Whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, surfer, or skater, action sports require energy and a sense of adventure. They also require a whole lot of gear, from boards and boots to gloves and goggles. All that equipment can soon add up, which makes finding the right stuff at the right price so important.

Since 1993, action sports enthusiasts across Europe have been going to Planet Sports for just that. Beginning as a physical store in Herrsching near Munich, Planet Sports launched its online shop in 1997, soon expanding operations across several neighbouring European countries.

Today, parent company 21sportsgroup employs 300 staff in Munich, Berlin, and Mannheim. Those employees serve 14 physical stores around Germany, plus a range of e-commerce sites including PlanetSports.de and 21run.com. It also supports Vaola.de, an online international marketplace where vendors can reach customers from diverse territories, including Italy, Spain, France, and the U.K.

Enjoying dynamic growth over the past two years, and currently ranking in the top companies for German e-commerce sales, 21sportsgroup is proving that fortune favours the brave. But with growth and success come challenges, especially with regard to performance of its e-commerce systems.

Deepen visibility into critical systems

Built with PHP, MySQL, and Varnish, the Planet Sports website runs on the Magento Enterprise platform. Physical logistics (fulfilment, for example) rely on an in-house ERP system, and various other back-office systems are comprised of several tools. As Pavel Rossinky, one of the company’s lead Magento developers, explains, the development, staging, and operations environments are all kept separate.

Operating seven different stores seamlessly was proving difficult. Downtime was leading to lost conversions, and a lack of visibility made troubleshooting slow and inefficient. ‘We need to be agile, flexible, and react quickly’, says Robert Ginda, head of online shops. ‘We need to ensure a seamless process for our customers’. That means repairing issues before customers notice the real impact and not just reacting to customer complaints or Google spikes—especially during seasonal peaks.

Planet Sports needed real-time monitoring and transparency. ‘It’s hard to diagnose what you can’t see’, says Ginda. Flying blind was no longer an option. ‘You wouldn’t run without looking where you’re going and you should always look before you leap. Without knowing what is behind or below you increase the probability of failure. So, why would you run a business that way?’

For deep visibility and analysis, strong visual tools, and dependable alerts, Planet Sports turned to New Relic.

Making every transaction count

Since deploying New Relic, Ginda and his colleagues have been monitoring as widely as possible. ‘If it’s got a heartbeat, we want to check it out’. Top priority is given to JavaScript errors, browser performance, and pixels on the frontend, and to page speed and performance on both the front- and backend systems. Naturally, processes in the backend are essential to a successful frontend and are also monitored on all environments. With New Relic, Planet Sports was able to not only identify frontend issues, but solve several longstanding backend issues relating to indexers and other critical processes.

Each store is represented by its own set of applications—all monitored by New Relic APM and New Relic Browser agents. These are applied to four distinct transaction types, which are differentiated and labelled in New Relic. With Magento, Rossinsky explains, the simplest way to split those transactions is by path.

The first group is made up of frontend transactions conducted with users or bots; the second comprises API interactions. In both cases, New Relic APM allows for simple error tracking. The ability to mark new release times is particularly useful, Rossinsky says.

CRON transactions, the third group, can be particularly problematic in Magento, Rossinsky adds. For example, for nearly two years an unidentified process had caused queries to run between two to five times slower than they should. ‘We just couldn’t understand it’, says Rossinsky.

But because New Relic APM allows users to split all CRON processes into separate transactions, once the tool was up and running, Rossinsky was able to identify the culprit: a single price indexing query blocking several others. The fix required just one line of code, but led to a 100% improvement in performance. ‘It was a learning curve, but it really helped us’, adds Ginda. ‘We were blind until we could split these transactions up’.

Finding the needle in the haystack

With New Relic Browser, frontend transactions are also split by type. These can then be mapped with the corresponding transactions in New Relic APM—taken care of automatically by New Relic. ‘It makes it even easier to find performance problems’, Rossinsky says.

Finding those problems is particularly important when colleagues on Planet Sports’ marketing or business side raise a flag regarding performance. Team members from all areas of the company are reassured to know that, when something comes up, thanks to New Relic developers can quickly identify and address the problem.

For example, ‘A browser issue on IE9 was blocking users from clicking the checkout button’, Ginda explains. ‘We noticed that in two weeks we had lost a significant amount in conversions’. When the team checked New Relic, the JavaScript error responsible for the trouble was quickly found and fixed. ‘New Relic Browser is great for visualisation’, adds Ginda. ‘It really helps you find the needle in the haystack in terms of troubleshooting’.

‘New Relic really helps you find the needle in the haystack in terms of troubleshooting’.

Robert Ginda Head of Online Shops, Planet Sports

Opening new lines of communication

But it’s New Relic Insights that really brings it all together for the Planet Sports team. Providing a single, clear access point to all the transaction data generated, the Insights dashboards represent a kind of master document, updated in real time. ‘Management loves New Relic Insights’, says Ginda. ‘The information is just so easy to read and understand’. Totally customizable, the dashboards can be adapted to display a diverse array of variables, from KPIs to revenue to frontend errors.

For Planet Sports, embracing monitoring and transparency has enhanced levels of trust between teams. The ability to visualise, analyse, and solve problems quickly has opened new lines of communication and started new, positive conversations. The company is also making ‘consistent savings’ now that it is better able to optimise the customer experience.

More monitoring, less stress

For Ginda, Rossinsky, and their colleagues in development, life is less stressful, too. ‘We can release new products now with a higher degree of confidence’, says Ginda. ‘We include a performance check in our development and deployment process, which ensures our expected SLAs for things like page speed and feature performance’. Most important, ‘We’re able to identify issues before deploying because our setup allows us to monitor our new changes on our development and stage environments’.

With New Relic now a permanent and valued part of the Planet Sports toolkit, the team plans to expand their use of the platform. ‘We’re looking to cover our whole stack and all other websites under the 21sportsgroup using New Relic APM, Browser, and Insights’, says Ginda.

New SLAs for all website environments are in the pipeline. There are plans to begin monitoring ERP and back-office systems as well, as Planet Sports works to hold its in-house operations to the same high standards that this action-friendly company presents to its customers.