• United States



by Jon Surmacz

The Glitch That Stole Christmas

Dec 16, 20043 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Now in the home stretch of the holiday shopping season, its time for the marketers to ratchet up their campaigns and squeeze out those last-minute sales. Its time for IT to keep those Web servers humming as shoppers go online to take advantage of offers that are too good to pass up. And its time for the inevitable glitches that are certain to sabotage many Web purchases.

After several years of growth in online shopping, its no great surprise that Keynote Systems reported that the day after Thanksgiving (nicknamed Black Friday because it has the ability to turn red ink to black) saw widespread degradation in the performance of many retail websites. Response times from Keynotes sample of 40 leading retail websites increased from an average of 14 seconds per transaction to 21 seconds per transaction (on a 56K dial-up connection). And the success rate of completing an online transaction on Black Friday dropped from an average of 97 percent to 80 percent bad news for online retailers. Despite Forrester Researchs prediction that online retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas will climb 20 this year (from $11 billion to $13.2 billion), glitches like those will cost money.

David Fry, whose company Fry, Inc., runs K-marts website, which has experienced some performance issues of its own this year, says that even at this point in the evolution of online shopping, many companies fail to consider the likelihood that shoppers will deviate from their typical online buying patterns during the holiday season.

Vadim Mazzo, CTO of Dotcom Monitor, a company that monitors website performance, agrees. But Mazzo reminds us that performance is an issue that companies must be aware of at all times, not just during the holiday rush. Do they want to keep their customers or not? Mazzo asks. If customers have to sit and wait for a page to load, they will seek an alternative.

Mazzo recommends that any time the marketing group runs a major promotion, IT be involved in the planning, to ensure that any anticipated bump in website traffic can be handled without incident. He notes that some companies, like Sony, are taking measures to ease the stress on their Web servers by offering discounts to those who shop during off-peak hours.

Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, a Chicago-based online retail consultancy, says that almost all holiday marketing initiatives, from free shipping to printable gift certificates, require serious involvement from IT, and the more closely marketing and IT work together, the more likely their success.

This time of year, she says, the mistakes are much more costly.