Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Manage the Experience Gap During Downtime

  |  June 6, 2006   |  Comments

In a perfect world, sites would never go down. Since we live in the real world, six tips for when you have to take a site down.

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.

Customer Reaction

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:

  • Set expectations. If you're down, let people know when they can come back to shop. Think of it like this: instead of finding a neighborhood store mysteriously closed during business hours, you're thankful to see a sign on the door that says, "Gone to lunch. Back at 12:30 p.m."

  • Stick to your timeline. When you say your site will be back up by 9 a.m. on Tuesday, it had better be back up by then. Otherwise, you risk eroding customers' trust in your brand.

  • Offer a peek into the improved site experience. We often encourage clients to create a brief demo area on the current site to give customers a taste of the coming improvements. The brand communicates that enhancements are coming without jeopardizing the current site experience or losing revenue.

  • Warn customers. If a road will be closed for construction, signs are often up at least a few days before, warning drivers. Extend this courtesy to the online space. A simple email or notice on your site keeping customers informed will be appreciated.

  • Reward customers for their patience. If a site is down unexpectedly or for an extended period, reward customers for their patience and loyalty with discounts.

  • Provide an abbreviated catalog. Provide a small subset of your best-selling items to customers during the transition phase. Even if you can't make your full product line available, customers will appreciate the option and your consideration of their needs.

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.

ClickZ Live New York What's New for 2015?
You spoke, we listened! ClickZ Live New York (Mar 30-Apr 1) is back with a brand new streamlined agenda. Don't miss the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will make you re-think your strategy and revolutionize your marketing campaigns. Super Saver Rates are available now. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Kingdon Mark Kingdon joined Organic as CEO in 2001 and has led the company to its current position as a leading digital marketing agency. Prior to Organic, Mark worked for Idealab and provided strategic guidance to emerging companies. Earlier, he was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he led the America's retail and distribution industry practice and managed the PWC and Lybrand merger and was a leader in the e-business practice globally. Mark is a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and serves as a Webby judge. He's also a regular contributor to Three Minds, Organic's blog. Mark received his MBA from the Wharton School of Business and a BA in Economics from UCLA.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

UPCOMING TRAINING

Featured White Papers

Google My Business Listings Demystified

Google My Business Listings Demystified
To help brands control how they appear online, Google has developed a new offering: Google My Business Locations. This whitepaper helps marketers understand how to use this powerful new tool.

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line
82 percent of shoppers say they would buy more items from a brand if the emails they sent were more personalized. This white paper offer five tactics that will personalize your email beyond the subject line and drive real business growth.

WEBINARS

Resources

Jobs

    • Customer Service Consultant
      Customer Service Consultant (Bonner and Partners) - Delray BeachBonner & Partners: Full-time Customer Service Consultant Position Who we are...
    • Financial Editor
      Financial Editor (Confidential) - DurhamSIX FIGURE EDITORS WANTED: To enforce lofty NEW editing standards. Easy Conditions Unlikely. Promotion and...
    • Information Processing Specialist
      Information Processing Specialist (Agora Inc. ) - BaltimoreInformation Processing Specialist – The IP specialist position ensures the successful...