On Thursday,’s Check-Out Didn’t

Written by Evan Schuman
November 4th, 2009

Customers visiting the world’s largest retailer’s E-Commerce site last week were able to look but not buy, thanks to what Wal-Mart described as “some unexpected technical issues that resulted in intermittent availability of checkout.”

Wal-Mart’s statement confirming the incident was vague—even by Wal-Mart standards—and spokesperson Ravi Jariwala declined to elaborate, saying “At this point, we’ve shared all the information we have to offer.” Unknown details include when the glitch started, when it stopped, the nature of the problem and how many people were impacted.

The statement in totality read: “We experienced some unexpected technical issues that resulted in intermittent availability of checkout. We were able to resolve the matter, and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our customers.” The only hint we have about the it’s timing of the glitch is that Reuters reported on the glitch on October 29 and, at that time, Wal-Mart’s statement was slightly different: “We’ve experienced some unexpected technical issues that have resulted in intermittent availability of checkout for a limited number of customers. We’re working to quickly resolve the matter.”

The Reuters story described the glitch by saying: “Customers who are affected by the glitch can browse and add items to a virtual shopping cart. But when they click on the cart to check out, the website Web site says the cart is empty and no purchase can be made.”

One industry observer took particular note of the Wal-Mart original reference to “a limited number of customers.” Gareth Evans, the head of client services at Web tracking firm Sitemorse, questioned how “limited” the number could be, given the response.

“You have to question how intermittent it was for Reuters to have found out about it. How many people have to have the problem before someone decides they’ll report and Reuters gets to know about it?” Evans asked. “Equally true for Wal-Mart to have identified the problem and be working on a resolution. Enough people must have had the problem before someone could be bothered to report the problem to Wal-Mart. It isn’t the norm for someone to have a problem on a site and report it. They just tend to go elsewhere. So I’m always skeptical about phrases like ‘a limited number of people.'”


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