The Foschini Group: video streaming and image analysis

The Challenge

Optimise image serving to ensure consistently high-class performance of multiple ecommerce sites

The Result

An image serving solution that is fully scalable, reliable and can respond instantaneously to increased demand

The Foschini Group (TFG) is a leading lifestyle retailer, with 29 retail brands, over 3 000 stores and 22 000 employees serving over eight-million customers worldwide.

Like all major retailers, TFG look to maximise digital sales by having a robust e-commerce platform that makes it as simple as possible for customers to purchase their products online. TFG’s My TFG World is a virtual marketplace that allows their account holders to view and purchase products across their multiple brands.

When Publisher’s Toolbox met with TFG, they highlighted image serving to their e-commerce websites as a burning issue.

“We had heard that we could really improve the performance of our websites with CDNs, and started talking to Publisher’s Toolbox to understand how they could assist us,” says Greg Walsh, TFG’s head of omni-channel systems. “We used to regularly have issues related to content being displayed that wasn’t optimised for delivery, resulting in slow page loading times. In an e-commerce environment, the faster your website, the more revenue you are able to gain as customers find what they want quickly and seamlessly.”

“We used to regularly have issues related to content being displayed that wasn’t optimised for delivery, resulting in slow page loading times”

- Greg Walsh, TFG head of omni-channel systems

To increase performance, TFG required an image serving solution that could serve millions of images daily while reducing image size. The solution needed to cater for large daily and seasonal fluctuations in traffic, due in part to the festive season, Black Friday and other national and international holidays, while also serving images internally – to their point of sale (POS) system for example.

Our Strategy

The entire solution was built on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Publisher’s Toolbox provided TFG with an S3 bucket (a cloud storage resource) in which to upload all their high-resolution images. We then implemented our proprietary image service, Imigino, which allows TFG’s platforms – websites, mobile app, POS, etc – to request images at exactly the required resolution.

Imigino then scales the hi-res image on-demand at the requested resolution and runs the image through a number of transformations to make the image size as small as possible before serving this optimised version through AWS’ global content delivery network (CDN) – Amazon CloudFront

What is Amazon CloudFront?
A fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency and high transfer speeds

These optimised image responses are then cached by the CDN for future requests. Typically the client can expect an optimised image which is visually indistinguishable from the original image, but smaller in size. The solution also prevents TFG from having to store images at various resolutions.

With every solution comes an inevitable teething period and although Imigino is elastic in nature and will scale out as demand increases, initially the scaling process was not fast enough to deal with increased loads. A CDN cache would be invalidated during a heavy traffic period, causing a stampede on TFG’s servers until the optimised image response was once again cached.

Imigino has now evolved to the point where it is almost infinitely scalable and can respond immediately to any traffic stampede through the use of cutting edge serverless technology.

Imigino delivers an optimised image which is indistinguishable from the original

The Outcome

Imigino now serves all the images on TFG’s e-commerce sites and internal systems, with the number of images served increasing systematically every month without any downtime.

1.3-billion

The number of optimised images Imigino served to TFG’s various platforms in November 2019

“Publisher’s Toolbox was great in the implementation phase, getting us up to speed efficiently and quickly,” says Walsh. “Now that we’re in ‘run mode’, we get quick turnaround and support anytime we have queries.”

On average Imigino serves 20-million images a day to TFG’s various platforms but has peaked at over 200-million images on Black Friday – retail’s single biggest day of the year.

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