Traditional retail stores beat Online Shopping when it matters – peak demand

time and time again it's proven - the internet just can't cope with high demand

Look I’m a big fan of the modern connected world, but time and time again we’re given a stark reminder that there’s a reason we still rely on traditional retail – peak demand.

Don’t get me started on the 2016 Census, sure some Denial of Service attacks took place, but we still don’t know if the site could have coped with the millions of Aussies expected that night – and we never will.

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But here’s two small examples of why the Internet fails the trust test among regular Australians.  EB Games and Target.  Both attempting to sell the same product online, both failed dismally.

The Nintendo Classic Mini Entertainment System.  $99.  30 games, bargain, easy purchase, a must have for any half-keen gamer.

Sold out in no time on the first orders and any in-store stock.  So Australia’s largest computer games retailer makes their second shipment – and final shipment of 2016 – available online only.

Midday they said.  But at Midday the site was dead.  Give us 24 hours they said, but 24 hour later, the site was dead.

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They sold their stock, but for the thousands who missed out it was a nightmare with no clear communication other than web error messages.

This morning, at 8am, Target had their stock ready to go online.

Even before 8am their site seemed ready.

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Could it be that they had implemented all the right checks and balances to stagger the traffic into the online store – in the same way that a security guard on the door of a retail store might restrict the number of people physically in the store?

At 8am, we had our answer.

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Different messages, at different points in the purchasing process.

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Still now one hour and 20 minutes after the item went on sale I’ve got one in my “basket” but can’t get past that page.

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The problem here is the investment required to sustain such enormous peak loads.  As some QUT students proved in basic theory regarding the Census there are new “cloud based” server and hosting solutions that can help to spread the load at these peak times.

At issue for retailers is they are not serving up static pages, they need to process transactions.

To enable this a site design – by my very basic logic – requires a staged server approach. One set of servers and sites for the incoming traffic, the browsing traffic, and from there a steady controlled and orderly flow through to a checkout process then to a payment process.

Ensuring that any browsing traffic is not effecting the checkout process is critical to giving the right shopping experience.

Target wins the award for best attempt at this, given their countdown messages and clear messaging in the site – Only twice (out of about 100 refreshes) did I get an actual server error.

The problem is price, and convincing the bean-counters that in fact you must invest in a site design and server infrastructure that is designed to handle this type of situation, albeit very rare.

You never know when you’re going to be popular, and the last thing you want is to disappoint new customers on their first experience with your store.

If Target had 10,000 Nintendo Classic Mini’s in this shipment, and shared them equally across all stores, that’s about 30 per store.  I’d have much preferred to head to my local Target this morning to see how the queue looked rather than waste well over an hour of my time online.  Plus, that also opens up the chase for the elusive Nintendo – finding a store that still stocks one, no matter how far the drive!  Much more exciting:)

 

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Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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