ShopNBC Reads the Performance TeaLeaf
- By Kathleen Ohlson
Finding and solving performance problems isn’t easy for IT staffers. But what if some of those problems were caused by IT’s lack of communication? ShopNBC.com recently dealt with such issues to improve its customers’ experiences.
The site has 65,000 unique visitors surfing through more than 9,000 products, including jewelry, home goods, apparel, computer electronics, and health, fitness and beauty supplies.
The shopping network’s IT staff received performance alerts but lacked detailed information, such as when the error occurred and what the customer was doing when the problem happened. The technical team tried to reproduce what happened using these vague claims.
Alerts went to its call center, and “innuendo-type issues came in…but it drops right there and becomes folklore,” says Steven Craig, ShopNBC.com’s CTO and vice president of development. “It would just become factual something was wrong with the Web site. I couldn’t defend what was going on. There wasn’t enough prompting to the customer about what was needed.”
ShopNBC.com selected TeaLeaf Technology’s RealiTea to track consumer sessions on its site. RealiTea also captures customers’ actions in real-time, detecting, analyzing and alerting IT to Web application problems, as well as reproducing session errors. The software features rules-based session inspection, true visual reproduction, rapid diagnosis and actionable reporting.
Prior to implementing RealiTea, ShopNBC.com’s staff combed through tens of thousands of Web logs to locate one problem, replaying issues screen by screen.
RealiTea works within ShopNBC.com; ISAPI filters sit on the site’s Web servers and route IP addresses to the server that houses RealiTea, gluing the data together. Consumers may jump from home goods to jewelry, for example, and then TeaLeaf stitches everything together by making the different requests, maintaining a “stateless environment,” for ShopNBC.com, Craig says.
The shopping network discovers performance problems much faster than before, though Craig couldn’t name a specific amount of time. RealiTea watches ShopNBC.com’s custom rules, such as checkout reaching capacity—anything that interrupts checkout and payment.
RealiTea helps ShopNBC.com make other necessary adjustments, such as tweaking search capability. The software tracked a customer who tried to execute the same search 45 times; the customer misspelled a key word. As a result, ShopNBC.com expanded its site search, creating synonyms and adding more flexibility to searches. Other changes included adding more intuitive prompts to customers when personal information is altered.
Craig conducts weekly meetings to review RealiTea findings, targeting areas of improvement and enhancements. ShopNBC.com will keep tapping into the software’s reproduction capability and refine alarm features.
“We want to focus on more of the usability, but we just need to find more time to mine the data,” he says.
Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.