Online sales were the big winner over the holiday shopping weekend, as consumers chose to click from the couch over long lines at the register. The National Retail Federation said 108.5 million consumers bought electronically over the Thanksgiving period—only 99.1 million went the brick-and-mortar route. Last year, 103 million went online and 102 million visited stores.
The online frenzy continued into Cyber Monday, when some 122 million consumers were expected to open up their wallets on a day where discounts typically cut even deeper. Promotions ranging from as much as 75% at Children's Place to 40% off at Barneys flooded consumers' inboxes. Even Mace safety products were marked half off.
"Millions of consumers shopped over Thanksgiving weekend and reserved a portion of their budgets exclusively for Cyber Monday," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO at NRF, in a statement.
By 10 a.m. ET Monday, shoppers had already spent $540 million, according to technology company Adobe, which predicted Cyber Monday total sales would exceed $3.3 billion, a 9% rise over last year. But as in years past, not all marketers were prepared for the influx. Old Navy's website was delayed and then crashed intermittently on Monday afternoon. A landing page for shoppers read, "Hmm, something's not right. We appreciate your patience, and we're working to fix the situation."
A spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Old Navy, which is owned by Gap Inc., said, "OldNavy.com experienced a temporary technical issue earlier today, which we worked quickly to resolve. Providing our customers with a great online shopping experience is a top priority, and we apologize to our Old Navy customers for any inconvenience this may have caused."
Department store chain Macy's had its share of issues over the weekend as well, though the retailer's site was functioning by Monday. The brand emailed consumers an apology note on Friday that read, "Our site was intermittently down, but we're back now. Let's get back to shopping Black Friday!" Last year, companies such as Target and Neiman Marcus had similar issues.
"In 2016, there are no more excuses," said Mehdi Daoudi, chief executive of Catchpoint, an eight-year-old firm that monitors website performance. "You have at your disposal so many ways to expand your infrastructure footprint to alleviate load issues." He noted that in addition to the revenue impact of lost sales, the bigger impact is the loyal customers a brand might lose from having a non-functioning website on one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
Catchpoint found that retailers including QVC, Walmart and Newegg were also having problems and delays on Monday, all from third-party links.
Old Navy's glitches drew the ire of shoppers, who unsurprisingly took to social media to vent their frustrations.
"I can't believe you guys weren't prepared for Cyber Monday traffic," wrote Lisa Moore. "Sounds like you lost a lot of money from people having things in their cart and not being able to check out. I myself haven't even been able to go to the page. Don't advertise such great deals if you can't handle it!"
Some also complained that they were unable to pay for items once they had placed them in the checkout bin while other people's items mysteriously appeared in their orders.
"You KNEW it was Cyber Monday," wrote Amy Cantrell Ostrander. "I just lost my entire cart full of hundreds of dollars in stuff and it was replaced by someone else's stuff."
Others demanded that Old Navy extend the sale an extra day.
"If the sales aren't still available tomorrow, I think Old Navy and I might be done," wrote Jennifer Sommerfeldt.
Meanwhile, some website outages were intentional. Beauty brand Lush shut down its website in 40 countries for one hour on Friday in an effort to protest government-enforced internet shutdowns, the company said. The Canadian company is also selling a bath bomb called Error 404—100% of its sales will go to the Access Now protest.
With contributions from Suman Bhattacharyya