December 8, 2010, 2:09 PM

Yahoo Stores platform leaves e-retail sites inaccessible for hours

Merchants say they lost thousands in holiday sales.

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E-retailers that use Yahoo Merchant Solutions as their e-commerce platform were left out in the cold last Saturday afternoon when their sites were inaccessible to shoppers for upwards of three hours, e-retailers say. Merchants say they lost thousands in holiday sales and that they have not received any response from Yahoo Inc. about what caused the disruption or any offers of compensation.

A Yahoo spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that a disruption occurred Saturday, but declined to reveal specifics about how many stores were affected or what caused the problem. E-retailers reached by Internet Retailer say that it appears all Yahoo Merchant Solutions stores, also referred to as Yahoo Stores, were affected. Yahoo says more than 35,000 stores sell through the platform. Yahoo Merchant Solutions is the sixth-most used e-commerce platform among Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide-ranked companies. The 23 Top 500 retailers that use the system process more than $604 million in sales annually.     

Yahoo first posted an alert on its Merchant Center that some stores were not loading or loading slowly at 12:59 p.m. Pacific time Saturday. It posted again at 4:02 p.m. Pacific to say that the issues were resolved. Some e-retailers say they received an e-mail time stamped at 4:28 p.m. Pacific, after the sites were back up, which noted the afternoon's issues.

E-retailers that have been longtime Yahoo clients say that during previous service outages Yahoo proactively sent an alert to merchants to let them know about problems as they occurred. E-retailers say that they received no alerts on Saturday and have not received any information or response from Yahoo representatives in the ensuing days. This is in contrast to Yahoo’s response to a service disruption that occurred the Monday after Thanksgiving, also known as Cyber Monday, in 2007. In that instance, Yahoo contacted clients to apologize and waived one month’s service fees.

“Yahoo has not reached out to the big or small guys,” says Liz Broussard, who operates three Yahoo Stores sites including Classic-Charms.com. “Normally when we have issues, they e-mail each of the store owners. On Saturday, nothing happened.”

Broussard estimates she lost approximately $2,000 in sales during the time her sites were down on Saturday. She learned about the outage when she tried to access one of her sites and received an error message. Brian Schwank, director of marketing at e-retailer Rock Bottom Golf, estimates the company lost at least $10,000 in sales during the outage. Rock Bottom Golf is No. 287 on the Top 500. No. 388-ranked Artbeads.com estimates it lost $5,000 to $7,000 in revenue.

E-retailers that contacted Yahoo’s service center by phone that day say they received little information from representatives.

“It appeared from a support standpoint like they didn’t know anything about it for some time,” says Michele Carr, who operates four Yahoo Stores sites including TopNotchGifts.com. “We still don’t know really what the deal was.” Based on same-day sales last year, she estimates she missed out on about 600 orders during the disruption.

The outage appears to have affected only the consumer-facing store pages, not the back-end systems that store product, pricing and other data. Retailers say they could still access those behind-the-scenes services. One e-commerce executive who declined to be named in this article told Internet Retailer that while the company’s web site was inaccessible, its mobile site was operating normally. The e-retailer operates the mobile site through mobile vendor Unbound Commerce. Unbound Commerce integrates with the back end of Yahoo Stores’ systems but supports its consumer-facing pages separately.

“It took merchants awhile to realize their mobile sites were still working,” says Unbound Commerce chief marketing officer Keith Lietzke. “A handful of customers suggested trying the mobile site.”

E-retailers also posted about the outage, its costs and Yahoo’s responsiveness in online discussion forums. Some forum participants claim to have lost out on $20,000 or more in sales during the outage. Others posted that they encountered wait times of 30 minutes or longer when they called the support center during the outage. Others said their calls were redirected to a recording that advised them to go to Yahoo’s Merchant Center web page for information.

Apart from being upset about the sales they lost on Saturday, e-retailers seem most upset that they haven’t received any response or notifications from Yahoo about what caused the problems in the first place. That’s left them wondering if the Yahoo Stores servers were hacked or crashed.

“They’re acting like it’s no big deal,” Broussard says. “There’s not been a peep out of anyone about what happened.”

A Yahoo executive reached by Internet Retailer today declined to answer questions asking why Yahoo has not issued a response or otherwise been in touch with merchants.

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