In online retail sales, the quality of the customer experience separates winners from losers. But delivering an exceptional user experience isn’t easy. Especially when the retailer participates in one of those Friday-at-midnight launches of Sony’s newest PlayStation or Nike’s limited-edition shoes. Those launches entice large numbers of consumers to sit at their computers and, precisely at 11:59 pm, begin hitting refresh repeatedly in hopes of snagging the highly coveted item. An exceptional customer experience is also critical on Black Friday when massive numbers of consumers can overwhelm a retailer’s website as they start their holiday shopping.
To address these business events, a Fortune 500 retailer reached out for help in architecting a serverless solution capable of scaling instantly any time traffic spikes. But the company needed more than just scalability. It also needed to block bad actors who launch bot armies to scoop up inventory of sought-after items, making them unavailable to legitimate customers.
This Fortune 500 retailer got the help it needed from Cloudflare. Using Cloudflare solutions, the company built a custom queuing system. Specifically, it leveraged multiple components of the Cloudflare Developer Platform, a suite of compute, storage, and serverless tools to deploy code globally.
While one-off product releases were the initial motivation for implementing Cloudflare Developer Platform, the retailer was also looking ahead to Black Friday. For both situations, the company wanted to:
Create a fair and consistent way to process requests
Prevent bots from grabbing limited inventory, thereby preserving it for customers
Protect the back-end infrastructure from overload at all times
To prepare for the Sony PlayStation® 5 release, the retailer needed a way to handle the expected traffic surge effectively so that the site wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Working with the retailer, Cloudflare experts used Cloudflare Durable Objects to build a waiting room that logs and responds to requests in the order in which they are received.
Cloudflare Durable Objects provides strongly consistent storage for stateful applications. Instead of storing request data across all global network locations, a Durable Object runs from a single data center, ensuring that every request is handled fairly and consistently. So there’s no possibility that two customers would be told they were next in line.
To prevent bots from getting into the waiting room, the team used the Cloudflare Workers serverless compute solution to create and deploy a script with routing logic that identifies bot traffic at the edge of the network and diverts it from the waiting room. The script uses a score calculated by bot management software for each request. The score indicates the probability that the request is coming from a bot. If the score indicates a probable bot, Workers diverts the request to a fake path. As a result, only legitimate traffic enters the waiting room. This process prevents bots from usurping queue positions from actual customers and purchasing limited inventory.
The solution stores the decisions and actions taken on each request, including answers to such questions as:
Was the request flagged as a bot?
Was the user admitted to the queue?
The team used Workers KV, Cloudflare’s secure key-value storage, as a caching layer for the status of the requests. This low-latency solution tracks the actions taken on requests and rapidly delivers updates to all systems that need the information.
A sales event such as a new product release could be enough to topple a retailer’s systems. However, creating a queuing system on the network edge with the Cloudflare network enabled this retailer to keep its site running reliably and meet customer performance expectations during popular launches. What’s more, the retailer achieved this goal without a massive infrastructure investment or disruption to the experience of other shoppers. The serverless architecture provides coordinated storage, instant scale, and flexibility.
Moreover, the retailer is now positioned to handle multiple queues concurrently and will be able to support multiple product launches at the same time.
Participating in a high-profile launch of a new smartphone, gaming console, or other high-demand item is stressful for retailers. However, these launches are an increasingly important part of the retail business. The moment of launch causes an instantaneous traffic spike. It also attracts malicious bots that try to scoop up coveted inventory. Keeping things running smoothly during these stressful events takes planning and foresight. Through its partnership with Cloudflare, this retailer is now able to keep the customer experience from degrading when limited-release items hit the market. The result is happier consumers who become long-term loyal customers.
Instant scalability up to 1 million requests per second in a very short period of time
Multiple queues to support simultaneous launches of multiple popular products
Effective bot blocking to manage site traffic and ensure that high-demand items are allotted to legitimate customers
Effective tracking and servicing of requests