When Target announced that it was offering some low-cost outfits from designer Missoni, which usually offers creations that cost hundreds of dollars, it apparently wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of interest as the web site crashed under the pressure, and was out most of the day on Tuesday, according a story in the New York Times.
It’s another story of retail sites failing to anticipate increased demand (or having a backup plan in place when it happens). In today’s world where you can have virtual servers ready to handle the extra demand (or at least you should), it seems there is little excuse for letting something like this happen.
We reported earlier this month about how HP’s TouchPad fire sale brought the HP ecommerce site to its knees. They were selling items that were originally $500 for $99. They might have anticipated that the demand would have an impact on the servers and set up extras as a contingency, but they didn’t.
Missoni is a high-end Italian designer who made a deal with Target to sell a line of clothing including a $40 skirt. The demand was so high, the New York Times article reported, that the amount of traffic was higher than Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when most retail sites offer huge discounts on popular items.
Dan Berkowitz, a spokesperson for Keynote Systems says the take-away is that you don’t just slammed on the holidays. You have to be prepared for traffic spikes every day. “Realistic and real world load testing that takes into account arrival rates, tenacity and more is what’s required. Load testing is NOT just for the holiday season,” he said.
And Target paid a price for its lack of foresight as frustrated shoppers vented on social networks letting the world know about its failure to think ahead, and that’s something you have to consider these days.
When you screw up, you not only lose reputation with your regular shoppers, but people who might not have even heard about this special sale, hear about from friends and contacts on social network, causing a ripple effect in terms of repuation damage.
Interestingly enough, the NYT article reports that Target only recently gave up Amazon Web Services in order to run its own servers. Well, Amazon would have actually helped them in this instance by scaling up to the demand if they had asked for it. As it is, the new data center managers should be embarrassed at failing to anticipate this need.
If you run a retail web site like Target, your job is to make sure the site is running optimally and that there is enough server capacity to handle whatever demand comes along. The new server team failed in this regard and the end result was the entire site was down for the better part of a day.