Positive comments from e-retailers who operate their sites using Volusion Inc.'s e-commerce platform were hard to come by this summer. Volusion e-retailers were hampered by repeated outages that knocked their sites offline—sometimes for hours at a time—and cost them sales.
A power outage in Volusion's main data center left retail clients without operational e-commerce sites for several hours July 9; further complications took down some retail sites July 15.
Then in August one Volusion e-retailer suffered a denial of service attack, where an excessive amount of traffic is purposely sent to a web site in an attempt to overwhelm it. Volusion quarantined the site so the attack wouldn't spread to other retail sites it hosts, but even so the move knocked some of those retailers offline for a short period.
The problems this summer followed platform problems that left some retailers unable to process credit card transactions for at least a week in February.
Sayeh Pezeshki, founder and CEO of SortingWithStyle.com, said her site's outage July 9 was one of several problems she has experienced with the vendor. "We've been unhappy with several items regarding the Volusion platform," she says. "Other items include customer service wait times on the phone have been outrageously long, and the bandwidth overage charges we have received have been outrageously high." Overage fees are charged when a store delivers more data than contracted for.
A retailer who requested anonymity says his e-commerce site was down twice in July, and that it was offline for an hour on Aug. 7. "These outages are only getting worse," he says.
Forrester Research Inc. analyst Brian Walker says all service providers face challenges from time to time, but calls the pattern at Volusion "very troubling" and unusual for a software-as-a-service vendor that hosts the software that client retailers connect to via the web.
One retailer who contacted Internet Retailer and asked to remain anonymous said the four-hour outage his site experienced July 9 cost him several thousand dollars in lost e-commerce sales."Our site was down for four hours and they gave me a credit for $52, but I lost more than $4,000," he says.
Issuing credits for unplanned downtime is common, Walker says, and such outages often cost retailers more than they get back from a vendor. Retailers that may want to cancel a vendor contract may face an uphill battle, even if service doesn't meet promised standards. "Many contracts lack the opt-outs needed even when the performance of the vendor is grossly inadequate. This is an area for customers to focus on in any hosted solution contract with a vendor," he says.
Volusion's troubles elicited a large number of critical comments by clients who posted them on Facebook, Twitter and InternetRetailer.com, and prompted Volusion CEO Clay Olivier to post a note on the company's web site in July that promised system upgrades and further technology investments. The vendor updated its platform in August.
"Due to growth that far exceeded forecasts in 2011 and early 2012, Volusion spent a large portion of the year securing best-in-class hardware and tripling our I.T. staff to over 30 people in less than 12 months," a Volusion spokeswoman says. "By the end of the year, we will have invested over $10 million in infrastructure." She says the company will be adding more virtual servers and database servers through the end of the year to optimize storage and speed capabilities.
The extra capacity should provide smoother operations with Volusion's newest update, called V13. Other new features of V13 enable a retailer to display in its paid search ads product ratings that appear on its site. In addition, retailers on V13 will be able to administer their web page content from mobile devices, including smartphones and tablet computers.