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Kohl’s Black Friday Website Disaster: Will They Avoid Failure This Year?

Nov. 19, 2013
Black Friday, Shopping
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What if you saw a great Black Friday ad online from Kohl’s that was unbelievable? The ad displayed over 500 early bird specials and other discounts like 20% off already low prices and free shipping for all orders over $50. The catch was that many deals were offered just on Thanksgiving evening. That still sounded good, right?

On the night of, however, you logged onto Kohl’s website and only saw a message: “We’re sorry for the delay!” The site was down no matter how many times you checked that night. You probably would be upset if that really happened, right?

Well, it did.

What Happened during Kohl’s 2012 Online Black Friday Sales Event?

For several hours on Thanksgiving evening, any visitors to Kohl’s website were denied the opportunity to cash in on early Black Friday deals. Instead they saw an outage message, an unexplained delay and an unresponsive site, whenever they tried to see details about an item or if they wanted to view their shopping cart.

It’s a known fact that online traffic is at its heaviest during Black Friday. Lost profits and bad publicity are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to website outages. In Kohl’s case, their website outage was caused by a traffic spike—too many visitors all at once.

What Causes Traffic Spikes to Occur?

Rapid traffic spikes are generally good news, meaning increased sales and ad revenue for a company. It commonly happens on retailer sites when new products or special deals are offered during certain times of the year. But if the website isn’t prepared for that volume of visitors, things get messy. The site crashes. Emails bounce. Purchases stop. And sometimes the company’s seeing the minutes go to hours of lost traffic and sales.

How Kohl’s Black Friday Shoppers Felt

You’re given so many deals in a small window of time Thanksgiving night, but then the website where it was all available crashed, and the small window was gone. The 500 early bird specials were just—gone. The 10% cash back through e-bates (electronic rebates) and the $15 in Kohl’s cash for every $50 spent were deals only valid Thanksgiving Day. So they were gone too. Many of visitors were upset, as you can imagine. Although shoppers were still able to use the 20% off coupon after Black Friday, many felt the whole sale Thanksgiving night was a scam or a false advertisement. Others thought Kohl’s had purposely caused the website to fail so conveniently when so many deals were offered. Plenty of these types of discussions surfaced on social media sites that night.

What Kohl’s and Other Retailers Can Do to Prevent Future Errors

It’s vital for Kohl’s and other retailers to prepare for the possibility of traffic spikes, especially around Black Friday. Making sure there is enough bandwidth available to handle huge amounts of visitors should be the first step. Testing servers to ensure they can accommodate heavy traffic during peak times is another step. But they could do more, like the following:

  • Use website designs that reduce bandwidth consumption
  • Get extra storage space to store user information (or even a secondary website)
  • Build more servers to handle excess traffic
  • Use a cloud-based automatic scaling service to optimize content delivery

Kohl’s simply wasn’t ready to handle online traffic for the Black Friday sales in 2012. Most likely they didn’t expect any negative outcomes, or maybe they didn’t perform proper website testing prior to the sale. In either case, their catastrophic website crash left a bad taste in shopper’s mouths. Let’s see if Kohl’s changes their design and/or stays afloat this Black Friday 2013. Hopefully they anticipate and build off the past mistakes.

Man Frustrated With Computer Error image courtesy of Shutterstock.