How to scale your e-commerce startup

The U.S. e-commerce market has continued to expand at a healthy pace led by online retail giants like Amazon and eBay. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce brought in $3 trillion in 2012. This figure represents an 11% increase from the year prior.

With more than half of Americans owning smartphones and tablets, lives are becoming increasingly digitalized.

When a consumer is clicking on items and adding them to their cart, it’s essential these actions happen in a matter of milliseconds.

With almost endless choices of brands and products to support, one bad experience with your company could drive them away. In fact, research indicates that 89% of customers take their business elsewhere following a single poor experience.

So, if you have a presence online, or you’re planning to do so, you’ve probably already optimized your front end with cached pages and images. But what about your backend transaction database? Can it handle a surge in orders? If you’re not sure, it might be time to look at the database engine that’s powering your site’s backend.

Dealing with website traffic spikes

nomorerack is one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the U.S. with 1,023% growth in revenue during 2012. During the holiday season, they experienced 15-20x traffic peaks. Due to the phenomenal growth rate, nomorerack was hitting the limits of scale. They struggled with availability, which cost them up to $60,000/hour to get insight into database issues and timely support. The company needed to reevaluate their current database solution in order to accommodate customer demands on their website.

> See also: Top priorities when creating or migrating to a new e-commerce site

For some e-commerce retailers, predicting spikes and dips in traffic is a relatively easy task. For example, almost all retailers anticipate more business than usual during the holiday season, as customers scramble to purchase gifts for their loved ones. Retailers can also predict an increase in sales depending on their industry. For instance, a school supplies retailer can expect a large influx of traffic in August.

However, e-commerce traffic isn’t always that predictable. What if your business had to deal with traffic spikes on a weekly—or even daily—basis?

As a business owner, you’ve got to do everything within your power to ensure an optimal online experience for your customers, regardless of how much traffic your site is handling at any point in time. Let’s take a look at three database technologies and how they attempt to accommodate traffic spikes:


A relational database that promises atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability (ACID) in transactions— is a necessary feature that allows users to concurrently query and alter data quickly and consistently.

However, MySQL is not without its limitations. It lacks the ability to horizontally scale or to process a large volume of requests simultaneously. In other words, MySQL databases are confined by hard disk performance. Furthermore, such databases aren’t designed for unstructured data, and queries can’t be sorted by relevance.


When a relational database reaches its capacity, some businesses adopt NoSQL functionality. Though not a relational database, and mostly lacking the assurance of ACID transactions, NoSQL provides horizontal scalability. It can also handle large influxes in volume. It’s also schema-less, meaning it can store unstructured data. As such, NoSQL lends itself nicely to big data, but the technology can’t simultaneously ensure consistency, availability and partition tolerance.


Taking the best of both worlds, NewSQL is a relational database technology that boasts horizontal scaling functionality, the assurance of ACID transactions, and the ability to process large volumes of transactions with optimal performance. Additionally, NewSQL empowers businesses to produce comprehensive reports in real time while concurrently handling large influxes in digital traffic.

Such functionality ensures that the customer shopping experience is hassle-free by reducing or eliminating any digital delays they might otherwise endure. Meanwhile, decision makers can analyze data for insight into specific ways to target shoppers with cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

Business owners who have ruled out problems with Web servers and front-end e-commerce applications, but still wish to easily handle however much traffic comes their way, should consider taking advantage of NewSQL databases. In doing so, they are ensuring an optimal shopping experience while equipping themselves with the tools necessary to help bolster their brand.

Ensuring an ideal customer experience

On top of the widespread competition that currently exists, e-commerce retailers also face the prospect of increased competition. To keep up, they must ensure that the customer experience runs as smooth as possible. So if you’re an emerging e-commerce retailer, let’s take a look at three ways to help achieve this goal.

Design an easy-to-use and attractive website

We’ve all been to websites that are hard to use, where you can’t find what you’re looking for, even if you spent an hour searching. Consider enhancing your e-commerce platform with a sleek design, and making it as easy to navigate as possible. This will create a seamless experience for your customers.

Create a platform that’s optimized for mobile

Mobile e-commerce revenue stood at $42.13 billion in 2013, and forecasts indicate that number could grow to $132.69 billion by 2018. By optimizing for mobile, you’re ensuring that your customers can access your digital storefront via whichever medium they prefer most.

> See also: Retailers struggle to meet omni-channel expectations

Leverage a scalable, fault-tolerant cloud database

In periods of peak traffic, unprepared e-commerce sites can function improperly if they are not equipped to handle heavy loads. By leveraging a scalable, fault-tolerant cloud database, you can ensure that any amount of traffic will be manageable in almost any situation. In making this improvement, your customers can enjoy a seamless shopping experience.

If your e-commerce business is experiencing growth, or is planning to do so in the near future, it’s important to invest in a solution with high availability and optimal performance to accommodate your growing customer’s demands. Once the appropriate technology is implemented, you can then work on creating a personalized shopping experience for your customers.

Sourced from Tony Barbagallo, CMO, Clustrix

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...