Neo4j Transforms Performance of Global Retailer’s Website after Cyber Monday Failings

The Challenge

The company – which wishes to remain anonymous here, but is a Fortune Top 50 company – was running its site on the IBM WebSphere eCommerce platform, drawing data from an IBM DB2 relational database. On 30 November 2015, Cyber Monday, it offered an across-the-board 15% discount to site visitors. The result was something of a triumph: the company’s executives were high-fiving each other once they saw they had pulled in more customers than any other bricks-and-mortar rival.

But the price paid was unacceptable. The site’s checkout function kept working that day, but 90% of customer traffic was delayed. As one senior company executive said: “We pushed a lot of guests to the site and we were very successful in terms of volume. But the reality was we got significantly more traffic than we ever projected, and we couldn't handle it. We protected checkout so the site functioned. But we disappointed way too many guests, and that's never okay, period.”

The biggest bottleneck was the crucial but complex promotions process, where a company invites shoppers to add last-minute extras to their online cart – a bit like placing tasty treats next to a supermarket checkout. But to flash up exactly the right recommendations requires software that can instantly analyze the shopper’s cart contents and their buying history, and dig through 15-30 layers of data – such as promotion types, qualifying manufacturers, product names and categories – in real time.

This proved beyond a conventional relational database like DB2. So the retailer considered Neo4j, which is optimized to rapidly carry out such complex searches among masses of connected data.

The Solution

The company already knew its biggest rival, Walmart, had turned to Neo4j to provide the best web experience for its customers. But this was no shoo-in. The importance of the decision to choose Neo4j is shown by the fact that over 50 of the company’s executives were directly involved in its selection.

The retailer decided to invest in Neo4j software to revolutionize its online operations. Neo4j has reinforced key elements of the IBM e-commerce platform including the pricing engine, product promotions and recommendations, big data analytics and IT infrastructure.

As a result, in mid-2016 the company rolled out both a new Neo4j-based front-end and back-end to its website, enabling it to deal with growing consumer traffic. As its senior executive explained: “The new back-end allows us to scale to a much bigger volume level. Our business is much, much larger than it was three years ago, and we expect that growth to continue.”

Neo4j has transformed the company’s real-time promotions engine and online cart promotion calculations. It also enabled the company to become one of the first retailers to provide the same promotions across both its online and traditional retail channels.

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