Click Frenzy working to rebuild reputation

Click Frenzy's November website meltdown, caused by a huge and unanticipated traffic spike, hurt the online sales event website, according to its founder.
Written by Tim Lohman, Contributor

Nine months on from the meltdown of Click Frenzy's website following its inaugural online sales event last November, founder Grant Arnott has conceded that he is still working to repair the reputation of his company.

Touted as "the sale that stopped the internet", Click Frenzy opened for business at 7pm AEDST on November 20, but its website crashed just minutes after the sale began.

According to Click Frenzy's hosting provider, UltraServe, site traffic of 2 million simultaneous hits occurred just after 7pm. Click Frenzy had anticipated between half a million and 1 million overall hits, Arnott told ZDNet.

"[The crash] did damage to our reputation, certainly. I don't deny that was the case," he said. "We had a lot of work to do — and are still doing — to rebuild our brand with that hanging over us."

Arnott argued that Click Frenzy had been caught between the unexpected and "overwhelmingly popular" consumer response to the site and market scepticism that the Click Frenzy business model would even work.

"The funny part in it all that was that when we first announced that we were going to market and suggested we might have up to 1 million customers potentially, we had a lot of critics suggest that we wouldn't get anywhere near that," he said.

"But it turned out that we got 1.6 million, and then everyone suggested that we should have been prepared. We were never going to win that one."

Arnott also hit back at criticism following the meltdown that suggested Click Frenzy's website issues had hurt consumer confidence in online retailers in Australia.

"In terms of its implications for the wider online retail market, I think it did exactly the opposite — it showcased the demand for online shopping," he said.

"For sure, it was certainly a foot up the bum for not only us, but local retailers to seriously look at the hosting infrastructure required to meet what we showed was a huge appetite for online shopping."

In an effort to avoid recurrences of the November sale, Click Frenzy in April moved across to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in search of greater reliability and scalability of its web infrastructure, and has also partnered with Akamai.

Commenting on the performance of Click Frenzy's website during its just-completed Father's Day sale, Arnott said that AWS' web infrastructure had "performed flawlessly" in handling about 200,000 unique visitors and about 10,000 concurrent users during the 24-hour sale.

Despite this performance, Arnott said his company still faces challenges to the quality of its online sales events due to its dependence on the quality of the web infrastructure of its online retail partners.

"Subsequent [shopping] events have shown that our site now stacks up, but it is very reliant on the retailers' sites performing as well, because customers go off our site onto the retailers' sites," he said.

To help remedy this, Click Frenzy has begun supplying advice, based on its own website experience, to retailer partners to help get them better manage the large traffic spikes — particularly ahead of this year's major pre-Christmas online sales event in November.

"We are talking about the fact that you want a good-quality CDN [content delivery network], you want to plan for scale, and you want to load test," he said. "Every event we do, it subsequently improves. The needle is moving."

Commenting on the issue of website security — a hole emerged during the last November sale, allowing the username, password, and IP address for the Click Frenzy back-end database to be visible — Arnott said that the company has improved, and has dumped the Magento platform that was at the heart of the security hole.

"Everyone is pitching in to make sure that it is a lot more secure, and we are not on the Magento platform anymore," he said. "We have moved to a custom-built platform, and certainly haven't had any issues with exposure of that type.

"The exposure was relatively minor. It was rushed in November, and we were going at speed to get ready for the event, which was very real and had a very immovable deadline. We probably got 98 percent of it right, and unfortunately, a few things slipped through the cracks."

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