As a CIO, it’s your worst nightmare: The marketing department dreams up some fantastic promotion aimed at the very core of its prime demographic. The team stirs up a public frenzy with slick advertisements and viral buzz, imprinting the release date into the consumer’s brain. Then when the fateful day arrives, the servers crumble and grind to a halt, leaving consumers and the entire company staring at the IT team for underdelivering.
We’ve seen it time and again. It’s only been a short four months since the Lady Gaga Amazon e-commerce cloud failure . Unfortunately, this time mass merchandiser Target was caught unprepared to handle the onslaught. Its much-anticipated Missoni for Target collection was released on Target.com at 6 Tuesday morning, grinding the website to a halt.
Target had depended on the Amazon e-commerce platform to host and run its online presence for a decade. After spending two years developing its own infrastructure, it redesigned and launched the website on its own platform three weeks ago. Then it saw one heck of a christening with the Missoni for Target collection, which drew more traffic than Target normally gets on the busiest shopping day of the year. The eager consumers basically created an organic DOS attack on the site.
While pundits are certain that the Target brand won’t suffer long-term damage from this fiasco, it still begs the question of why Target was caught without adequate tech for the promotion. It had to have some inkling that the Missoni for Target collection was going to be huge, and that frantic consumers would hammer the website. While I understand that Target made a strategic move to support its own infrastructure, wouldn’t a cloud failsafe be logical in the event of traffic spikes? The retailer should be no stranger to obscene amounts of traffic and unusual data. I tested the site throughout the release day and found it still unusable more than 16 hours after the collection’s release. That’s some serious loss of usability, right there.
While the smoke is still clearing, I’ll be curious to hear details on the point of failure. Was the new platform incapable of handling the traffic? Bandwidth? Some facet of the shopping cart system? Would this have happened if Target had stayed on the Amazon e-commerce platform? It’s possible that we’ll never know, but for now, there are a lot of angry Twitter and Facebook posters who found themselves empty-handed after items sold out on Tuesday. Unlike Amazon’s quick resolution of the Lady Gaga fiasco, Target’s IT team will have an uphill battle to restore consumer confidence.
Even the big guys fail and fail big sometimes. Judging from their track record with data spikes in the past, I suspect that had they acted like a midmarket company and left their e-commerce in the cloud, the Missoni for Target release would have been all win.