Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Staples Start The Black Friday Crashes

Written by Evan Schuman and Fred J. Aun
November 27th, 2009

Black Friday’s largest E-tailers kept their pages loading nicely, for the most part, early on Friday (Nov. 27), with only a few chains—specifically Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Staples, Toys”R”Us, Sears, Home Depot, Victoria’s Secret and Meijer—stumbling.

AlertBot reported that Home Depot crashed for one hour and seven minutes, ending at 5:09 AM New York time, but seemed to remain stable come daybreak. This timing raised the question of whether it was merely some last minute site fixes. AlertBot also reported that the Lowe’s site was down for about seven minutes, ending at 2:39 PM New York time. Although the site did return, its page loads were quite slow. experienced neither outages nor severe page load slowdowns but shopping cart glitches, such as consumers placing items in their cart at one price and then finding the price had changed upon checkout. “Some people have been placing their orders and then they don’t get their confirmation E-mails,” said one customer representative at, who asked that her name not be used. Customer service reps said they had been unable to get into the Web site’s backend systems much of the day. “The site’s been throwing out a lot of glitches,” said the Sears representative.

Site traffic monitoring service Sitemorse reported that Toys”R”Us went down at about 11:07 AM New York time on Friday for 17 minutes, while Pingdom and AlertBot detected several issues with Meijer. Pingdom reported that Meijer suffered a 22-minute outage ending at 1:14 AM, a 20-minute outage ending at 2:04 AM and a 33-minute outage ending at 2:39 AM (all New York time).

AlertBot reported Meijer’s first outage lasted 37 minutes, ending at 1:37 AM (New York time), with a second lasting 53 minutes, ending at 2:38 AM. The only cause that AlertBot reported was a generic “HTTP500 Server Script” error, which could include a wide range of server-side issues.

AlertBot also detected a 19-minute outage at Victoria’s Secret’s site, ending at 5:32 AM (New York time) on Friday.

The most significant initial glitches of Black Friday seemed to be owned by Staples and Kohl’s, though. Staples was down much of the morning, displaying a screen that said “Oops, you’re too early. will be unavailable until 6 AM ET. Come back then and save big!”

That clearly seemed to be a deliberate shutdown, but the site went down again throughout much of the day, bizarrely displaying the same “come back after 6 AM” screen, although the 6:00 AM time had come and gone. In fact, the screen was seen in mid-afternoon and, when the site was up, page loads were quite slow.

Setting aside the post-6:00 AM glitches—which were clearly unintentional—the strategy of bringing the entire Staples site down is intriguing. Why cut off access to the entire site? Why not simply leave the site up—allowing routine sales to be processed—while keeping the Black Friday specials offline until the 6:00 AM witching hour?

Assuming it was indeed intentional—ignoring the deliciously cynical interpretation that the site had actually crashed and that the 6:00 AM slides were impromptu creations to make it look planned—the move was likely done with the idea of creating drama and suspense around Staples’ Black Friday activities, akin to what Apple does before select product launches.

But Apple—and perhaps Amazon—is a special case; it has consumers who are unusually brand-loyal. A consumer trying to visit on an iPhone or iMac who encounters an issue is likely to return to the site in a few hours rather than visit via BlackBerry or check out Dell’s site. But consumers are rarely so loyal with other retail chains. It seems an unusual move. Then again, between midnight and 6:00 AM on Black Friday, it’s not clear that there would have been a huge number of consumers around to alienate, so it might prove to be a wash.

Staples Spokesperson Mark Crowley E-mailed a response to questions about the site staying closed until 6:00 AM, although it wasn’t overly explanatory.


2 Comments | Read Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Staples Start The Black Friday Crashes

  1. Frustrated Would-Be Customer Says:

    This article completely missed another site that’s been down since early Friday morning: There have been scattered reports of people through to the page early Sunday morning, but for most people, the site has been completely unavailable. There are also reports from people who did not receive confirmation emails for orders placed shortly before the outage.

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    Editor’s Note: I’m not so sure that it’s fair to say that we missed it as much as it fell below our target criteria. We based that report on a list of more than 100 retail chains that we track. The criteria is varied but Jo-Ann is not one that we currently track that closely. Clearly, there was tons of retailers that had issues on Friday, but we focused on the most well-known chains where we could confirm incidents.
    That said, Jo-Ann operates in some 47 states in the U.S. and had almost $2 billion in annual revenue (and about 758 stores) so it might be a chain we should be watching more carefully. Thanks for the comment!


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.