December 1, 2008, 12:00 AM

Top e-retailers experienced web site glitches on the day after Thanksgiving

Shoppers at were unable to complete orders at certain periods Friday, while and other sites slowed down. The e-commerce site of Victoria’s Secret experienced problems today.

The test for e-retailers was on the day after Thanksgiving as millions of consumers began their holiday shopping in front of their PCs. Some e-retailers aced it--others, however, didn’t fare as well. was one of the hardest hit by technical problems. Consumers weren’t able to complete checkout from about 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern time and again from around 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., according to web site performance monitoring vendor Keynote Systems Inc.

“We’re sorry, is temporarily experiencing high traffic volume. Please try your request again in a few minutes,” the web site read. “It was happening during the most important part of the online shopping experience,” says Shawn White director of external operations for Keynote. “The customer had committed to the purchase and he couldn’t complete it.” Sears had similar web site issues this time last year, White adds.

Sears confirmed it had problems on Friday, but said the issues have been fixed. “Friday, due to higher than anticipated peak volumes, traffic was interrupted, but is operating fine today as it did all weekend,” a spokesperson for Sears says. “ is now fully functional and we continue to monitor the volumes and take steps to ensure the site can continue to serve our customers.”

Other retailers experiencing glitches on Friday included Costco, with web site availability falling to 64% from 6 a.m. to midnight on Friday, according to Gomez Inc., another site performance tracking company. The problems began around 3 p.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. However, site availability for Costco on Saturday climbed to above 91%.

Keynote reported problems with the speed of Costco’s web site on Friday, noting that it performed 2.5 times slower than usual between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. during the checkout process. It also says consumers were shown an error message.

“We had a very strong increase in traffic on Friday and some slowdowns during the peak of the day,” says Ginnie Roeglin senior vice president e-commerce and publishing for Costco. “However, our site handled the rest of the weekend traffic well and is running smoothly today.”

Other retail web sites taking longer than usual to respond on Friday included the retail site of Hewlett-Packard and At Hewlett-Packard’s retail site, the amount of time it took for consumers to search for an item, access product details and place merchandise in a shopping cart increased from about 13 or 14 seconds to as long as 45 seconds for at least a portion of the day, says Matt Poepsel vice president of performance strategies for Gomez. Accomplishing the same task at took 17 seconds, as opposed to the typical five or six. Overstock says it has not experienced any problems and Hewlett-Packard did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Keynote reports Saks Fifth Avenue and also had issues on Friday. Saks, Keynote says, had problems from 7:30 a.m. Eastern to 1 p.m. Eastern, with about 50% of visitors receiving an error message during checkout., the vendor says, fought slower than usual page load times. Saks did not immediately respond to a request for comment and says the slow loads were a result of third-party ads on its site and checkout was not impacted.

High traffic today again caused problems for some retailers.

Around 10 a.m. Eastern, the retail web site of Victoria’s Secret began experiencing issues, and consumers were unable to complete transactions. A trip to the site later in the day showed that the problem persisted.

Victoria’s Secret acknowledged that it was having problems today, and a spokesperson says the retailer is working to fix them quickly.

“We are trying very hard to get the site back up and stabilize it,” a Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman says. “We’re working very hard on the issue.”

Other e-retailers that have had issues today, according to Poepsel of Gomez were and the retail site of Williams–Sonoma. Registered visitors to Dell could not retrieve pre-populated account information for about a half hour this morning, Poepsel says, with typical transaction times slowing from 26 seconds to about 50 for a couple hours in the morning for Williams-Sonoma. Both merchants deny experiencing any problems.

White of Keynote says 15% of the retail web sites his firm tracked on Friday experienced some type of performance issue.

Sophistication and personalization of many web sites could be the culprit in longer page load times and glitches, says Poepsel of Gomez. Sites, he says, are pulling lots of data about each visitor to a site, such as purchase history and past site behavior. “It’s a catch-22,” he says. “You have to have it to be competitive but it can cause problems.”

Another cause for many problems, Poepsel says, are third-party services a retailer may use for features like shopping cart functionality and checkout. He recommends e-retailers be diligent about the vendors they choose and test to make sure outside systems and content don’t interfere with one another or with the retailer’s own systems.

Meanwhile, some retailers learned lessons from issues they had last year, White says. The e-commerce sites of Neiman Marcus and Wal-Mart, which both experienced glitches in 2007, are running “flawlessly” he says.

“Companies need to realize that they need to start preparing for Black Friday in January,” White says. “It’s kind of like having one cash register open at Old Navy the day after Thanksgiving. You wouldn’t do that, you would prepare.”

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