Late last summer if you tried to visit Gap.com, Oldnavy.com, or BananaRepublic.com to make a purchase, you probably found the three sites were down periodically to prepare for the upcoming holiday season.
The sites were taken down on August 24, 2005 -- at the height of a back-to-school shopping season with the highest gasoline prices in recent memory. At my company, we noticed and started a lively internal dialogue. We addressed obvious issues about lost revenue but were more interested in the way the three brands communicated the outage with their customers. We found two messages, "Under Construction" and "Store Closed," posted in the place of Gap.com during the transition. Both were straightforward messages but not nearly as hip or friendly as the Gap brand itself.
After two weeks of downtime, in an era of server reliability and high customer expectations around "always open" Internet shopping, most customers probably visited multiple times. Reactions most likely ranged from a shrug to frustration. Some might have decided to visit the physical stores or another online destination.
A customer quote in a "San Francisco Chronicle" article underscores the point: "'I just felt stymied,' said the 33-year-old Storch, who is shopping for more items on the Internet while on maternity leave with her one-month-old son. 'I thought most Web sites only shut down during the middle of the night.'"
The incident puzzled us as well. The Gap is well known for smart, innovative marketing and is a top-of-mind leader in the online retail space. Was it experimenting with a new way to generate buzz about its site enhancements? Did it think the downtime would pass under the industry -- or customer -- radar?
Maintain a Customer Relationship When You're Down
We all struggle with planned and unplanned site outages. Thankfully, most customers understand sites can go down periodically for maintenance and enhancements. A few thoughts for when you must take a site down:
In a perfect world, sites would never go down. But that world doesn't exist. Make the transition between sites as seamless as possible, and turn a potentially frustrating experience into a positive one for customers.
Mark is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.
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