E-tailers creak under Christmas rush

Online Christmas shopping has got off to a good start this year, however some British sites are cracking under the pressure

Some of the UK's leading e-tailers are failing to cope with the seasonal rush, with the Web sites of CD-Wow, Currys, Debenhams and Dixons all straining under the pressure.

According to figures from Keynote Systems, most people are doing their Christmas shopping online between Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings, with lunchtimes a particularly popular period.

On Monday 2 December, Tuesday 3 December and Wednesday 4 December, the sites of CD-Wow, Currys, Debenhams and Dixons all slowed in the crucial period between 1pm and 2pm. The Debenhams Web site, for example, took around 55 seconds to download during the lunch hour on Monday and Tuesday.

Furthermore, Keynote's measurements of Debenhams Web site saw an average availability of just 28.5 percent between 1pm and 2pm on Monday 2 December. On Tuesday 3 December, average availability was 50 percent between 7pm and 8pm. On Wednesday 4 December, the site's average download time peaked at 34 seconds between 8pm and 9pm, with 80 percent availability.

Dixons had an average download time of 55 seconds at lunchtime on Monday 2 December but by Tuesday and Wednesday that figure had fallen to 36 and 30 seconds respectively. The average availability for Dixons' Web site was 71.5 percent in the lunchtime period on 2 December, 80 percent on 3 December and 60 percent on 4 December.

Currys -- part of the Dixons Group -- also appeared to have lunchtime problems. On Monday 2 December, the Web site took over 28 seconds to access on average, with 60 percent availability. On Wednesday 4 December, it took around 45 seconds to download on average but maintained 100 percent availability for shoppers patient enough to wait.

CD-Wow also suffered, with an average performance of 65.72 seconds between 1pm and 2pm and nearly 64 seconds between 9pm and 10pm. Amazon, HMV, Play and Borders all showed much faster response times.

Other Web sites did not appear to suffer the same performance issues. The Keynote UK Business 40 Index, a benchmark of 40 leading UK Web sites, shows average download peaking at just five seconds with availability at 92.69 percent or higher between 28 November and 5 December.

Andy Didcott, UK country manager, Keynote Europe, said: "I am pleased to see that Xmas online seems to be getting off to a strong start. However, it is clear from the results of the first couple of weeks that performance online remains an issue. It is a bit like building a shop with an incredibly small door, providing potential customers with an immediate disincentive to enter and make a purchase."

Keynote Systems has been measuring the online performance of department stores, book and CD retailers, children's stores, gift shops, electrical retailers and supermarkets since 21 November. Measurements are taken using Keynote's Perspective agents, based in the UK and Ireland, which test the URLs six times per hour, 24 hours per day.

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