Hard Lesson: Grays Outlet Learns the Importance of Good Web Performance

By Jessica Benton | 30 Oct 2012

Sales promotions can be a conversion goldmine for retailers but can also place the company in the doghouse if consumers don’t have a positive shopping experience, as Gray’s Outlet experienced with its $1 deals. Social media is adding to this with consumers taking to social networks to voice their frustration over poor performing websites.

Online discount site, Grays Outlet, celebrated its first birthday with $1 deals on Today Tonight this week. The backlash from unhappy customers unable to access the site has placed emphasis on the priority that retailers need to give to site optimisation and good web performance.

The Grays Outlet website was unable to accommodate the high traffic intake after the Today Tonight PR plug. This followed a similar Grays Outlet PR promotion that Power Retail reported on earlier this month. The article induced over 50 comments from disgruntled customers, complaining that they were unable to access the site.

Nathan Johinke said “I can’t get through, would this be considered false advertising on the company’s behalf? I know it’s a grey area legally because they could say ‘oh we were having site problems’”. Ibhinx said “I can’t even get access to the web, this is rubbish! I’ve been wasting my precious one hour trying to upload the page”. Alan said “you go and put yourself all over TV to get that extra exposure but it’s probably a good idea to work on the website to handle the extra amount of people who would love to see what’s on offer”.

The Grays Outlet Facebook page was also bombarded with comments from unhappy customers, unable to access the site during the $1 sale, representing how social media channels can be used to voice frustrations and lead to online viral attacks.

Justus Wilde, founder of full-service e-commerce consultancy, Amblique said Software-as-a-Service e-commerce solutions like Demandware are designed to cope with large traffic spikes, and work to protect and manage brand reputation.

“Traditional build and run e-commerce platforms unfortunately require infrastructure and scalability management and while most retailers can manage newsletter blasts and normal marketing triggered traffic spikes many still fail to support large spikes caused by social media or TV. We have seen a number of large retailers fall over this year and every time this happens the brand is compromised,” he said.

“Enterprise SaaS solutions such as Demandware have been built with this requirement in mind. They can scale automatically as infrastructure is shared across several sites. Cloud based (SaaS) infrastructure helps retailers maximise these opportunity and protect their brand.”

Stuart Mills from Macquarie Telecom’s Digital and SaaS Hosting department said today’s consumers are unforgiving when it comes to poor performing websites and retailers need to be responsible for providing a positive user experience.

“With a retail website it’s the speed with which you can navigate around and have new pages load that’s crucial, so that if you’re searching for a product and it takes a long time to search or you find it and it takes a long time to load, literally within a few seconds you’re going to lose a potential customer and they’ll go off to your competitor,” he said.

“I don’t think that enough companies pay attention to what’s supporting that at the hosting level but there is a lot that can go wrong with cheap hosting, and for many pureplay retailers this is their only business. It’s not just about the high availability environments but also the speed with which their site is served to the customer.”

This is a timely reminder that if retailers want to play with mainstream media, then they need to ensure that sites are optimised with the best practice infrastructure and performance capabilities to account for the likely traffic spikes.

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