Fire sales turned into a firestorm for Walmart this morning as the company’s web servers buckled under Black Friday traffic. Shoppers from around the country waited until the middle of the night for sales only to experience broken checkout pages, emptied shopping carts, and login errors. This caused their desired items to go out of stock before they could buy them, leading to mass frustration and ill will towards the discount store chain. Meanwhile at its physical stores, 20 people were pepper sprayed by a fellow customer, and 2 people were shot outside separate locations. Walmart will need to sort out its servers in preparation for the upcoming Cybermonday blitz or it risks losing customers to Amazon.
We’ll let traditional news outlets cover the offline violence and focus here on Walmart’s web fiasco. Disgruntled online shoppers flocked to the GottaDeal.com forums to voice complaints about Walmart’s website problems. It’s unclear exactly how widespread the issues were, but the forums had complaints coming in every minute at one point last night from customers in Florida, Mississippi, New York and many other places.
Many expected deals to go live at Midnight local time only to have to wait up until 3am EST. Visitors then feverishly filled shopping carts but suddenly found them empty when they went to checkout. Others were confronted with the error message “We’re having temporary difficulties arriving at the destination you requested”. Login problems also arose, with users being asked to enter their credentials when already signed in. One customer reported that they complained about the checkout disruption on Walmart’s Facebook Page but later found their post deleted.
The entire Walmart site does not appear to have crashed. By keeping the site up despite the issues, Walmart may have sought to conceal the errors and avoid press coverage of the discontent. Loyal customers said they hadn’t had such problems since 2006 when Walmart experienced a similar breakdown of its site. The company pulled in $418 billion in revenue during the 2011 fiscal year, so today’s disruption could have cost it a lot of money.
While it might be too late to save Black Friday, Walmart better be scrambling to fix its website for Cybermonday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, just 36 hours away. The corporation acquired two startups Kosmix and OneRiot this year and formed its Silicon Valley-based @WalmartLabs in an effort to improve its ecommerce offering. However, it’s competing with powerhouse Amazon, whose cloud hosting division may protect it from the outages that plagued Walmart today.
If the errors persist on Cybermonday, shoppers may seek out a more reliable ecommerce solution. When customers post “I’m so frustrated I’m going to cry” and “an hour and a half of nonsense. shame on you Walmart!”, something has to change.
Update 3:3o pm PST: We’ve learned that Amazon online ordering also experienced an outage this morning as well. Both Amazon and Walmart should expect record traffic this weekend through Cybermonday.
Update 11/26 1:15 am PST: We’ve received word that this summer, Walmart laid-off its VP of Engineering/Ops Gene Wojciechowski. He was apparently well respected by engineering staff, and his absence may have caused Walmart to be less prepared to meet the Black Friday traffic surge.
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