What You Can Learn From Target's Site Crash
When Target made headlines with the launch of its limited partnership with designer Missoni, it probably didn’t expect demand for the fashion line to crash its website. While we usually hear about retail website crashes on or near Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Target’s recent site outage is remarkable for its atypical timing, severity and length.
Careful investigation into the origins and impact of the incident reveal important lessons for all online retailers. Ultimately, failing to prepare for an incident like this isn't an option for merchants striving for success in today’s connected consumer market.
Keynote Systems’ measurements of Target’s website indicated that traffic began overwhelming the retailer's site around 8:00 a.m. EDT. The intense wave of traffic initially resulted in server errors. Target's operations team quickly responded by serving friendly error messages around 8:14 a.m. After that, only about 7 percent of visitors were able to successfully reach Target's homepage throughout the remainder of the day. “Fail puppy” error pages were still being measured by Keynote well into the following day.
Credit Target's marketing and merchandising teams for generating the hype that drove the demand for Misonni. Were their efforts wasted when Target.com went sideways for two days? A better question might be, what damage was done on sales as a whole during that time?
What drives the financial impact of a site outage is abandonment. It’s important to understand that website problems visitors experience won’t exactly result in lost revenue. It's only when those visitors don’t return that revenue is lost. In web load testing parlance, a shopper’s tolerance for errors is called “tenacity.” Low-tenacity shoppers bail from slow searches and abandon shopping carts in a dash. Missoni brandistas, however, were very high-tenacity shoppers. They kept trying to buy despite the errors, which also likely contributed to the outage’s long duration.