December 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Some major e-retail sites experienced problems during the holiday weekend

Although most retailers performed well over the weekend, the HP Home and Home Office Store experienced what Gomez called “catastrophic problems” and both the Staples and Kohl’s web sites suffered delays.

While the majority of e-retailers performed well during the holiday weekend, retailers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Kohl’s Corp. and Staples Inc. experienced major problems and slow page-loading times that may have led fickle consumers to shop elsewhere, says Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, which monitors web site performance.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. and continuing throughout the day, shoppers visiting HPShopping.com, No. 16 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, yesterday were met with a host of problems, including some pages that were slow to load and in-stock items sometimes appearing out of stock (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name). Some pages couldn’t be found or the site went down. “It had what could only be called catastrophic problems,” says Poepsel. “That’s the extreme example of a retailer having trouble during Cyber Monday or Black Friday.”

The issues led the site to record overall availability of 83.59% for the weekend, well below the 97.60% average for the top 50 retailers, according to Gomez Inc.’s Retail Benchmark. The firm measures web and mobile web performance and experience. Moreover, the site’s average response time was 7.79 seconds for the weekend, more than three times slower than the top 50 retailer average of 2.25 seconds. “Some customers did experience intermittent technical problems, but we have been working to resolve the problems as quickly as possible,” says an HP spokeswoman.

After advertising on its home page that special promotions would launch online at 6 a.m. on Friday, HPShopping.com suffered delays when it was supposed to go live (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name). As late as 1 p.m. the site continued to show some shoppers a page asking them to return on Friday at 6 a.m. “With several million visitors logging on to the site at 6 a.m. we had some delays,” says a Staples spokeswoman. “But after those initial delays, the issues were not with the Staples system, but with users’ cookies. Some could have hit the refresh button, closed their browser, or restarted the system. Or, if that wasn’t working, they could have gone to their cookie folder and cleared out those that were accumulating.”

On the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, HPShopping.com suffered a site crash from 8:00 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. The web site’s home page noted that the site was not available (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name). Even once the site was running, it experienced slower response times. For the weekend, the retailer’s average response time was 3.34 seconds and its availability was the second-lowest of the top 50 retailers at 98.3%. Kohl’s could not be reached for comment.

Among the other top 50 retailers, the best response times were Nike, 0.68 seconds; J Crew, 0.79 seconds; Zappos 0.94 seconds; Avon, 0.98 seconds; and Williams-Sonoma, 1.04 seconds. Bringing up the rear were Neiman Marcus, 3.78 seconds; Drugstore.com, 4.74 seconds; 1-800-Flowers.com, 4.90 seconds; Nutrisystem, 5.26 seconds; and HP Shopping, 7.79 seconds.

Thirty-three sites led the way in availability over the weekend with 100% availability. Those included Amazon.com, Buy.com, J Crew, Sears and Zappos. At the bottom of the list were HP Shopping, 92.13%; Kohl’s, 98.3%; Office Depot, 99.64%; and Toys “R” Us, 99.73%.

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