Despite retailers having all year to prepare for the deluge of online shoppers on Thanksgiving weekend, some of the industry’s biggest players experienced web site outages throughout the weekend. Shoppers at Walmart, J.Crew, GameStop, lululemon, Ulta Beauty, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Office Depot all reported outages during the period between Wednesday and Cyber Monday, and these unhappy would-be buyers wasted no time highlighting the issues on social media.
Walmart’s issues occurred as early as Wednesday, Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving. Various shoppers reportedly saw error pages when browsing Walmart.com at approximately 10 pm ET, according to downdetector.com. The technical issues affected an estimated 3.6 million shoppers and cost the retailer an estimated $9 million in lost sales, according to analysis from retail aggregate LovetheSales.com.
Multiple Causes For Site Performance Failures
“High demand” is seen as the most obvious problem plaguing retailers with e-Commerce site issues, yet they still have a tough time figuring out how to solve for these problems. Any online traffic issues were likely rooted in lacking the infrastructure to handle the traffic, Bob Buffone, CTO at web optimization software company Yottaa told Business Insider. "If you have not load tested your site at 5X normal traffic volumes, your site will probably fail."
These outages also can result from overburdened APIs, slow third-party technology integrations, sites heavy with graphics or a failure to look at regional performance levels.
Given Amazon’s site outages on Prime Day, it’s clear that even the biggest e-Commerce retailers don’t always handle excess traffic well. Amazon navigated the situation relatively well, showcasing dogs on the error pages on the way to generating 89% more sales in the first 12 hours of the event.
Throughout Black Friday weekend, the affected retailers weren’t as creative as Amazon was when it had its gaffe. Additionally, their outages occurred at a worse time — when shoppers are actively looking to shop in more than one location.
In one example, J.Crew’s web site crashed on Black Friday, potentially impacting 323,000 shoppers and costing the company $775,000 in sales, according to retail aggregator LovetheSales.com. The snafu occurred periodically across five hours, showing shoppers a “Hang on a Sec” screen and keeping them from signing into the site and completing orders.
Lowe’s experienced similar technical problems on Black Friday, greeting online shoppers with a message that said the web site was "down for maintenance." Already playing second fiddle to top competitor The Home Depot, Lowe’s can ill afford to drive more shoppers in its direction.
Lululemon's web site crashed soon after the company kicked off its Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving morning, and later in the day, Ulta's site crashed because of high traffic.
Though all of these issues were eventually resolved, the actual and potential sales losses provide a lesson to retailers about the vital importance of pre-testing their sites’ bandwidth.