For most retailers, there are few days more important during the year than Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. While most of the attention is on the doorbusting sales and deals being offered at store locations, online shopping is quickly replacing the tradition of lining up hours before opening. In 2017, the number of people visiting actual stores declined slightly, but online sales rose significantly, helping contribute to a record $7.9 billion in sales over the four day weekend. With companies looking to bookend the holiday weekend with Cyber Monday promotions, it’s safe to assume that 2018’s figures will be even higher.
Of course, with all the increased web traffic, many companies are struggling to keep up with heavy demand. Black Friday and Cyber Monday is more than just a “make or break” period for retailers financially; even a few seconds of downtime could cause massive brand damage in the eyes of frustrated customers. That’s because downtime doesn’t just affect existing customers. When a website gives shoppers difficulties, they broadcast their frustrations across social media, which can turn a minor issue affecting only a few hundred customers into a huge story read by millions. In terms of brand reputation, it doesn’t matter that the site was down for only a few minutes when millions of people are sharing angry posts from frustrated customers.
Despite these high stakes, every year sees at least a handful of companies who encounter network difficulties. Here are a few notable examples from recent years:
The only thing worse than experiencing a Black Friday outage is experiencing them in consecutive years, especially when it happens to a company that’s been struggling to regain consumer confidence and reverse several years of financial losses. Macy’s 2016 outage lasted for all of Friday morning and into the afternoon, costing the company millions of dollars in sales. The company fared even worse in 2017, with its mobile app and website experiencing outages in addition to its credit card system going down in store locations across the country. Hopefully, Macy’s has learned from these problems and be better prepared for 2018.
While the home improvement giant may not be the first company that comes to mind in the world of online retailers, its Black Friday deals still draw a lot of consumer traffic. Last year, that traffic was a little more than its website could handle. Just before noon, the website went down and remained unavailable for about twenty minutes.
The British video game retailer GAME might seem like the sort of company that would be fully prepared to handle the influx of website traffic looking to capitalize on exclusive Black Friday deals. In 2017, however, that wasn’t the case. In fact, the website didn’t last more than a few seconds after its deals went live, causing a wave of angry gamers to voice their displeasure on Twitter.
After slipping by Black Friday without a hitch, J. Crew probably felt it had little to worry about on Cyber Monday. But when the apparel retailer slashed prices across its site by 40% on Monday and offered an additional 10% savings to anyone who checked out before noon, the influx of traffic quickly overwhelmed its website. The site remained down for over two hours, eventually forcing J. Crew to extend the sale until 3am Tuesday to save face with angry customers.
Unlike many brick-and-mortar retailers, Neiman Marcus is unusually dependent upon online sales, with about 25% of its revenue coming from its website. For a company still repairing its reputation following a 2013 data breach that exposed over 300,000 customers’ credit card information, one would expect that its network would be ready for anything. But after offering deals as much as 60% off, heavy traffic resulted in an outage around 8am that lasted until well past noon. While spokespersons for the company assured media outlets they were doing everything the could to get the site back up, many of the customers who moved on probably never returned.
Another victim of Cyber Monday, Target experienced traffic twice as high as its busiest day ever in 2015. The retailer fought sporadic outages throughout the day as the website struggled to keep pace with customer demand.
Experiencing problems with a retailer’s website is a minor inconvenience, but when a website that enables online payments to be processed goes down, the impact can be much greater. Although the payment processor site was only down briefly for 2015’s Cyber Monday, the outage led to many problems for companies that allowed customers to use PayPal to make purchases.
Record levels of website traffic left Best Buy’s network reeling throughout Black Friday weekend in 2014. Reports of the outages had a significant impact on the company’s stock prices, which rose almost a full point less than analysts predicted. Despite the difficulties, Best Buy’s online sales still increased by 16% over the previous year.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday upon retailers once again, customers are left hoping that their favorite companies will have learned the lessons from previous website crashes. Although it can be difficult to accommodate the massive increase in website traffic, the reality is that most companies get through the holiday weekend without incident. Still, every year seems to bring a few notable exceptions that draw major attention on social media. These Black Friday website crashes serve as a powerful reminder of the impact of system downtime.