The online shopping event of the year for local retailers, Click Frenzy, managed to generate plenty of buzz but has failed to deliver when it mattered.
While it would be easy to castigate the entire exercise as a shoddy gimmick, it does at the very least highlight how difficult life in the online space promises to be for traditional retailers.
As an idea Click Frenzy had plenty going for it, there was substantial media coverage and there was certainly no shortage of retailers signing up to the 24-hour internet mega-sale.
If all had gone to plan, the event would have silenced the assertions that our traditional retailers are still the laggards of the online retail revolution.
What we have instead is further evidence of how far behind they are when compared to their overseas peers.
Failure to launch
Within minutes of opening at 7pm last night, the main Click Frenzy website crashed. It was down for around an hour and a half and the embarrassment didn’t end there. A flood of click happy shoppers also managed to drown the individual websites of participating retailers.
Myer and Bing Lee’s sites were crushed by clicks and even the online heavyweight, Kogan.com fell before the onslaught.
David Jones, which had decided to have its own sales party, had its own share of headaches, with the ‘Christmas Frenzy’ sale crashing its site an hour before Click Frenzy even began.
Unsurprisingly, disappointed shoppers took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their rage, with the event spawning its own hashtag - #clickfail - on Twitter.
So has Click Frenzy been a complete disaster? Well it certainly looks that way but perhaps the painful learning experience holds a few pointers for the future.
One tweet stood out amongst all the torrents of criticism towards the Click Frenzy event.
It’s no surprise that CatchOfTheDay Group co-founder, Gabby Leibovich could empathise with what was happening with Click Frenzy. Leibovich has had his fair share of crashes over the last seven years and as far as he is concerned there’s always a silver lining.
"Sometimes crashes are good because it shows that the public are interested in seeing what you have to offer,” Leibovich said.
"They’ve done a tremendous job in setting the whole thing up within a very short period, they’ve done tremendous PR work, and the Aussie public were ready to shop,”
Coping with the stress
Indeed the PR success of Click Frenzy may have played a hand in the fiasco.
According to Samuel Yates, the CEO of the company hosting Click Frenzy’s server, Ultraserve, the company was only expecting around one million users on its site during the 24 hour event. In reality, it received over one million users within the first hour.
"It was a really unprecedented amount of traffic,” Yates says. He adds that it was fuelled by the campaign going viral in the hours and minutes leading up to event.
Predicting traffic could prove to be a key sticking point for future online retail campaigns. It’s easy to run simulations and test a website for extreme traffic loads, but in the age of viral content and social media it’s almost impossible to predict how many users will want to log onto your site.
Yates says that it would have been easy to add servers to the website if they knew it was going to be that busy.
For Yates and his team the rest of the week will be spent in debrief, pinpointing what went wrong. However, CatchOfTheDay’s CIO Seamus Byrne says there are a few other contingencies that every retailer should prepare for.
"It’s not just about throwing a website up there and crossing your fingers,” Byrne says.
He says that online retailers need to divert maximum resources on stress testing their website because a retail website is "only as strong as its weakest link”.
One critical link is the website’s payment system and Byrne says that retailers should ensure that they use more than one payment gateway to ensure that customers have an option even if the default system crashes.
He also recommends that retailers make their online stores as lean as possible by outsourcing all of the data intensive elements of their website, like picture, to third party services.
But overall, Byrne says that testing is crucial for online retail sites and while this may not come cheap, it’s worth it.
One can only hope that the fierce backlash from consumers will prompt retailers to learn from the affair. For one thing, the immense appetite for online shopping on display is destined to ramp up and retailers, big and small, can’t afford another Click Frenzy.