Friday, November 14, 2008

A Holiday eCommerce Crash Crunch?

As data for retail sales in October posted their biggest drop (2.8%) since 1992, when record-keeping for the Dept. of Commerce began (according to Bloomberg, although that seems like a very recent "starting point"), making this the fourth drop in a row (also a record), Evan Schuman of StorefrontBacktalk warns that a rush of bargain-hunting consumers could lead to increased Website crashes for eCommerce sites this holiday season.

Says Schuman, "many retailers have made the leap that lower revenue (or lower percentage increases in revenue) will translate to modest Web traffic. In all probability, the opposite will happen."

Budget cuts have also "set up potential crash-related disaster number two. Those cuts have given many E-Commerce departments fewer dollars and people at the same time as the demands for IT online magic has increased, with the goal of somehow boosting online sales conversions. The likely initial result: A lot more apps that will be rushed to go live before they're ready. The likely ultimate result: More site glitches resulting in more slowdowns and crashes.

"Continuing with this cascading perfect storm scenario, those budget cutbacks and the need to push out new functionality no matter what will also sharply increase outsourcing. In general, outsourcing is not a problem, but when it's done in a panic and it's throwing a lot of new players into an established site with little time and a non-negotiable deadline (flying reindeer know not of upgrade delays), it's asking for trouble."

Finally, warns Schuman, hand-offs "for everything from site searches to watching videos to the backbone checkout issues such as connecting with shipping partners, credit card authorization and Zip Code tax lookups" will also cause site crashes. Accommodating Net 2.0 social networking and customer comments adds overhead, as does the oncoming tsunami of mobile phone interfaces.

Concludes Schuman, "these handoffs can be especially tricky in terms of brand damage. If a purchase being made through MySpace or an iPhone glitches halfway through —- perhaps right in the middle of checkout, so the consumer is not quite sure if the transaction happened or not —- who does the consumer blame?"

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