Glastonbury 2019: What marketers can learn from the online rush

Alex Painter, senior web performance consultant, Eggplant, asks if Glastonbury's ticket site needs to crash to maintain its brand's image.

Glastonbury music festival

There’s no doubt that Glastonbury is the UK’s most sought-after festival, and this year was no different.

Tickets to the five-day festival in Somerset went on sale in October, with more people trying to buy tickets than ever before. However, it’s not only the ticket sales record that was broken this year: data analysis revealed that, at times, the Glastonbury website suffered, despite work that seems to have been done to deliver a better experience on the day.

A faster ticket sales page?

Seetickets – the official ticket sales platform – reduced the size of its Glastonbury page by two thirds around the time the tickets went on sale, which could have been an attempt to provide users with a faster page under load. Load times fell after page size was cut. If Seetickets was purposely reducing the page size, this proved to be successful for the majority of the day.

However, the ticket website did suffer an outage when tickets went live at 9am on release day. This outage not only affected the Glastonbury page, but also the Seetickets homepage for a limited time. Despite what looks like an attempt to mitigate the risk of slow load times or downtime with a lighter, faster page, the website was no match for the onslaught of users rushing to buy tickets when they were released.

Why did the website suffer?

Although Seetickets would almost certainly have load tested ahead of release day, forecasting peak traffic is notoriously difficult. It is likely that a number of users would have been trying to purchase tickets from more than one screen – potentially increasing traffic beyond what was predicted. And extrapolating from previous years is difficult if there were also outages in those years, as full analytics may not be available. It’s therefore always a good idea to give yourself a lot of leeway when planning your load test.

Lessons learned

An outage typically means bad press for an organisation, but Glastonbury is different. The festival committee is aware that it will sell out, and customers know they can’t go anywhere else. Even if the press is bad, it’s all publicity for the event, which serves to highlight its popularity.

So, what can other organisations learn from Glastonbury? In the runup to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, most retailers will have been busy load testing to ensure that they maximise their revenue and preserve their reputation during peak hours. Others may be taking a leaf out of the Seetickets book and be working to optimise their offer pages for speed. Recent research from Eggplant suggests that this is a worthwhile goal, with consumers reacting more negatively to persistent slow load times than they do to brief periods of downtime. It’s a reminder that it’s the whole experience that counts. It’s not just a matter of ‘keeping the lights on’ but of delivering a consistently good experience from the moment a potential customer hits your landing page.

With the main batch of Glastonbury tickets now sold out, customers are already counting down the days until ticket resale days and finding out. With these usually a secret until a short time before the tickets are released, Glastonbury has plenty of time to prepare for the next surge in traffic. But it’s probably more important that lessons are learned further afield when it comes to managing the online consumer rush.

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