New Relic has helped us improve our availability from 99.4% to 99.96% with the goal of near-100% in sight for us.

Lukasz Ciechanowicz
 Head of technical operations at MetaPack

The number of online shoppers increasing every year, and customer expectations of web retailers these days are high—from the start of the transaction all the way through to the final step: product delivery. Competing in today’s dynamic e-commerce environment demands that retailers get their delivery strategy and execution right. Get it wrong, and you’ll lose more than just customer loyalty. 45% of online shoppers have abandoned a shopping basket on a retailer’s site because of unsatisfactory delivery options, and 38% say that, following a negative delivery experience, they would never shop with a retailer again. This was the opportunity the founders of cloud-based enterprise delivery management platform MetaPack tapped into.

Working closely with leading retailers such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, ASOS, Carrefour, Superdry, and Halfords, MetaPack provides delivery management technology to enterprise retailers and brands. Its platform integrates 400 carriers and 4,000 delivery services, ensuring retailers and brands can offer the best delivery options to their customers.

"Following the explosive growth in online shopping and through key acquisitions, MetaPack has grown from delivering 200,000 parcels each day to now delivering 1.2 million parcels daily," says MetaPack Head of Technical Operations Lukasz Ciechanowicz. "On peak days this can grow to 3 to 5 million parcels. It makes us very aware that we have the power to spoil someone’s Christmas, which is a huge responsibility."

Technology is at the center of MetaPack’s business with system availability and response time as key performance indicators. It used Nagios to monitor the service, and Pingdom to monitor CPU and memory usage. However, as Ciechanowicz explains, "When customers complained about slow performance, or they couldn’t generate a parcel label, we would need to run API checks or laboriously go through data log files to identify what was wrong and fix it. This was time-consuming and, as we could only respond once things had gone wrong, it negatively affected our customer relationships."

Real-time monitoring for issue resolution

MetaPack realized a real-time performance monitoring approach was necessary to help it identify problems before customers were affected. Implementing New Relic application performance monitoring (APM) provided the deep insight into application performance that multiple teams across the company needed. The support team relies on New Relic dashboards to monitor performance and watch for errors, while the development team uses historical analysis to verify that when new code is released into production, it has the desired performance-boosting effect rather than causing performance degradation.

The ability to drill down into each transaction and understand the detail behind it is of huge value to Ciechanowicz and the team: With APM we can follow the path of sub services and focus in on particular pain points. This has allowed us to tune our application in exactly the right place and get the best out of our infrastructure. Alerts are now so detailed that we can direct them straight to the team best placed to fix them the fastest. It drastically reduces our time to detect and fix issues."

Turning happy customers into ‘sticky’ customers

When MetaPack makes changes to its frontend, it needs to ensure the customer experience is not adversely affected. New Relic synthetics allows Ciechanowicz’s team to simulate a real customer experience; errors uncovered by synthetics are then used by development teams to fix problems before customers experience them. MetaPack can now make interface changes that are fully tested before customers engage with the software.

New Relic dashboards were initially implemented to help MetaPack verify that it was meeting its service-level agreement (SLAs). MetaPack could provide some of the data but it was a manual effort to turn this into a management report. Dashboards collect real-time event and metric data from other New Relic capabilities and allow MetaPack to organize, query, and visualize the data to manage its SLAs in much greater detail and transparency. All of this is very important, as penalties can be imposed on MetaPack if an SLA is not met. However, as Ciechanowicz warns, even without an SLA, customers who are dissatisfied with their delivery may look for other alternatives. "We get paid by the volume put through us, so a slight change in customer loyalty will have an impact on our bottom line," he says. "Having New Relic Insight lets us highlight problems and pre-empt them. This leads to happy customers who tend to be sticky customers.’

MetaPack uses New Relic infrastructure as its dynamic infrastructure and server monitoring solution. Ciechanowicz says, "With a modern tool like New Relic infrastructure we can easily spot when a service has stopped working and trigger alerts accordingly. Retailers are not very forgiving, and while we can’t always prevent an outage from happening, Infrastructure helps make our recovery time as fast as possible."

Companion on the cloud journey

MetaPack solutions are hosted both in the cloud and on-premise in data centers. Within two years the company aims to migrate completely to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure-hosted cloud environments with a microservice-based, elastic infrastructure. This will allow MetaPack to easily manage its retail customers’ peak periods, such as during a sale when demand on the system can increase tenfold.

Ciechanowicz is clear on the beneficial role New Relic will play in this initiative: "We estimate an 80% time saving by moving from point solution vendors to the New Relic platform. The integration between the products means we no longer have to spend valuable time finding out what’s happening on the boundaries of disparate tools." Adds Ciechanowicz, "Because New Relic runs on any modern platform, we can monitor our systems and applications no matter where they reside."

As it drives the business forward, MetaPack needs to understand how each component of its infrastructure is working in real time. "The New Relic platform gets everyone on the same page and empowers us to be proactive." says Ciechanowicz. "New Relic has helped us improve our availability from 99.4% to 99.96% with the goal of near-100% in sight for us."

Without a solution like New Relic, MetaPack would not have the insight required to identify the stress points in its system. New Relic has delivered a more scalable and profitable platform that MetaPack customers feel confident in trusting their core business too. This was evidenced by MetaPack’s listing on "The Sunday Times" Tech Track 100 as ‘one of the fastest growing British companies which have achieved remarkable success in their chosen industry."

"I liken it with moving from driving in the fog, where you have to go slowly because you can only see to the end of your car, to driving in perfect conditions where you can speed up and still see every small bump in the road," says Ciechanowicz. "Even better, New Relic has given us a sophisticated SatNav system which tells us all about upcoming traffic jams, roadwork, and speed traps, and helps us navigate the best path around them. It means Christmas is safe in our hands."