Target's Site Plagued by Glitches, Friction Between Marketing and Tech Teams

Six Weeks After Launch, Consumers Are Frustrated; Retailer Plans Updates

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Broken links, missing baby and wedding registries, and carts with a mind of their own are just a few of Target 's problems six weeks after the retailer unshackled itself from Amazon. But irate customers unable to complete purchases and Facebook and Twitter feeds littered with angry comments, all during a period when nearly 40% of consumers are shopping for the holidays, may have Target execs wondering if its newfound freedom cost too much.

The new Target .com is experiencing growing pains -- and giving consumers headaches.

Tweeted one annoyed customer: "Dear @Target I've been trying to spend money on your site ALL DAY and every time I try to check out I get a Bad Request page. FRUSTRATING."

The redesigned Target .com launched Aug. 23, ending the retailer's decade-long relationship with Amazon. Two years ago, the Minneapolis-based retailer decided to regain control over its online sales and enlisted more than 20 vendors -- including SapientNitro (as partner and lead integrator), Interpublic Group of Cos' Huge , Infosys, IBM and Endeca -- to build its own e-commerce technology and website. It was a bold move. Amazon, after all, has spent years perfecting the e-commerce experience. But industry insiders noted that Target needed to take control of its online destiny, given how fast online sales are growing.

Throughout the process, Ad Age has learned, there's been friction between Target 's marketing and technology departments, which needed to come together on the project to build both an appealing consumer-facing storefront and a site that links back to the retailer's existing systems. The retailer's technology team brought in Sapient, which is an agency grown out of an IT consultancy and accustomed to working with chief information officers. Meanwhile, the marketing and brand team tapped Huge , a design and user-focused agency that 's built e-commerce sites for the likes of JetBlue and Ikea. Ultimately, Huge took a backseat on this particular project, though it continues to work with Target in other capacities.

Both Sapient and Huge referred inquiries to Target . A Target spokeswoman declined to comment on reports of internal friction surrounding the massive redesign, dubbed "Everest."

Consumer griping at the redesign of a corporate website is to be expected. And while some consumers loved the new look for Target .com, others loathed it. A handful of programmers took to the web to berate Target for validation errors and search-engine-optimization issues.

"There is a lot wrong with this site," wrote Brian LaFrance, marketing director for software company Authority Labs, on the company blog shortly after the new site launched. "It's definitely not ready for prime time and was either rushed out to meet a deadline or there is a big team of idiots behind it. Maybe both. A quick run through the site exposed a lot of basic items that are being handled poorly." Since Target .com launched, the post has received a lot of traffic from Google searches along the lines of "Target .com broken," Mr. LaFrance told Ad Age .

Fast forward to Sept. 13 and the launch of the much-hyped Missoni for Target collection. The massive demand and huge traffic for the designer's exclusive line -- near Black Friday levels, according to Target execs -- crashed the fledgling site, rendering it inoperable for hours. The buzz tied to the Missoni launch and the problems it created at Target .com acted as a smokescreen of sorts, drowning out those consumers having unrelated problems.

But even now, weeks after the Missoni launch, complaints are coming in fast and furious.

"I have been trying to check out using the new (horrific) website for the past 45 minutes," wrote one shopper on Facebook. "Besides not being able to zoom in on photos or see the 'more views' or returning items as easily as it once was; not being able to actually PURCHASE my items has got to be the most frustrating thing since the new website launched."

Also on Facebook, a bride-to-be relayed disappointment at having received doubles and triples of items at her shower, because her registry wasn't being updated. Likewise, a mom-to-be complained that , with her baby shower just two weeks away, she was unable to even access her registry. Dozens of consumers on Facebook and Twitter reported receiving error messages when trying to check out, as well as difficulty creating new-user logins and passwords. A quick tour of the site revealed a number of broken links and prominently placed "out of stock" items in search results. Links on a page promoting dresses didn't work, though a link to shoes did. And several attempts to place a pair of jeans into the shopping cart were unsuccessful.

"Target strives to deliver an exceptional guest experience in our stores and online," the company said in a statement to Ad Age . "Our new Target .com site is intended to be reflective of Target 's brand and we sincerely regret that some of our guests have experienced challenges. Target is committed to addressing any concerns that are brought to our attention, and we are working diligently to ensure that the site is operating efficiently."

But with the all-important holiday season fast approaching, the race is on to fix any and all problems on the site. Ad Age has learned that Target has created a "SWAT team" that is working on updates to the site. One push is said to be slated for October, another for November. A Target spokeswoman declined to share specifics of any planned updates, saying only, "as part of our evolution, we have always planned for updates to the site to occur in the months following its launch. Some would be seen by the guest and others involve behind-the-scenes changes."

Every day counts, considering that 18% of consumers began their holiday shopping in September or earlier last year and an additional 19% began hitting stores in October, according to the National Retail Federation. Target reported sales of $20.3 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, and cited fast-growing online sales, thanks to increases in traffic, conversion and average value order.

While there's no way for an outsider to know sales or conversions, time spent on Target .com is exceeding year-ago figures, according to Experian Hitwise. Time spent on the site is up 19% year-over-year comparing last week to the same week in 2010. However, that increase could be due in part to the difficulties consumers are experiencing using the site.

But that 's only part of the story. According to YouGov's BrandIndex, Buzz scores for Target among 18-to-34-year-old women declined precipitously in the days after the new site's launch. In the lead up to the Missoni launch, those scores began to recover before declining again after the launch fiasco.

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