December 2, 2008, 12:00 AM

JCrew.com misses most of Monday, as retail sites struggle under heavy loads

JCrew.com was down nearly all day Monday, Keynote Systems reports. A review of 49 retail e-commerce sites by Gomez Inc. over the past several days found that, while all showed 100% availability on Saturday, 10 of them were under that mark on Monday.

JCrew.com was down much of Monday, reports Keynote Systems, a web site performance monitoring company. In addition, a review of 49 retail e-commerce sites by another performance monitoring company, Gomez Inc., over the past several days found that, while all showed 100% availability from 6 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, 10 of them were under that mark on Monday.

The site of apparel retailer J. Crew Group Inc. went down about 11:30 a.m. Eastern time yesterday and remained offline until 3:30 p.m., then operated sporadically at best until returning to a steady operation at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, says Shawn White, director of external operations for Keynote Systems. “Every year during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we see some issues with sites,” he says. “But we’ve never seen it to this scale, where a site had a problem literally all day.” J. Crew did not return a call for comment.

The 10 sites under 100% availability from 6 a.m. to midnight yesterday were Apple Shopping, at 99.53% availability; Buy.com, 99.54%; FTD.com, 99.07%; Gap.com, 99.07%; Neiman Marcus, 98.61%; Newegg.com, 99.54%; OfficeDepot.com, 99.54%; QVC.com, 99.53%; Staples, 96.3%; and TigerDirect.com, 99.53%.

Imad Mouline, chief technology officer of Gomez, attributes the decline in site availability to a double whammy of traffic-generating holiday promotions and the widespread use of rich media. “We’ve seen slowdowns before during the holidays, but now we’re seeing more issues that prevent shoppers from completing end-to-end transactions without a problem,” he says.

Mouline adds that some online retailers, including Macys.com, Staples.com, Target.com and Netflix.com, showed inconsistent downloads of home pages displaying large promotional images when Gomez tested whether the pages loaded within 15 seconds. “In many cases, 15 seconds wasn’t even enough,” he says. “Some promotions use a good chunk of a home page-it could be a big Flash file, an animation or another heavy image-and while the rest of the page loads fine, visitors see a big blank spot where the promotion is supposed to be.”

In some cases, these promotional files loaded without a problem only on certain types of web browsers. “This problem is a lot more common than people think,” Mouline says. “If they don’t address this, it could be an even bigger problem next year when there will be new browsers in the market.”

Yesterday, the first shopping day after the Thanksgiving weekend, other major sites noted temporary performance problems. Gap.com was down for a short period on Monday, but has since been operating without interruption, a spokeswoman says. According to Gomez, Gap reported 99.07% availability yesterday.

Staples.com slowed down for a while, according to data from Gomez. Staples.com, where site availability was at 96.3% yesterday according to Gomez, has periodically experienced a decrease in expected site performance levels stemming from links to external partners, a Staples spokesman says. “Staples uses multiple tools to assess, in some cases in real time, Staples.com’s ability to deliver a great customer experience,” he says. “We correlate this synthetic monitoring data with actual end-user testing on our web sites that occurs every hour of every day to form the most accurate picture of what our customers are experiencing. Based on Staples` cumulative data, our customers may have experienced a slight slow-down in page download times during our peak volumes over a two-hour period on Cyber Monday, but we do not see any time where our customers were unable to complete their online purchase.”

Staples also notes that it closed down its site for 19 minutes prior to 6:30 a.m. Eastern time on Friday for maintenance purposes.

Hewlett-Packard also experienced “minor slowdowns” on Friday as a result of high volumes of shoppers to HPShopping.com, but no down time, a spokesman says.

 

 

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