November 30, 2009    /    by

Web Sites Struggle on Black Friday: Cyber Monday is Next

 Technology directors around the nation were watching the weekend news very closely for events regarding online sales on Black Friday (the ...

 Technology directors around the nation were watching the weekend news very closely for events regarding online sales on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). No, I'm not referring to economic activity or potential impact on our nation's economy. After the troubles experienced by Walmart and others in 2008, many stores offered more doorbuster deals online.  

 The initial news was mixed, but bad for some portals. Here are a few related stories:

On Black Friday Leading Retail Web Sites Slow Way Down, Reports Keynote Systems

Staples Down on Black Friday

Yes, it's been a rough weekend for some of the leading retail web portals, and public sector infrastructure professionals, as well as other technology staff, should pay close attention. This issue absolutely impacts everyone who uses the Internet, whether in the public or private sector.

 Beyond up or down status and overall slowness for major websites, more serious issues surfaced for some. Here's a comment regarding Staples online portal (from the article above).

"AJ says:

November 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I ordered one of the BF $399 HP laptop from their website this morning. I got through checkout, completed the transaction (the credit card was processed), got an order # showing the HP laptop, and 3.5 hours later I got an Email saying that my order was canceled because they were out of stock.

Thank you for choosing Staples. We apologize for the inconvenience but the following product you were trying to order is sold out.

832349 HP DV6-1334US LAPTOP

This was part of our Thanksgiving Holiday 2009 Early Bird Specials and is subject to the following conditions:
* While Supplies Last.
* Unable to Back Order, as this product will not be re-stocked.
* Unable to provide comparable product at special pricing." 

 This same exact problem happened to me at the Staples website on Friday morning when I was ordering a product.

Why is this so significant? Because they actually took orders during the "doorbuster" hours, and they were unable to fulfill those orders - despite taking credit cards and sending confirmation emails. Customers who called with questions faced a long wait at call center help lines.

 In "geek speak," they were taking order via batch processing without the real-time processing of those orders based upon inventory. Customers assumed that the laptop deals were being processed and shipped, only to receive disappointing emails later in the afternoon. Clearly, their infrastructure or end-to-end process couldn't handle the load.

 The lessons here are numerous. I am sure that web "experts" tested these portal sites and associated software many times prior to Black Friday, and yet they failed. These errors will cost retailers significant dollars as well as hurt customer trust.

 The closest thing to Black Friday in the public sector may be tax day on April 15. When I was the senior technology executive for the initial www.Michigan.gov launch back in 2001, we faced huge surges in web usuage on tax day.

 And now, retailors (and government networks) face Cyber Monday. I expect that "door buster" deals will continue to create problems for web portals, as long as deals are limited by time or number of available items. Public sector technology officials need to take note as they offer online services.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Any Black Friday stories to share?