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11.11, or Double Eleven, or Global Shopping Festival: view from the payments side

It seems there are not so many online shoppers nowadays that are completely unaware of the havoc that November 11 wreaks. And yet I personally know the guy who invented Global Shopping Festival just a while ago, at least the English brand of which is known as the Chinese Singles Day. It used to be a huge sale on the Alibaba e-commerce websites at first, then AliExpress supported it worldwide, and now any internet store or a marketplace anywhere in the world can hop that wagon.

2018 promos for Russia from local and Chinese marketplaces

Global Shopping Festival, or Singles Day, or simply Double Eleven is hosted by the Chinese-operated marketplaces like AliExpress, JD, Shein, and also local — in Russia local stores are also in tune, but prefer to extend the sale to several days while still hitting November 11. And believe it or not, in Russia it is way bigger than Black Friday.

While you are concentrating on getting your shopping cart full and ready, gathering coupons, hundreds of businesses all around the world also work really hard to be ready for your payment.

Who are those businesses? Well, in every country online stores and marketplaces partner with a variety of financial companies. Those are banks, payment aggregators, e-money operators, cash operators, mobile operators, etc. Behind a payment method button there is another business. Or multiple.

Let’s take Russia and a bank card payment, as an example. How many businesses are involved in a simple bank card payment on the online store? For you the payment is as easy as to enter the card data, get confirmation code by text message from your bank, that’s it. But from the business side of view, things are… well, a bit more complicated. Your payment request is actually going to:

(1) payment aggregator or facilitator — licensed financial organisation, your store’s partner (most likely they have such partnership);

(2) facilitator will forward your payment request to the acquiring bank — the bank which will be handing the payment request for your card;

(3) acquiring bank will send it to NSPK, which in Russia is the governmental system that is linked with Visa and MasterCard payment schemes, and also runs a local Russian scheme MIR;

(4) NSPK system will send it to the payment scheme — Visa or MasterCard;

(5) Visa and MasterCard will send it to the bank issuer, it is the bank that issued you this card;

(6) if settings request so, your bank will ask mobile operator to send you a confirmation code via text message.

And if everything is fine and confirmed, the information about success will go backwards through the same chain all the way to the store.

card payment process in Russia, schematically

6 steps one way, and 5 the other. For these 11 times something can go terribly wrong. And that is not counting the fact that the card payment is not a single request, but double request process — first for authorisation, blocking the funds, and second — actual withdrawal. Each of those request will go through this chain of different system links.

Each of the businesses involved has its own technical capacity, its weak points, bugs and abilities to restore themselves. This payment process chain capacity is measured in the number of transactions per second (TPS). How many transactions per second each of the systems can withstand, and how many of them the whole chain can do, given the weaker links.

What can go wrong when there are millions of shoppers that decided to pay altogether exactly at 11.01 am? :) Let me proceed with the same example:

— the acquiring bank system can go down under the high load tens of times bigger than usual;

— the issuing bank system can decide it is under malicious attack;

— both banks can behave normally but the systems connecting them and every other bank in Russia with Visa and MasterCard can have problems;

— finally, mobile operators can be stunned, and the confirmation code will be delivered way too late;

— and many other things.

Just like everywhere in the world, on November 11th Russian payment industry experience tremendous pressure while supporting online stores’ big sale. The sudden change in usual flow can be dozens the amount they usually take any other day. We at Yandex.Checkout have seen the fall of the largest CIS banks, their processing system going down under the DDOS of the payment requests, not able to get up, because people kept trying to repeat the failed attempt again, and again, and again. We have seen how Moscow and St Petersburg went to sleep, but Far East woke up, initiating another wave.

the sale of the year, annual view

Usually, the preparation towards the Sale starts in September. Every payment partner checks and re-checks all their systems, tests the transactional bandwidth, tries to fail themselves, find bugs, fix bugs. In some cases the stress testing is done together with the online store. In such case the online store shoots payment requests, increasing their number, to the partner, while measuring the health metrics. Tests can be done several times until all failures disappear.

In November, about 2 weeks before Double Eleven, some online stores will freeze their tech development to not have the current system settings changed by mere chance or mistake. Payment partners do exactly the same a couple of days before the day. They also choose people among top and mid management that will be accessible 24 hours to help solve any problems. The live stats dashboards are being prepared, champaign chilled in the fridge, and some good night sleep taken.

11/11 in payments, schematically

Thanks to Global Shopping Festival the payment businesses, banks, mobile operators, postal ad courier services in Russia, and everywhere else, each year withstand millions of sale purchases. Each year there are less mistakes and failures in processing and the parcel delivery gets faster. Because of the Festival, the industries learn to work better, impacting the whole e-commerce and its growth.

With years passing by, the Sale payment process monitoring gets more and more boring — and that is a good thing. Happy shopping!


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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina



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21 Jan 2019



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