Sears.com to Customers: Please Try Back Later

Discussion
Dec 01, 2008

By
George Anderson

In
a case of what can go wrong, will go wrong, Sears found that its website
went down for a couple of hours at the start of the holiday shopping season.
According to the research firm Keynote Systems, Sears.com was down for
two hours on Black Friday.

Other
merchants, including Amazon.com, Kohl’s, Saks and Target, also experienced
some technical difficulties as sites slowed down a slight bit as consumer
traffic increased. Shawn White, director of external operations at Keynote
Systems, told The Associated Press, that transactions that took
25
seconds at Amazon and Target the week before took 40 seconds on Friday
morning.

Particularly
troubling for Sears is that this is the second straight year the retailer
saw its site come to a halt on Black Friday. Neiman Marcus, which also saw
its site go down last year, did not experience any such issues this year,
according to Keynote.

Keynote
tracks the performance of roughly 30 top retailers online with computers
in 10 major cities across the country taking measurements every 15 minutes.
The company is expecting more sites to slow down or crash today as shopper
traffic picks up on Cyber Monday.

Discussion
Questions: Are most consumers who shop online sensitive to the fact that
the higher numbers accessing websites during the holidays can slow down
or perhaps even crash retail sites? How big an issue is slow performance
or nonperformance when it comes to retaining customers online?

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19 Comments on "Sears.com to Customers: Please Try Back Later"


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Gene Detroyer
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

This one is easy. It is a BIG ISSUE! It means LOST SALES!

The sales are not only lost on the day the website is not functioning. But, e-shoppers will go to the sites with the best, fastest and most reliable service the next time. Online shopping is no longer an outlying channel for people to shop. Today, it is a critical retail channel and it will continue to get bigger, stronger and have a larger share of the retail dollar.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

With Sears, its probably not a big deal since consumers have low expectations of Sears anyway. With a higher volume competitor, it would be a more serious issue.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Consumers may be sensitive to the fact that some websites will be slower during a peak shopping period, but that’s no excuse for retailers not beefing up their site capabilities for the holidays. It’s just common sense.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Consumers expect that businesses are smart enough to know that there is likely to be extra traffic online during the holidays so will have prepared for it. When retailers advertise to draw people to the website they expect the site to work and assume that the retailer has prepared for heavy traffic.

Are consumers understanding and forgiving? Only if you are the only one with a deal on what they want to buy. If you are not the only one with the deal on what they want to buy, there is always another website that is working.

The ongoing disadvantage is that when people have trouble with a website, they often avoid going to the physical outlet as well. Hopefully the companies are prepared for Cyber Monday. If not, they could see decreased sales for the rest of the season as people avoid the online and physical sites for their stores.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
13 years 5 months ago
Consumers are not sensitive to this issue at all, if you mean are they willing to understand. At this stage of online e-commerce, consumers expect that sites will work properly, not be sluggish, and will offer the ease of shopping that is anticipated. If the site is down, consumers will simply go elsewhere. It is no different than when a consumer walks into a store, and the retailer does not have enough help because they did not anticipate a crowd of people. What do most consumers do? They either leave the line and shop elsewhere, or they will wait in line, slowly getting more angry, and swear that once this trip is completed, they will never shop the store again. Either way, the retailer loses the customer. The same is true for online stores. If the consumer has a bad experience, either due to the fact that the site is down, or the site is running so slow that the transactions are hindered, the consumer will find somewhere else to shop online. And specifically with… Read more »
Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Hard to believe that any retailer with a large online business could be unprepared in this day and age for the huge spike in traffic starting on Thursday and continuing at least through today. Sears was all over the airwaves telling people to shop online in order to take advantage of doorbusters before Friday, so poor execution is to be blamed here. It makes you wonder whether the failure to invest in Sears’ infrastructure over the past few years extends to information systems, not just to the brick-and-mortar stores.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
13 years 5 months ago

I think most people understand that servers get overloaded and can slow down or even crash. The stores should make every effort to educate people about this and tell them to try during non peak periods in order to spread out the orders.

That being said, you’re always going to lose a certain percentage of people who just get frustrated, leave and don’t come back to the site. I think this may hurt Sears more than other retailers, simply because people have little patience or interest in Sears these days.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 5 months ago

Second time in 2 years for Sears? Sounds like there may be another problem and it’s not IT related. If I was Sears, I would make it my personal priority that all sales channels are functioning and that we are prepared for business. I guess it’s hard looking for innovative and proactive solutions when you are looking for a life raft.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Consumers want what they want when they want it. Shut them out and you may never get a second bite at the apple.

James Tenser
Guest
13 years 5 months ago

Savvy online shoppers probably are aware that Web servers get clogged during certain peak traffic periods – like today, “Cyber Monday.” I’m noticing that some HTML emails from virtual stores aren’t downloading the image files this morning, no doubt due to traffic problems.

But many Sears shoppers are not so Web savvy. They may see a non-functioning Web store as a failure to serve, without understanding or caring about the reason. If Sears has had prior experience with site breakdowns, its IT people should have their feet held to the fire – but only if management has also done its job and provided appropriate resources to get the job done. Ultimately, this fish stinks from the head and the odor may keep frustrated shoppers from coming back for seconds.

Kunal Puri
Guest
Kunal Puri
13 years 5 months ago

I experienced something similar at Cross.com last year. They sent me an email indicating a restricted sale to valued customers and then their site didn’t work. When it did work, I placed an order and then was told via email that the site had malfunctioned and the product I selected was out of stock.

Anyone want to take a guess as to whether I will ever shop cross.com again? No prizes for the answer.

I am from the eCom side of retail and can understand these things happening. (I don’t condone them but can understand when they happen.) What’s unacceptable to me is how poorly it’s handled in the aftermath… how difficult/expensive would it be to have a CSR call the aggrieved customer and see what can be done to assist those who want to give their money to you?

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
13 years 5 months ago

Most consumers don’t have patience! To assume that consumers will be sympathetic to a slow or down website is to assume they will pay you more for your product because you deserve it! If you expect substantial sales from the internet, then you should have substantial speed. That simple. Once you lose a prospective sale, rarely will it return. Consumers avoid pain in the neck slow sites and rarely return.

Merilyn Dunn
Guest
Merilyn Dunn
13 years 5 months ago
Sears doesn’t value their customer’s time. On Black Friday, I visited my local Sears for a single item. When I went to pay for it, there were long lines of customers ahead of me at the two nearest pay stations and loads of sales clerks slowly puttering about, looking busy. Those excess sales clerks should have been commissioned to work the registers at a moment’s notice when traffic was heavy. Did Sears have extra registers in place for Black Friday? Has Sears ever considered self checkout and express registers? Sears was my final stop of the day and I left the store without my selection because I just didn’t have the patience to spend more time waiting to pay for a single item. Sears needs to step up to the plate if they want to remain in business. They compete for the same dollars as Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Best Buy, Circuit City, Home Depot, and Lowe’s and they’d better adopt the best practices of each and soon.
Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
13 years 5 months ago
I couldn’t agree more with the building consensus. While professionally I empathize with the reality of systems reliability, the fact is that online retailers MUST have adequately functioning systems. This was not the same as having slow check out lanes in brick and mortar stores. That would be what Target and others encountered….slowing down, latent responsiveness, etc. The entire site going down is comparable to a brick and mortar store having to close its doors for a period of several hours. No one, not a single analyst would describe that as “understandable” or put forward an explanation that consumers were supposed to somehow be sensitive to the technical difficulties of keeping the doors open. No….this is a fundamental baseline requirement of operating an online retail business. Redundancy, load peak planning and all the other stuff which has to be done to insure continuing operations cannot be ignored or underfunded. Period. The consumer? We don’t know the data, nor will we ever, I expect. Still, I believe that an enormous percentage of the consumers who attempted… Read more »
Eva A. May
Guest
Eva A. May
13 years 5 months ago

There’s no excuse for a sophisticated marketer to be unprepared for a predictable spike in online traffic. Dr Pepper is another marketer that blew what could have been a great promotion by not spending the extra dollars to accommodate a large bump in traffic. It’s not that expensive to increase a website’s bandwidth–and customers certainly are not tolerant (nor should they be) of companies that make it difficult to access their websites, especially during the final days before Christmas.

Barton A. Weitz
Guest
Barton A. Weitz
13 years 5 months ago

Most consumers realize that websites can go down or be slow at times. They have experienced these access problems occasionally with their home or work systems. However, there are adverse short- and long-term effects. In the short-term, the consumer will simple go to another website and, unless there is a compelling reason, will not return to the problematic site during the session. In the long-term, consumers will not patronize a site with repeated problems. While Sears has its problems, its Black Friday website incident is not earth shaking. Many retailers, even the master Amazon, had problems.

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
13 years 5 months ago

People may understand slowdowns or website crashes during Black Friday. However, the difference between standing in line at a store and being online is that other stores are available to you instantly, and the customer can find, in many cases, the same product at many different stores online. If you miss the opportunity to sell, you might not get it back. The next time that person wants to buy something, they may think of your store second or third instead of their first shop.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
13 years 5 months ago

Customers do realize that the internet is busier, but they will still get frustrated and move on to another site. The risk is that they will find something they like better on another site and the retailer will lose business as a result.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
13 years 5 months ago
Online shopping’s lure is all about convenience and avoiding hassles, not about tolerating poor experiences. Think about the last time you visited a store on Main Street that said “Back in 30 Minutes.” Did you stick around or go somewhere else? When we visit a store in person, there are so many factors that contribute to the experience. Were you greeted with a smile? Was the associate knowledgeable and helpful? Did the clerk ask if you found everything OK? Did you wait a reasonable time at the checkout? Beyond these aspects, we are influenced by appearances and other subjective factors. Did the associate look happy? Did the store manager appear to be enjoying their job? Did the store itself ‘look’ organized? If our personal “checklist” for a good customer experience isn’t met, we are likely to either abandon our visit or decide not to return if we do follow through with a purchase. There’s simply too much competition to tolerate poor service and other aspects of bad customer experiences. When shopping online our experience obviously… Read more »
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