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Black Friday Website Outages and How to Prevent Them

By: Kayla Matthews on November 25, 2019

Walmart, J. Crew and Best Buy represent a small sample of some of the top brands that experienced Black Friday website outages. The affected retailers often don't disclose the specifics about why those interruptions happen, but some people become so upset that they go to social media pages to complain.

Here are six things that could cause a website to go down and how brands can prevent these problems. 

1. Malware

Hackers may have tried to get off to an early start with wreaking Black Friday havoc at Macy's. The retailer confirmed that its e-commerce site got infected with malware that stole payment details. That news broke in late November, and the retailer is offering free credit monitoring to the affected users — which reportedly comprised a small group. 

The Macy's incident didn't bring the site down, but it could make people think twice about shopping online for Black Friday. In another recent incident that resulted in their website getting taken offline, Procter & Gamble discovered malware after a cybersecurity researcher alerted them to the problem. The brand removed the website after verifying the issue. 

An excellent preventive measure to take is to always keep e-commerce software updated. Once vendors spot issues that pose security threats, they release patches to address the problems. Using a malware scanner can also help e-commerce brands become aware of vulnerabilities and fix them.

2. Broken Plugins

Plugins can easily and quickly increase a website's functionality. They're especially popular with small businesses that may not have large tech teams to manage their e-commerce platforms. However, plugins typically come from third-party providers, and many of them don't provide regular updates. A malfunctioning plugin could disrupt parts of a site or make the entire website suddenly inaccessible, even to administrators. 

The best way to prevent problems with plugins is to watch for any strange site behavior immediately after installing a new plugin. Also, keep all plugins updated and consider no longer using the ones that don't get frequent updates. 

3.DDoS Attacks

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack happens when multiple compromised systems flood a site with traffic until that purposeful spike makes it go down.

Cybersecurity company Link11 performed a study to see how DDoS activity changed on Black Friday in 2018. The findings showed Black Friday caused a 70% increase in DDoS attacks on e-commerce providers, and there was a 109% increase for Cyber Monday compared to the November average. 

One option for preventing a DDoS takedown is to invest in infrastructure improvements that allow websites to sustain those ill-intentioned traffic boosts.

However, even making improvements may not stop DDoS attacks, especially since the cybercriminals that orchestrate them like to stay ahead of any steps their potential victims take. DDoS monitoring tools can help prevent issues, especially when IT teams have plans in place to respond to threats. 

4. A Lack of Testing That Mimics the Increased Demand

E-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores alike have a variety of techniques meant to appeal to users. Brands are already rolling out previews of their Black Friday deals, urging people to start planning what they want to buy.  Plus, Amazon has a partnership with American Express that lets people use their credit card reward points toward purchases at the e-commerce giant. 

In 2017, Debenhams, a retailer based in the United Kingdom, apparently didn't plan for the increased visitors Black Friday brought. Site visitors saw a message saying they were in a queue, and they'd be able to resume shopping after a countdown shown on their screen ran out of time. 

Although this issue didn't make the site entirely non-functional, it was disruptive. It's also understandable why such a delay would be exceptionally frustrating when people wanted to buy things that were only available in limited quantities.

If too many online shoppers go on a site simultaneously, the resultant downtime could get added to the list of infamous Black Friday website outages. Using cloud testing involves simulating excessive loads to see how websites and apps behave under extra stress. 

5. Inadequate Hosting Plans

If companies are starting in e-commerce or have opted for one of the most basic hosting packages their provider offers, they may not have enough bandwidth to accommodate the extra site visitors associated with Black Friday. 

That's especially likely if an e-commerce company is on a plan that requires sharing bandwidth with other customers. In that case, numerous websites use a single server. Then, if any of them experiences substantially more traffic, all the other sites sharing the server slow down and could crash. 

The ideal way to avoid this scenario is to upgrade an e-commerce site's hosting plan before Black Friday. A dedicated hosting plan means an e-commerce site owns its server, which may make site downtime less likely. 

6. Service Provider Failures

Black Friday website outages caused by service provider issues are undoubtedly frustrating, especially since the affected e-commerce sites can do little more than communicate with their chosen companies to determine the extent of the issue and the probable timeline for fixing it. One Amazon Web Services outage occurring in 2017 affected 54 of the top 100 e-commerce brands, though Amazon itself stayed up. 

The most appropriate preventive measure to take is to choose a reliable provider that has a high uptime guarantee. When selecting companies to assist with IT needs for Black Friday or otherwise, potential clients should take the time to explicitly ask what measures have been taken to make website issues less prominent. 

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