I went food shopping today prior to the Easter rush. For some reason, most of the stores here close down for the 5 day Easter period and only open for a tiny few hours 1 day in the middle of it.
Due to the apparent scarcity of food (seriously, looking at the shoppers in action I thought that the stuff was going to run out forever) there were rather long queues in the store.
As seems to be par for the course in my local food store, they had only one cashier till open (out of 3) and the queue was already starting to wind its way down the aisle like a drunken snake.
For some odd reason, I started thinking about web services as I was standing there with the shoulders being ripped off of my by two heavily overburdened baskets.
As my nasal passages were being assaulted by the hum of an old guy standing in front of me who obviously believed that all pants were diapers, it became apparent to me that the shop was like a web service that lacked the ability to (or was simply refusing to for economic reasons) scale.
When you’re standing twenty deep in a queue and there is only one cash register operating it becomes increasingly tempting to simply abandon your basket or trolley and head off to another store where your purchases may be expedited that little bit quicker.
You see, the cost of the goods in my shopping basket is not just the amount of cash that I hand over at the register.
The cost is also very much based on how long it takes me to get in and out of the shop.
If the queues are ridiculously long (like today) and it takes an extra 15 or twenty minutes to get out, then you have to start questioning what your time is worth.
10 extra minutes a week for 52 weeks starts to add up. It’s 520 minutes or 7 hours of your time. How much money could you earn in 7 hours?
Now, for brick and mortar stores you can get away with not opening that extra register to some extent, as it may actually require more time for someone to travel to the next store than they would loose just by standing in line like sheep being herded in to be sheared.
Yet in the online world, the inability or unwillingness to scale can be a death blow to a budding service.
All users online are customers. You may not be selling a service but you are putting your content out there to be consumed and they in turn pay for it with their attention and by spreading the word.
However, the customers online are not hindered by driving times to and from stores and they have no inclination to stand on ceremony waiting for you to be ready to deal with them.
If your service can’t scale (or won’t) and customers find themselves with excessive downtime, or simply that things take to long to “get done” then you’ll find yourself in a situation where they drop their baskets, push their trolleys to one side and spend their money (or attention) elsewhere.
(Actually thinking about it, it also applies to blogs and any type of website in the sense that if things take too long to load then people will move on.)
The simple point here is that if you have a service you need to be able to cope with the volume of customers (be they monetary of attention based) that you will receive.
In order to do this scalability of a service has to be factored in from day one.
There’s no point in having 3 registers and only 1 person to man them and there’s no value in losing customers to a competitor because you refuse to hire an extra cashier.