E-Commerce Sites Suffer Black Friday Blackouts

About one in five e-commerce transactions failed at peak shopping times during the day after Thanksgiving, an Internet performance company said yesterday.

San Mateo, CA-based Keynote Systems tested 13 top e-commerce Web sites during Black Friday, the official start to the holiday shopping season. The company found mixed results. Sites had a 98.4 percent success rate for transactions the day before Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving the rate dropped to 89.4 percent. And during peak shopping time, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, Pacific Time, the rate fell to 80 percent.

“Online shopping being around five years now, you'd think the online retailers would be expecting this kind of traffic,” said Roopak Patel, an analyst with Keynote.

Black Friday, the busiest offline shopping day of the year, has begun to hold the same sway online. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, traffic to retail sites rose 28 percent compared to a week earlier.

Keynote measures e-commerce site performance with software that tests the success rate for multi-step retail transactions, from logging on to checking out, on the sites of leading retailers, including Office Depot, Eddie Bauer and Wal-Mart. Eddie Bauer, Amazon and Wal-Mart all scored at a 99 percent average success rate. The worst performer, Nordstrom, had an 85 percent average success rate.

“Certain online retailers are more sophisticated than others,” Patel said. “They do the planning and they have the tools.”

The company also measured response times for sites, gauging how long it took to complete transactions. While the top sites fared well with a 14.3 second average, some sites did not, with the worst clocking an average response time of more than 27 seconds.

Patel said some sites chose flashier technology to lure shoppers over a quick, clean experience.

“It's a tradeoff between razzle-dazzle and how efficient you want to make your site,” he said. “There's a host of new technologies out there and retailers are toying with them everyday.”

Site performance improved during the weekend, Keynote found, although response times rose to over a minute on some sites Monday as people shopped from work.

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