Target is gearing up to launch yet another discounted line of clothing from a high-end fashion designer, but analysts, investors, and customers are all waiting to see whether or not the retail giant will be able to handle the e-commerce load better than it did in September.
To recall, there was a frenzy both in stores and online for Target when it launched a line from Missoni in September. (In case you're interested, this Sunday's launch is from Jason Wu, a favorite of First Lady Michelle Obama.)
I pinged Target reps this week to see if Target.com has taken any precautions to try to prevent similar site crashes this weekend, and I received the following response:
We have been working to improve Target.com and continue to make updates daily to provide a positive shopping experience for our guests. Many factors are taken into consideration when planning the inventory levels of our limited-time only collections. It is not uncommon for these collections to sell out quickly and we encourage our guests to shop the collection early.
Often times with sales such as these, inventory definitely can run out quickly. Yet Target all but imploded, especially on its website. Many consumers are fans of online shopping for the convenience of it as well as the opportunity to avoid the masses in stores.
But the masses came to Target.com too, bringing down the site several times for almost a day. To make things even worse, the site would come back at times and let customers order -- even if it turned out there wasn't any inventory left to buy.
Thus, many customers were left fuming when they received emails that orders could not be completed. The lucky ones got emails saying that their purchases would ship within a month. (Most in-stock items at Target.com are supposed to ship within one to two days.)
Personally (and fortunately), I fell into the latter category. However, my email read that the item I ordered (a Missoni bathmat) was out of stock -- even though the product page clearly said it was "In Stock" when I put it in my shopping card and checked out.
Nevertheless, the bathmat showed up four weeks after I ordered it.
Jamus Driscoll, senior vice president of marketing at e-commerce solutions provider Demandware, warned that "any website downtime or slowdown can definitely frustrate consumers and leave a negative impression."
"Today’s web-savvy consumers demand exceptional brand experiences, and those expectations include reliable and accessible access to a brand’s website at all times," said Driscoll.
Nearly a month after this debacle, Target.com's president, Steve Eastman, resigned suddenly. A very brief (one sentence) statement was released, opening the floodgates for rumors as to why he was leaving besides the typical "pursuing other opportunities" form letter -- whether it had to do with this event or not.
In November, questions were raised as to whether or not Target would even be able to meet traffic demands on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the two biggest online shopping days of the year.
However, it doesn't appear that Target.com suffered from traffic slowdowns or worse more than any other giant online retailer.
Thus, perhaps either Target is now more prepared for such a downpour of online consumers -- or it only buckled during a more high-profile, exclusive event. After all, people visit and shop from many different websites on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Target has had similar, very popular events with designers in the past, so you might be wondering why the Minneapolis-based enterprise had trouble all of a sudden and looked unprepared.
In fact, Target.com relaunched in August with a new platform after parting ways with Amazon.com to focus more on its own website sales. (Amazon.com powered Target.com, and Target products showed up in Amazon searches).
While the revamped Target.com was backed by some heavy partners (including IBM and AT&T), the Missoni launch proved to be the first major test for the new version of the online store. Although it looks like Target.com pretty much failed that test, Sunday will provide more conclusive evidence.
Target reps couldn't provide an estimate for how many online visitors they are expecting this weekend, nor did they specify what precautions they were taking to meet new traffic surges.
Either way, there has been a significant amount of attention and buzz surrounding this launch for months now, so we can definitely expect long virtual queues on Sunday.
Driscoll advised that "brands must utilize a scalable commerce platform that enables their team to quickly prepare for and react to traffic spikes, and allocate capacity when needed."
"This is a key benefit of a SaaS-based commerce platform," Driscoll explained. "Retailers can respond to an uptick in traffic in a matter of minutes, whereas a retailer on a license-based platform might need weeks –- and costly hardware -– to manage this surge in traffic."
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