Friday, December 5, 2008

“80% of success is just showing up”

Online retailers looking to make headway this holiday season should listen to Woody Allen.

Cyber Monday sales may have been up this year, but many retailers fell short of its true potential due to Web site issues, including major system slowdowns, that discouraged shoppers from spending.

Dell, Victoria’s Secret and Williams-Sonoma are among the retailers that experienced site issues during Cyber Monday, causing them to lose sales opportunities and frustrate shoppers, according to Lexington, Mass.-based Gomez, Inc., whose services test and monitor the performance of Web sites.

Gomez reported shopping-cart page malfunctions on the Victoria’s Secret site, payment-page delays on Williams-Sonoma’s site, and account-information errors at (Read the report here.) Some companies had problems even earlier than Cyber Monday: was running far slower than normal during Thanksgiving Day weekend, while J. Crew, Bloomingdales, Sears and Costco experienced site-availability problems.

Although Costco did not experience site issues on Cyber Monday, I was disheartened to hear it had any problems over the weekend. I thought it would have worked out its kinks from last year by now. On Cyber Monday 2007, the site’s overall response time slowed nine to 10 times compared to its normal levels, Matt Poepsel, VP of performance strategies for Gomez, told me last year.

Critical errors like this should be top-of-mind for online retailers this season, and all-year round. Research has shown that few online shoppers are willing to wait more than six seconds for a site to download and, at times, Costco’s site was significantly slower than this on Cyber Monday last year.

Sites that experience any issue during this critical time should make sure it doesn't happen again. Companies need to test critical e-commerce platforms early, often and from the end-user’s point of view, in order to be up for the task each holiday season. The country’s top retailers are hardly immune to site-performance issues, and it’s unfortunate that its costing them significant sales each year when they can be easily prevented.

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