ability to manage content caching, cache purging and caching policy at a more granular level provides better control and more accurate, up-to-date information on your site
  • Performance: Performance here can refer to the ability to scale and deliver as well as speed, by far the most important metric for e-commerce sites. Why?
    • Even 1 second page load time is considered too slow; shoppers leave after 2 seconds
    • 79% of shoppers who visited a slow site report that they won’t return again
    • Crazyegg data shows that a speed boost of 1 second may lead to a 7% increase in conversions

Speed, and its twin - latency will become even more central to e-commerce performance, as AR/VR experiences and AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, enabled by 5G rollouts need ultra-low latency for ever-larger data sets. 5G will account for USD 12 billion in mobile commerce revenue for retailers in the next three years, according to Adobe, making it the next big threshold for e-commerce transformation.


Optimizing for high-performance e-commerce 

Will we see sustained levels of e-commerce once the pandemic ends? Market indicators and industry experts say yes. The trend toward digital commerce was already well underway, and lockdown orders simply accelerated what was already happening.

While new trends and technologies will continue to give e-commerce a makeover, including video, AI chatbot assistants, social commerce, voice commerce and edge computing, as ever with online retail, the ability to shop without dropping (for e-commerce platforms and solutions, at least) will come down to delivering exceptional user experiences coupled with a continued focus on the business-critical basics: web performance, page load speed, site availability and up-to-date inventory information.