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

November 27th, 2009

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. “ was unavailable early this morning prior to 6:00 to enable everyone to have a fair opportunity to access our Black Friday deals at the same time,” Crowley wrote. It was unclear why closing the rest of the Staples site—the parts housing offers that had nothing to do with Black Friday, such as the ones that populated the site on Wednesday (Nov. 25)—would have that effect. An E-mail reply request for clarification has yet to be answered.

The most significant outage seems to have been suffered by Kohl’s. Various services reported issues with the Kohl’s site, with outages greeting visitors throughout the day with a screen declaring “So sorry! Our team of elves is working hard to keep up with our holiday shoppers, but is not available at the moment. We’re working to get the site back up and running smoothly for you. Please check back shortly to shop our great holiday deals.” Kohl’s told reporters that the problems were due to heavy traffic.

Matt Poepsel, the vice president for performance strategies at site performance tracking firm Gomez, said his team saw Kohl’s experiencing “intermittent availability and slower response times” throughout the day, with page loads—excluding outages—almost three times slower than normal for the site, averaging “just more than six seconds.”

AlertBot’s Justin Noll said he believes that the Kohl’s problems started at around midnight and that the site was at fault.

“In my opinion, Kohl’s was not ready for Black Friday due to the performance problems that their users experienced around midnight as well as in the morning through the afternoon. Many of the tests that did pass during these times had response times between 5 and 30 seconds, when their normal response time is 400 to 500 milliseconds,” Noll said. “Many retailers will load test (send a bunch of fake traffic) their Web sites to get ready for Black Friday to ensure they can handle the sudden surge in traffic. Either Kohl’s received a lot more traffic then they expected or they didn’t do the load testing.”

Other than Kohl’s and a few others, Gomez’s Poepsel said most retail online “performances really held up pretty well” on Black Friday, with typically slower performers—including 1-800-Flowers and—still reporting very slow page loads. Although he saw a lot of traffic on Black Friday, Poepsel expects many more problems on the so called Cyber Monday (Nov. 30). Cyber Monday never has been the highest E-Commerce traffic day of the season—an honor that typically falls in mid-December for most chains—but Poepsel still expects to see problems. “Here in the United States, most people don’t usually think about holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving” and, given the overall distractions (many consumers not at their offices, relatives taking up far more time than they should, etc.), he thinks Monday will hit many sites hard.

Beyond the traffic incidents, there were a few problems reported with general site maintenance. Gareth Evans, the head of client services at Sitemorse, said his team spotted problems at both Sears and Nordstrom.

“ has a broken link trying to find an item and Nordstrom has a broken link to the page to pay their credit/debit card bill online,” Evans said. “It’s all about the fact that only monitoring availability and performance will be part of the story. Shipping a page with errors 100 percent of the time at great speed will still disappoint your potential clients if things then go wrong.”

Keynote, another Web monitoring company, detected eight major retailers suffering major slowdowns, including one that suffered a hard crash and one that “had a massive slowdown,” said Dan Berkowitz, Keynote’s senior director of communications.

Asked why Keynote—unlike other firms—wouldn’t identify the chains that they found to have problems, he said it was a change in policy. “We’re not being the Bad News Bears any more,” he said.

But he did do a little Bad News Bearing by saying that his team found significant problems with, a service that acts as a service to major retailers.


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!


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