Websites deliver Christmas woe

Many of the UK's biggest online retailers are plagued with problems at peak times, according to research

While e-tailers will doubtless be counting their takings from bumper Christmas sales well into the new year, they'd do well to invest some of it back into their websites, according to the findings of research conducted by Empirix on behalf of silicon.com.

Empirix monitored the websites of 10 of the UK's biggest and best retailers, and found many were failing to take all the hassle out of Christmas shopping.

Shopping online is still far easier than battling it out on the high street, but many sites are still plagued with problems at peak times.

For example, shoppers accessing the website of electrical retailer Comet were kept waiting up to 29 seconds during peak times, while anybody looking for some booze from Virgin Wines ran the risk of a 28 second wait for pages to download during the site's busiest times.

Sainsbury's website took 25 seconds to access at peak times while lingerie site Figleaves.com kept shoppers waiting 22.5 seconds. Carphone Warehouse weighed in with a time-consuming 24.7 seconds, while lastminute.com was similarly struggling at times with waits of almost 20 seconds.

And reliability was also an issue. Only BOL, Carphone Warehouse and gadget heaven Firebox.com were available 100 per cent of the time in the run up to Christmas.

Worst offender was Virgin Wines which experienced uptime of just 97.69 per cent -- a far cry from the five nines ideal (99.999 per cent). However, it would appear reliability is often traded off against speed.

And there's not even any justification for claiming speed has been traded off against greater reliability. Firebox.com shone in both categories -- with an average download time of 2.44 seconds and 100 per cent uptime.

Other impressive average downloads times included Sainsbury's, which despite struggling at busy times still averaged out at 1.68 seconds. Argos was second fastest with an impressive 1.98 seconds. Worst of the bunch was BOL which averaged out at 8.03 seconds.

One shopper contacted by silicon.com said: "I tend to only go to two major sites: Amazon and Virgin Wines. I expect them to be 100 per cent reliable."

However, it's a fact of life that problems occur and often companies can gain even more fans by the way they handle them.

"I've never had a problem with Amazon and only once did the Virgin site crash," the shopper told silicon.com. "If you fail to complete a transaction with Virgin, one of their sales reps calls you within a few hours and asks you what the problem was."

Scott Miller, VP European Operations, Empirix said: "It is no longer acceptable to have retail ecommerce sites that are unavailable at any time of day. Online business can fulfil the dream of shopping anytime but the results of our study show that reality is somewhat different. In many industries, 'five nines' reliability is the measure of quality -- a 99.999 per cent success rate. Sites should be pitching for this -- one error in 100,000, not one in 50."

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