Black Friday #fail - retailers' online channels crumble under the pressure

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez November 27, 2014
Whilst the likes of Amazon seem to be doing just fine, some retailers are suffering on all fronts – online, mobile sites and their applications. Oops!

In the lead up to Black Friday, us technology journalists are hounded by vendors and their representatives with press releases about how retailers should be managing their online channels in the lead up to the shopping frenzy. And over the past few days I have complained about it heavily, viewing it as both a bit dramatic and opportunistic.

For some reason I just assumed that retailers would be prepared for all of the crazed shoppers marching to their websites, mobile sites and applications – and that they would have made allowances for an increase in demand. After all, it is the retailers themselves that have been heavily pushing the offers and asking consumers to come and shop with them. Burst capacity anyone?

Oh how wrong I was. Today when I decided to take a look myself at some of the offers available, and I couldn't believe how poorly some of the retailers have coped under the pressure. Whilst the likes of Amazon are managing incredibly well – as one would expect – other retailers including Argos, Currys, Tesco and the Arcadia Group have had an absolute Black Friday #fail.

Currys is my favourite example, so I'll lead with that. With huge price drops for technology goods, Currys was always going to be a popular one. I would love to reference an example of an extremely cheap product being offered by the company in this paragraph, but as I am still yet to get on to their website.

So this morning I attempted to go onto the Currys main website on my laptop and I was presented with this screen:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.33.19

That's right! I am in a queue! A 30 minute queue at that. I genuinely could not believe it. Isn't the beauty of internet shopping that you don't have to spend all your time waiting in line? Not according to Currys – instead of preparing for the busy period with extra capacity and a by building a resilient website, its answer to the Black Friday problem appears to be implementing a queuing system.

It gets better. I left myself virtually standing in the queue and decided to try and browse some of the other retailers out there and come back to Currys later, figuring that once my 30 minute wait was up I'd have full access. Apparently not. I went back to my Currys tab after about 45 minutes ready to browse and I was presented with this new screen:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.41.45

Can you believe it? So because I wasn't ready to browse as soon as I reached the front of the queue, I've now been shoved to the back of the line again! This is an online retailer basically using its website less effectively than it would a bricks and mortar store. At least in a shop I could yell at a customer service assistant if I got unfairly booted to the back of the line; online I'm left yelling at my computer screen, which is far less satisfying.

I don't know if anyone at Currys understands how the internet works, but the beauty of it is that there is a wonderful supply of compute power, storage and resources to stand up a website to incredible amounts of pressure. Especially when that pressure is very much expected.

But I suppose at least Currys have a system in place. They've got a plan. That's more than can be said for the likes of Argos and Tescos – both popular online sites for consumers.

For example, the Argos website was presenting me with this today:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.34.45

The app appears to be suffering too, with it struggling to load:

argos loading

And then when it does load, and I've found an item I want to buy, I'm basically told that it has no idea whether there is any stock available:

Argos stock

Then there's Tesco, which presented me with this helpful screen (keep trying Tesco!):

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.34.30

And let's not forget the Arcadia Group, which is the umbrella company for popular brands including Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge. All of which, of course, are down:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.34.10

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.58.19

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 14.00.35

My take

#fail #fail #fail

Happy (attempts at) shopping!

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