Taylor Swift’s latest tour caused headlines after ticket sales platform Ticketmaster crashed due to the volume of fans trying to buy tickets for UK and EU performances.
In this article, Jose San Miguel, Managing Director at white label ticketing platform Nuweb Group offers businesses expert advice on how to make sure their ticket sales run smoothly, and ultimately how to avoid dreaded website crashes when events go on sale.
When a large number of unexpected visitors flood your website, services can degrade, leaving customers with a blank screen or an error message with baffling codes such as a 505 error.
A typical cause is when ticket scalpers use bots in order to snatch up tickets, with the aim of reselling them at a later date – and at a much higher price. And when a system doesn’t have sufficient safeguards in place to throttle requests, things can quickly spiral out of control.
Ticket sites crashing is a big issue not just for those in the ticketing industry, but for the general consumer too. It happens all too often and results in thousands of frustrated fans missing out on much-anticipated events. For example, American ticket sales and distribution giant Ticketmaster recently faced criticism for glitches and malfunctions that prevented fans from securing their spots at Taylor Swift’s world tour.
But that’s not all. A mishandled ticket release also has the potential to put the trust and valuable customer relationships that businesses work so hard to build at risk, seemingly overnight. Taking steps to adopt smarter system architecture that can handle spikes in demand and prevent crashing can ultimately help protect your business’s reputation.
Jose San Miguel, Managing Director at white-label ticketing platform Nuweb Group comments: “Unexpected peaks in website traffic can easily cause a major system failure. If your technology doesn’t have the capacity to handle the weight of demand, you’re going to face technical difficulties and website crashes.
“Fortunately, with the right contingency measures in place, these kinds of scenarios can be avoided.”
Why do ticket sites crash?
1. Too many visitors
Ticket sites often crash because the number of system requests made by visitors browsing your website exceeds the capacity resources of the website and the infrastructure of any relevant third-party systems that are involved. When this happens, your website performance will slow or crash entirely for some or all users.
While surging traffic is often regarded as a good thing, if you don’t have the correct systems in place, particularly when it comes to ticket sales, it is problematic.
2. Payment gateway issues
If transactional websites don’t properly control their online traffic, any traffic-induced problems can end up spilling over to third-party partners, leaving them with identical problems to solve. This can often be seen with payment gateways in particular.
The primary reason for a payment gateway is to ensure the security of the data shared between the parties during transactions. They’re used by both online and brick-and-mortar businesses to process card transactions.
When website traffic picks up and systems start to slow down, payments begin taking longer to process, and the result is that customers spend longer on the platform, often hitting refresh, and therefore further adding to the load being faced.
If the payments fail, the knock-on effect is the customer is kicked back to the checkout – resulting in even more loading and increased waiting times for those remaining in the queues.
Whilst payment gateway outages don’t tend to happen too often, even big payment gateways like Stripe and PayPal have their issues from time to time.
3. Third-party libraries
Third-party libraries, published and maintained by financially backed organisations, or via open-source initiatives, are often used by software projects to enhance their functionality using well-rounded solutions. These libraries allow developers to lean on the experience of others, utilise battle-tested solutions, and focus their attention on their core business activities.
However, these third-party libraries add an element of risk for services when considering the load they’re capable of handling. The system will only ever be as strong as the weakest link, and this may be a third-party library. Without thorough reviews of these libraries and what performance impact they have on the software, as well as regular maintenance and review of their updates, it may be that the biggest limiting factor of a surge sale is hidden inside one of them.
Here are five potential solutions:
1. Virtual waiting rooms
Virtual waiting rooms allow businesses to control online traffic, particularly in high-demand situations. When online visitors exceed your website or app’s capacity, they are redirected to a customisable waiting room, before being taken back to your website or app in a controlled first-come, first-served order.
Ultimately, this means that your site should be able to handle more visitors and transactions as they’ll be spread out over a determined period of time. However, this may only solve half the problem, because to get into the waiting room you first have to attempt to connect to a server that’s overloaded.
Therefore the best solution for waiting rooms is to reroute traffic at the edge of the infrastructure – before a request is even made to the server(s) you’re trying to protect.
2. Have multiple payment gateways
It’s wise to have at least two payment gateways in play, just in case there is an issue with the default one when it comes to crunch time. Using multiple payment gateways allows sellers to streamline the ticket payment process and optimise transaction processing.
3. Optimise your website’s performance
Unlike occasions where businesses experience unexpected and seemingly random traffic surges, ticket releases are often planned far in advance, so you should know when to expect visitors to start flooding in.
There are many ways to build performance into your website, from minimising the use of plugins where possible, and even identifying processes on your site that aren’t critical and scaling them back temporarily. The important thing here is that you choose to degrade your overall website’s performance temporarily out of choice, by turning off resource intense features.
4. Run load tests
Load testing is one of the most effective preparations you can make for expected traffic peaks. It’s a kind of performance testing that involves sending increasing levels of traffic to your site under controlled and monitored conditions. The aim is to help you understand how your website will perform when real visitors start to flood in, and each test should reveal any new bottlenecks that need fixing.
If you’re utilising this test method, just be sure to notify your hosting provider in case they need to authorise it beforehand. Otherwise, it could look like an unwanted DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. It’s worth noting that some hosting providers consider an unauthorised load test a violation of terms of service.
5. Introduce a ‘lottery’ concept
Lottery-based ticket sales are a way to fairly and equitably sell tickets to a large number of people by spreading out ticket sales, often across a longer period of time. This can be a great way to manage ticket sales when quantity is limited and demand is high.
Tickets often sell out instantly and hopeful attendees are then left feeling disappointed. So, if there are only 10,000 tickets up for grabs, randomly allocate 10,000 people a chance to purchase them. Controlling or staggering the invites should mean that there isn’t a thundering herd problem.