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Christmas Cheer The Almighty Buck Businesses The Internet IT

Which E-Commerce System Will Fail This Season? 63

Esther Schindler writes "Every year, there's some retailer whose e-commerce or supply chain fails. And it's a big deal, since the holiday shopping season can make or break their year. The IT challenge encompasses everything from server scalability to supply chain management to search engine optimization to database cajoling to business integration to... well, come to think of it, just about everything. To explore this, CIO.com has a big package of articles examining "Black Friday" and its implications, entitled E-Commerce and Supply Chain Systems Gird for Black Friday. Topics covered include online shopping and holiday IT failures. Despite all this—and at least ten years of industry experience in e-commerce sales—we all just know that someone will make yet another big mistake. I wonder who it'll be this year?"
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Which E-Commerce System Will Fail This Season?

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  • D-Store (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) * on Saturday November 17, 2007 @06:33PM (#21392931) Journal
    I remember when D-Store learned that lesson in Australia (I was uncomfortably close to it). The web site was fine, but watching the supply chain dissolve as the bright hopes lost their grip was a nasty dose of reality. Some say the dot-bomb started then.

    Gartner has a nice looking curve they use for technology take-up, looks like kind of a dampened sine wave.

  • E-commerce Angle?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @06:42PM (#21392995) Homepage
    Ok, I have skimmed TFA. Near as I can tell half of the examples don't really have much to do with e-commerce. Planes canceled by weather? That really has little to do with the 'net. Short stock in stores? Again, that's just good or bad luck or planning, not something that really is related to e-commerce. And mistakes that go back to 1999 really aren't that relevant - that' s ancient history in terms of e-commerce.

    Really, this article has only a tenuous link to e-commerce.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Cally ( 10873 )
      A slightly less tenuous link: we already know who this year's turkey is: Microsoft. The ecommerce system that failed: Vista.

      OK, less tenuous is still tenuous.

    • The "rush" from all this stuff is unnecessary anyway. It's not even the biggest shopping day by dollars, the alleged "cyber monday" is down the list in terms of online shopping days by dollars too. Maybe it's done by the retailers to get news crews going, I just don't get this angle of cutting prices so hard just to get shoppers in. It's almost expected now, making it a potentially a vicious cycle.
    • by knash ( 1182849 )
      It's a package of stories about Black Friday. The story specific to e-commerce within the package is here: http://www.cio.com/article/155800 [cio.com] Also, the timeline (where the planes/weather delays are mentioned) also has some ecommerce mishaps. It's by no means all-encompassing. Add some if you like, by using the comments section. Or write to me directly (knash@cio.com). I'd love to grow that timeline to really chronicle e-commerce screw-ups (and lessons learned, of course, of course). -kim
  • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @06:45PM (#21393017) Homepage Journal
    Elves: We are free and fairly sober with so many toys to build. The machines are kind of tricky, probably someone will be killed. But we gladly work for nothing
    Fry: Which is good because we don't intend to pay
    All: The elves are back to work today
    Elves: Hooray! We have just a couple hours to make several billion gifts. And the labor isn't easy
    Leela: When you all work triple shifts! You can make the job go quicker if you turn up the controls to super speed
    All: It's back to work on X-mas eve...hooray

    Leela: And though you're cold and sore and ugly your pride will mask the pain
    Fry: Let my happy smile warm your hearts
    Elf: There's a toy lodged in my brain!

    Elves: We are getting awfully tired and we can't work any faster and we're very very sorry
    Bender: Why you selfish little bastards! Do you want the kids to think that Santa's just a crummy empty handed jerk? Then shut your yaps and back to work!

    Elves: Now it's very nearly X-mas and we've done the best we could
    Fry: These toy soldiers are poorly painted
    Leela: And they're made from inferior wood
    Bender: I should give you all a beating but I really have to fly
    Santabot: If I weren't stuck here frozen I'd harpoon you in the eye!
    Elves: Now it's back into our tenements to drown ourselves in rye
    Leela: You did the best you could, I guess, and some of these gorillas are ok
    Elves: Hooray! We're adequate!
    All: The elves are resting X-mas day, hooray!
  • Conspicuously Absent (Score:5, Informative)

    by UserChrisCanter4 ( 464072 ) * on Saturday November 17, 2007 @06:49PM (#21393041)
    November 2006: Amazon.com

    Amazon's "customers choose" promotion/vote resulted in a limited number of XBOX 360 Core systems (then retailing for $300) being put on sale for $100 on Black Friday.

    It brought Amazon to its knees. Loading individual pages, even those unrelated to the XBox, took over three minutes in some cases. I'm sure the XBox was meant as a simple loss-leader like most other Black Friday promotions, but the "sale" resulted in an extreme difficulty purchasing anything from Amazon for the two to three hours after the sale price went active. Ultimately, I'm sure a lucky few got the XBox, but I doubt they bought anything else. As for the rest of us, it was a pain to buy anything else even if we wanted to.

    The saddest part was that this was 2006, not 1999. I knew it would be the equivalent of a /.-style hit, but I didn't figure that a company as big as Amazon would have any problems handling that load in this day and age. I guess I was wrong.

    A few weeks later, some proposed that Amazon used it as a test-bed for their hosting/load leveling service that they unveiled a little later, so it's possible that the promotion was worth it to them if that was the case. Outside of that possibility, though, I can't believe CIO.com left this example out.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      over 3 minutes? Sounds like an improvement!

      Ok, they're not normally that bad, but amazon is like the windows vista of web sites. I just loaded a typical page (with my cache turned off) -- 285 http requests, 558K of data, 41.3 seconds to download it all.

      You can boycott them for 1-click, I boycott them because they're a bitch to use.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by corsec67 ( 627446 )
        I really hate the amazon "Sell your stuff", and in most cases the marketplace.
        If I wanted used stuff, I would go to ebay.

        Too bad they don't allow you to easily browse stuff that is **ONLY** on amazon.com, and not on "Joe-Bob's Shack" store.
        • I wish they had that too, that and stuff you are looking at that is super saver shipping. It annoys me sometimes about the stupid things that people post that the amazon ones are always buried in the back.
      • I just loaded a typical page (with my cache turned off) -- 285 http requests, 558K of data, 41.3 seconds to download it all.

        Ever measured a Slashdot page? For this page, currently, for little over 20kb of text, there's closing in on a megabyte of downloading.

        • by Justus ( 18814 )
          Really? I imagine that it varies with your threshold settings, but you seem to imply there's a lot of non-text content on the page (which is presumably not affected).

          Checking this story with Firebug, I see 143 KB total (127 KB cached). That's using the old-style comment display, not the Javascript-enabled version. Mind you, Firefox supports gzipped pages, so it's entirely possible that if you're using a browser which doesn't, you'll see much higher numbers.

          This topic is of some interest to me, as I'm a we
    • woot.com (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It gets about as much traffic as slashdot per quantcast.com. It got killed this week, multiple times. And it uses Windows Server 2003. When it does the Bag of Crap for $1 it takes hours to come back.
      Load balancing is totally f ed over there.

      The much busier refurbdepot.com is sturdier.

      Farther down the posts somebody got tagged as a troll for mocking Vista as a server, but it's so true.
    • It sure would not be amazon.ca, perhaps amazon.com. The Canadian version is 40% more expensive than the US one. Unless of course amazon.ca gets a whopping price adjustment and is only running on one server from presence and suckers.

  • I'm predicting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by r_jensen11 ( 598210 ) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @06:55PM (#21393085)
    that Walmart's website will go down again due to high traffic on Black Friday. It'll be interesting to see how other companies, like Target, will do on that day as well. Something also is making me want to think that Best Buy will not perform to the same levels (time- and price-adjusted) as they used to, probably due to the credit crunch and that the Average Joe should be less inclined to make a moderate-large luxury purchase (e.g. 60" TV being moderate) this year compared to last.

    But in all likelyhood, I'm guessing that the people who are going to be shopping less this year are going to be the lowest-lower income families, since a larger portion of their income is going to be spent on interest rates because they got taken advantage of with the adjustable-rate mortages and Home Equity Lines of Credit. So I'm expecting that people in the lower-middle to middle income families will shop at places like Kohls and Target rather than Macy's/Marshal Fields/Dayton's, while upper-income stores like Tiffany's will have another phenominal season.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I think you are missing an important part of a deal. It's my thought that the people who are really crunched for money are going to be out in droves this year to get good deals on stuff they need. Not everything for sale is a luxury item.
    • I don't know... I think that the segment of the population that got hit the hardest by the credit crunch were already avid Wal-Mart customers. Yeah, there were some who were living WAY above their means, but I think those are more the exception than the rule.

      The rich-poor gap is growing alarmingly wide, which is inevitably going to cause a rather severe backlash against the fiscal conservatives not too far down the road.

      But back on topic:
      Wal-Mart's site isn't going to go down. People who got severely hit
      • Wal-Mart's site isn't going to go down. People who got severely hit by the credit crisis aren't going to be the ones buying big-ticket items on sale during Black Friday.

        Likewise, Wal-Mart's network infrastructure is supposedly intimidatingly huge. They're notorious data mongerers, recording every single line item from every single retail outlet in a central datacenter, and doing all sorts of wacky correlations and calculations on the data. Not a whole ton is publicly known about their data operations, but there were widespread rumors that their network capacity rivaled that of Google up until a year or two ago.

        Care to explain this [msn.com] then?

  • To explore this, CIO.com has a big package of articles examining "Black Friday" and its implications

    Wouldn't that be preaching to the choir? I would hope CIOs already have the experience and background to know the problems and implications...especially if they're CIO for any sort of decent-sized online and/or brick-and-mortar retailer...

  • i mean seriously who freaking cares who screws up bad this year, jesus this is almost like watching a crappy reality TV show people watch merely to see others completely destroy their own lives.
  • Does buying stuff make you happy? You're just a consumer?

  • To explore this, CIO.com has a big package of articles examining "Black Friday" and its implications. I see no big package of articles - I find almost content free fluff. There is nothing of substance here. The only failure I see this year is CIO.com turning out worthless copy.
  • Last 4 days (and currently) [pdncommunity.com] they intermittently take people's money but don't notify the ecommerce site. Oops.
  • Was trying to browse the site friday morning (round 10am CST) and it was down (out of connections), when I did get in it was barely responsive. Wonder what they are running it on ?
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )
      Somebody just upgraded the Pentium II server from running SCO Unix to Windows Vista.

      Yes - I'll be modded Troll or Flamebait for this!

      Anyway - the problem can range all the way from a server with a hiccup to a DOS attack. Or maybe you just hit them when they were running a backup of their server...

  • Don't let it be the one I'm supporting for the first time this year.
  • While E-Commerce sites will take a beating, physical stores do as well. I worked at a major department store for four years. Without fail, every Black Friday the whole system would crash. This would mean no credit cards, no checks, and no prices on merchandise.
    • by knash ( 1182849 )
      That's a good point. I worked in a dept store one holiday season and went thru the same thing. And there, you have to actually be face to face with the angry customer. A whole line of them. --kim
  • Whichever store has the most unbelievable discount on the most desired item (a wii for 99 bucks or something like that) will crash first.
  • Thanks to Wikipedia I now know that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season in the United States. Thank you, Wikipedia

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.