Black Friday website crashes: Boots, Tesco, ASOS, Net-a-Porter, TopShop

28th November 2014

Also see:

Black Friday 2014: It’s like a roll call of the big names in UK – the list of websites that have been failing on Black Friday today:

  • Boots, Tesco, ASOS, Net-a-Porter, TopShop, Evans/TopShop/Wallace, Selfridges, Currys, River Island

In case you think it’s everybody down:  not quite;  some of the big names are up, and good to see a smattering of our clients included:

  • H&M, Debenhams, Mothercare,  Thorntons, Joules, Clarks, M&S, Jack Wills, JD Sports, Ted Baker

The Christmas sales season may be the most important  time of the year for Retailers to bulk up their annual turnover –   but it may not be loved by the eCommerce marketing and tech teams: on whom it places great pressure.

I’m reminded of a time 12 months back  – at a UK retailer, where the clear message from the board down, was that heads may role:  if the previous problems on the website last Christmas were repeated. There were some unusually stressed conference calls through November and December!

In the end, they had a great Christmas: their extra preparation, and greater cooperation  between the marketing and Tech teams to plan more realistic load testing really paid off.

I foresee that in 12 months time, all the retailers who failed today, will be having those same stressed meeting son the run up to Black Friday 2015!

Off course, this year there are new pressures  – and some the retailers have only themselves to blame for: I’m talking about the new message in the market around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Argos: still intermittent problems at 18:45:  9 hours after they started:

Marketers may love creating extra impetus among their shoppers – and there’s nothing more straight-forward than the time-limited deal!

But the result is that the retailers are creating new traffic peaks: and the eCom tech teams are having to cope with the unusual traffic spikes.

It started before today, on Wednesday with Net-a-Porter – site down within 1 hour of their sale starting online on the 26th – with many users saying the failures occurred at the payment page.  Shame, after their good scaling work last year.

Ironically, one of their categories is called ‘can’t go wrong’:

Lessons to be learnt from Black Friday crashes – No. 1

With modern cloud and CDN systems’ it’s not as hard as it was, to get web farms serving enormous quantities of simple pages, like product pages.

But it is a harder challenge to handle the peak in the heavier transactional pages like

  • Add to basket
  • Check basket
  • Register or login
  • payment handling

and it’s pretty hard to load test in a realistic way to ‘check the size of store’.

Lesson No 2.:  ensure that your Black Friday preparations: don’t weaken your capacity

Like the Argos many-hours outage last month:  any change to a site carries risk of unattended performance problems: and so the last minute rush of some retailers to change their sites with Black Friday sections, and special deal codes etc:  well, that;’s one factor causing problems.

The other important factor, is  that the traffic peak for Black Friday  this year  is hard to predict:  there aren’t enough past years to look back on to make a statistical projection:  it;s just too recent a phenomenon.

Even though some big retailers went public last year, giving numbers on just how big their Black Friday spike was:  *it left marketers**  in a tough spot*:  if they predict a huge traffic rise: there will be perhaps large tech infrastructure costs: and then, if traffcc is not as big as expected, marketing feel foolish to have OK;ed the extra spend!

Conversely,   if Marketing predicted a  peak on the smaller side:   then there is scope for the site to crash and burn under the over-load: *It;s a  no-win for marketers and tech teams!*

And on top of all that challenge: is the fact the mix of device usage is changing rapidly, mobile and tablet  usage % now much higher than last year and that too changes the ‘size of the store’ online – as the load on the site per user is different,

Lesson No. 3:  do estimate your traffic peak on the safe side

The right thing to do:  and we’re hearing that alot more retailers saying they will be doing this come August 2015 in preparation for next year:  is to sit Marketing and tech down together, to together work out the range of store-sizes that may be needed: and to plan flexible elasticity in capacity, to give some headroom so as not to be caught out.

Some of the retailers who were down today probably did everything right – bar getting the right estimate of the users.

It was their very success, that caught their technology out.

For Christmas 2015 planning:  I can see there’ll be a lot more willingness from business teams to OK budget for extra tech infrastructure:   no one will want to be caught in the Black Friday Hall of Shame next year!

 2014 Black Friday Hall of Shame

Tesco Direct came back up:

but some sold-out deals were still being promoted in  prominent front-page slots:


John Lewis:  8 am failures, holding page image: too big for mobile screens -still down at 18:30

thinkTRIBE Mobile Monitoring of UK Retailers websites through BlackFriday

Key: to the graph: Green is good, anything else – not so much.

The monitoring, from iPad and Android browsers, shows that  some UK Retailers are still problematic towards 7pm (Argos, Tesco) whilst some brands performed smoothly –  the whole 24 hours (M&S, Debenhams, Apple)