Retailers Experience Website Delays, as Shoppers Go Online in Droves for Cyber Monday

Sales Expected to Top $3 Billion Online Today, Following Tepid In-Store Traffic Over the Weekend

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Target's website was down on Cyber Monday.
Target's website was down on Cyber Monday. Credit:

The Black Friday holiday weekend is over and consumers have moved their shopping online -- if they haven't been buying there the whole time. After a weekend where digital shoppers outnumbered their brick-and-mortar counterparts by 1 million, according to the National Retail Federation, Cyber Monday was expected to provide the whipped cream to the growing online pie. Consumers awoke to scores of deals, ranging from discounts at apparel sellers such as J Crew to digital legal document provider LegalZoom.

By late morning, sales tallied nearly $500 million, a 14% rise over last year, according to technology company Adobe, which predicted the day's total transactions to top $3 billion, a record.

Excessive traffic prompted an early website outage for Target, which was forced to put up an error message urging consumers to "hold tight." The Minneapolis-based retailer was offering 15% off site-wide, with free shipping, and saw twice the volume of responses as its busiest day ever, according to a spokeswoman.

"As we experience spikes in traffic, our systems place guests in a queue and prompt them to access the site later," she said, noting that patience is appreciated. Most of the periodic delays lasted only a few minutes. Neiman Marcus, Victoria's Secret and Foot Locker also had some delays and technical issues over the holiday weekend, according to Catchpoint, which monitors website performance.

Yet on a day when time is limited for most consumers, who are back to work and browsing on office computers, minutes could cost a marketer.

"With retailers big and small all vying for the consumers' attention during this holiday shopping frenzy, if one site is unavailable, they will likely try another," said Jon Spooner, a retail strategist at Intersection, which helps retailers utilize technology. "Ultimately, outages for large retailers mean losing out on major purchases from shoppers looking to buy as much as possible from a single retailer."

Adobe also found that many must-have items, including several new Star Wars toys and some Playstation electronics, were out of stock early on in the day.

A key issue involves website functionality, said Steve Osburn, a retail and supply chain strategist at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon. He noted that most consumers would abandon their carts if they got to the checkout process and found that an item in their carts had sold out.

Analysts were also wary of the overly promotional nature of the deals being marketed, at a time when retailers are already suffering from excessive inventory after an overly warm November in the northeast.

"While the topline is a definite plus, consumers are also out in full-force looking for great offers," said Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester Research. "That makes Cyber Monday a meek day for margins -- and that is a challenge for retailers."

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