Office Depot went down for hours on Cyber Monday. Other major retailers such as Walmart, GameStop and Cabela's also suffered tech woes during the peak shopping days of Cyber 5.

It’s a nightmare scenario for many ecommerce retailers: the website goes down in the middle of the busiest time of year for online shopping. During Cyber 5 this year, a lot of those nightmares came true.

The worst known incident involved Office Depot Inc. (No. 22 on the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000). According to Catchpoint, which monitors user experience on major websites. Office Depot’s site went down at 11:20 a.m. ET on Cyber Monday and remained offline until 2:08 p.m., according to a post on Catchpoint’s LinkedIn page.

A spokesperson for Office Depot said in a written statement that “some of our customers experienced intermittent disruptions while placing orders” on Cyber Monday. The retailer said it would extend its Cyber Monday sale through Tuesday as a result.

Office Depot wasn’t the only retailer to face tech glitches. More than 40 direct-to-consumer brands and retailers experienced crashes, freezes or slowdowns as shopping boomed starting on Thanksgiving, according to Yottaa, a provider of web optimization software. This year’s performance problems were slightly less widespread than in 2020 when Yottaa detected issues on 50 ecommerce websites.

Walmart Inc. (No. 2 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), GameStop Corp. (No. 53) and the Boohoo Group PLC’s fashion brand PrettyLittleThing were among the ecommerce retailers that experienced website outages, site crashes, slow load time and other performance issues during the 2021 Cyber 5, according to Yottaa.

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The cost of website outages

Site crashes and slow loading speed lead to lost revenue for ecommerce retailers as frustrated shoppers look elsewhere to complete their purchases.

This year the surge in traffic online retailer usually see over the Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday period began much sooner.

“With Cyber 5 promotions beginning earlier than ever, we started seeing significant online traffic increases across the 1,500 ecommerce sites on the Yottaa platform in mid-October,” Bob Buffone, founder and chief technology officer of Yottaa, says. As of press time, that had led to a 20% year-over-year traffic spike during the Cyber 5.  

The online traffic peak this Cyber 5 came at 10 a.m. ET on Black Friday (as opposed to 9 p.m. ET on Black Friday last year), according to Yottaa.

Even as traffic declines from that peak, performance problems continue across the web. The IsItDownRightNow service, which monitors major sites across the globe, also detected outages on Cyber Monday at Bass Pro Shops (No. 34 in the Top 1000) and its Cabela’s brand site.

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Social media and website outages

In addition to the risk of revenue loss, retailers can suffer reputation damage when a website fails to meet shoppers’ expectations for always-on commerce.

Walmart website outage

When an ecommerce site has performance issues during a peak shopping period, shoppers take to social media to complain. Pictured is a screengrab from Twitter on Black Friday.

Shopper frustration with performance issues was a recurring theme on social media during this year’s Cyber 5 period, as shoppers voiced their displeasure on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

And earlier this month, Walmart faced social media wrath when its long-awaited restocking of gaming platforms Playstation 5 and X Box Series X ran into website outages and glitches that prevented shoppers from buying the platforms.

Google minimums

Performance issues aren’t limited to the peak shopping season. A report issued Monday by Searchmetrics said roughly half of the 100 most visible sites on the Web failed to meet the Core Web Vitals guidelines for user experience issued by Google in June of this year.

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The apparel segment, in particular, does poorly on the guidelines, according to Searchmetrics. “Only 24% of the top 100 most visible fashion and apparel websites pass Core Web Vitals on desktop and just 16% on mobile,” Searchmetrics, which measures search performance for websites, said in a press release.

“Fashion and travel were found to be the worst-performing segments in terms of Core Web Vitals,” said Tom Wells, vice president for strategy at Searchmetrics.  “Part of the explanation is that websites in these sectors—and ecommerce generally—are typically image-heavy and frequently feature dynamic elements such as ad banners.”

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