The e-commerce site of department store Neiman Marcus was out of commission for extended periods Friday and Saturday, two days this Black Friday weekend that saw healthy online sales.
On Friday, the Neiman Marcus site was down for twelve hours without many signs of life. On Saturday, the issues appeared to be resolved, but the site crashed again by mid-afternoon.
Other retail sites, including Newegg, Jet, Foot Locker, and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., saw crashes or significant slowdowns over the weekend, but nothing close to Neiman Marcus’s hours-long blackout.
The disastrous outage comes at a bad time for Neiman Marcus. Investors are generally leery of the department store model and the retailer itself has been preparing for a possible initial public offering.
There were no specifics from the retailer about what caused the problems. But retail websites can suffer slowdowns and outages if traffic is heavier than the capacity allows. Whatever the cause, the upscale department store likely missed out on millions of dollars in sales. The company has extended its Black Friday sales prices now that the site is up and running, but it’s likely that many luxury customers ended up at rival sites like Saks, Nordstrom, or Net-A-Porter, depending on what they were looking for.
Last holiday season, a spike in mobile activity took Best Buy by surprise, causing outages that lasted as long as an hour. While this would seem to serve as a logical warning to retailers, some experts believe that many are underestimating the impact that mobile commerce will have on shopping this year.
Not only that, but the old methods of anticipating sales may need more help from IT experts than many retailers realize, according to experts.
Retailers must have contingency plans in place in the case of an outage, but they must also get better at anticipating traffic and testing their capacity ahead of time, according to application performance management company Dynatrace. Teams must have common tools and knowledge so that expertise isn't limited to just a few. Otherwise, precious time may pass in fixing issues while sales fall through.
"The plan should not just be a reactive disaster recovery plan, that alone would be a bad plan," according to Dynatrace. "The ... plan has to look beyond disaster recovery and make sure that their sites and applications have been thoroughly tested well before any holiday event. The plans have to include ALL parts of the organization, it should not just be limited to operations, it has to include digital business owners, development, test and operations."