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Site glitches mar start of online holiday shopping

By Heather Havenstein and Juan Carlos Perez
December 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Despite malfunctions on the Web sites of numerous top retailers, online shoppers spent 13% more during the four days after Thanksgiving than they did during the same period last year.

In fact, online shoppers spent $846 million last Monday alone -- making it the second-heaviest online shopping day in history, according to comScore Inc.

The Reston, Va.-based firm, which monitors the Web sites of 35 major retail companies, said that online sales on Cyber Monday -- the first Monday after Thanksgiving -- were 15% higher than they were last year.

Analysts said that post-Thanksgiving sales would likely have been even stronger had several companies -- including Sears, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue -- not been hit with Web site breakdowns.

For example, Keynote Systems Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based Web monitoring company, said was mostly unavailable on the day after Thanksgiving between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, and again between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Sears acknowledged that its site was hit with "intermittent interruptions" on that day because of "higher-than-anticipated peak volumes." A spokesman said last week that the site was fully functional and that technicians were monitoring traffic volumes.

Shawn White, director of Keynote's external operations, said most of the problems that hit retailers affected online checkout processes, which may have caused some customers to leave sites because of delays in completing sales.

The problems were probably caused, at least partially, by a common oversight on the part of online retailers: load testing just the home page rather than the full online store, White said.

Testing of online stores is becoming even more critical for retailers as their Web sites become more complicated, said Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at Lexington, Mass.-based Gomez Inc., which monitors the Web sites of 25 top retailers.

He noted that most online stores are constantly adding more rich-media content, such as photos and videos, along with interactive capabilities. Adding to the complexity is a new generation of browsers that will require changes to retail Web sites, Mouline said.

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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