Why do retail websites continue to fail during the holiday rush?

Ah, the holiday season, when the smell hot chocolate and fresh-baked cookies fills the air, families gather close to stoke nostalgic memories — and retail websites go down in flames like clockwork.

It’s a complete mystery to us why retailers allow their websites to be anything but robust, well-oiled, thoroughly tested machines come November. After all, it’s documented by the #1 Amazon sales rank tracker, that atleast for Amazon, 20-30 percent of their annual sales are earned during the holidays, and a steadily growing portion of those sales are coming through online channels.

And yet, as we’ve documented over and over and over, major outlets lose millions of dollars when all their advertising and marketing pays off with a rush of consumers, only to have their sites overwhelmed.

There’s a way to avoid that, folks. Service virtualization allows your team to simulate any network condition, allowing you to sleep that turkey off at Thanksgiving without worrying whether your servers can handle the rush.

Spread the word. Apparently, plenty of folks still aren’t in the loop, because look at some of what has happened already this year:

Wal-Mart, Neiman Marcus suffer web slowdowns during Black Friday spree

According to the Wall Street Journal, the world’s biggest retailer and one of the poshest both saw their sites crater. Wal-Mart’s site was overloaded after its Black Friday “doorbuster” deals were offered for the first time online. “We saw an incredible surge in traffic,” a spokeswoman told the Journal.

Another company official played down the crisis, noting that “the vast majority” of customers had no issues. However, it should be noted that studies have found even small web slowdowns to damage brand value on the web. Customers will just go elsewhere, and chances are they won’t come back.

At Neiman Marcus, meanwhile, the luxury brand’s website was unavailable on the big day. Website visitors found a note, “We’ll Be Back Soon.”

Gee, thanks. We’ll print that out and put it in Aunt Alice’s gift bag. On second thought, we’ll go somewhere else.

C’mon, guys. There’s technology available to avoid these problems.

Same story for UK retailer Argos

Over in the UK, Argos’ website was so bogged down that customer transactions were delayed up to 10 minutes, according to Huffington Post UK.

A spokesperson opted to look on the bright side, offering this spin: “The Argos website has not crashed or seen any outages at any point today … Lots of successful orders are being placed, so we ask them [customers] to please be patient.”

However, frustration spilled over onto social media:

Just another manic Monday for Target

According to Tech Times, a “huge number” of bargain hunters nearly crashed the site of retail giant Target on Cyber Monday. By midday, traffic had already doubled the previous high.

The result was an online queue, not unlike what Argos did. Shoppers got this message, “Please hold tight. So sorry, but high traffic’s causing delays. If you wouldn’t mind holding, we’ll refresh automatically and get things going ASAP.”

Which leads to this very good question: Hey, wait a minute, isn’t online shopping supposed to alleviate standing in line?

A spokesperson noted that the site never crashed. I guess that’s supposed to be good news. I’m not buying it. A slow website equals a crashed website in terms of both sales and damage to the brand. It’s critical to get it right.

As Jason Bloomberg wrote over at Forbes:

“For retailers and consumer brands in general, Black Friday is not only ground zero for annual profitability, it’s also their digital performance baptism of fire as well. Every element of their omnichannel offering must line up perfectly, from web performance to ecommerce-centric personalization to in-store product availability. And if something goes wrong, the world will hear about it – on Twitter.”