November 30, 2010, 9:07 AM

J.C. Penney has a rocky start to Black Friday

The retailer’s online store struggled to handle heavy traffic Friday morning.

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JCP.com, the e-retail arm of department store retailer J.C. Penney Co. Inc., experienced performance issues on Black Friday, which cumulatively made the site inaccessible to consumers for more than two hours, says Pingdom, a web site performance vendor.

Pingdom says consumers who tried to shop JCP.com after 9 a.m. Eastern on the day after Thanksgiving periodically found pages would not load or timed out after 30 seconds. The firm says the longest inaccessible time period was seven minutes, beginning at 10:40 a.m.  The total downtime was 2 hours and 14 minutes.

“From the behavior of the site, it looks like it simply didn’t scale and couldn’t handle the increased visitor numbers,” says Peter Alguacil, a Pingdom analyst.

A J.C. Penney spokeswoman confirms today that high levels of traffic caused JCP.com to operate slowly for a period of time on Friday, but says the site never suffered an outage. She says traffic increased 500% from the day after Thanksgiving last year. “Last Friday our call center team helped assist our online customers by taking their orders over the phone and all Black Friday pricing was honored,” she says. 

The company issued a statement on Sunday about its Black Friday in-store and online performance. The retailer described Friday’s traffic at stores and at JCP.com as strong and says that it is encouraged by consumers’ early shopping trends. “The Christmas holiday shopping season has gotten off to a strong start for us. Across the country, consumers appear to be more eager to shop than the last couple of years,” says Myron E. Ullman, III, J.C. Penney’s chairman and CEO.

The retailer heavily promoted its holiday sale offers online and in traditional media in the days leading up to Thanksgiving weekend. It launched a specialty sale site called ReadySetShop.net in mid-November. The company also used its home page to promote online Thanksgiving Day offers not available in stores until Friday.

The company will report November sales later this week. J.C. Penney is No. 16 on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

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