Why Even 5 Minutes of Downtime Can Devastate Your Online Store

Volusion (both the company and its customers) had about 5 minutes of downtime this morning. This may not seem like much, but it was certainly long enough for Volusion store owners and anyone browsing their sites to notice. It was definitely long enough for users of Convergent 7’s e-commerce forums to post about it. One of those posts perfectly explains why even 5 minutes of downtime can devastate your online store:

Stop what you’re doing and exit the store, please.
No, wait! Come back!

Volusion store owner Vic20 wrote:

That’s one of the things that gets me about the little 5 minute outages. The impact goes beyond just that 5 minutes of downtime when you have a couple of hundred visitors that are shopping the site who start getting 404 errors. They all go away and you lose your entire queue of customers that took much longer to build.

Imagine you are running a large brick and mortar retail store. It’s a busy afternoon and you’ve got a couple of hundred people shopping in the store. Many of them are in line waiting to check out. Others are browsing the aisles and adding items to their carts. Suddenly the lights go out – the registers go down and a voice comes over the loudspeaker and says, “Everybody, leave the building immediately. If you had items in your cart, abandon it now. We do not know when we will open for business again.”

So, everybody leaves. Five minutes later, yippee, the lights come back on. Do you pick up where you left off? No… the store is vacant and everybody has driven to the shopping mall down the street instead. The parking lot is empty. And you’ve got to go out with a sandwich board and dance on the street to work to fill your store again, just hoping that the lights will stay on. It might take hours to build your audience back to the same level it was before.

So, a 5 minute outage. Volusion might think it’s no big deal. Maybe they will give you a .12 cent credit. But it’s the same as telling a store full of customers in the middle of the day to bug off and shop elsewhere.

Well said, right?

Even though higher traffic stores may “evacuate? more shoppers than a smaller store during a brief outage, the downtime disproportionately affects small businesses in a negative manner.

Higher traffic stores can likely afford to go down briefly because they’re well-known and sought out – that’s what gives them a high-traffic site. Thus, customers keep refreshing the page and hitting the site as they wait for it to come back up. Think about it – if you’re shopping on Amazon or Overstock and the site blinks out – what are you going to do? Shop somewhere else? Not likely.

Conversely, if your small e-commerce store suddenly stops responding, the visitor is more likely to simply back out and click on the next SERP listing. If that visitor originally found you through a paid click on a PPC campaign, then you miss out doubly: once on the sale and once on recovering the cost of the click.

Downtime is never good, and even short outages can be enough to really screw up your sales for a day. So be sure you report all outages and rage appropriately through social media. Hopefully someone somewhere is listening.

About Dean Peckenpaugh

Dean offers small business consulting services at DeanP, LLC - specializing in e-commerce and operations. Visit the contact page to request a consultation.

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  1. [...] Yesterday I wrote about how even 5 minutes of downtime can wreck your online store. One of the points I argued was that downtime adversely affects smaller business the greatest because their customers won’t sit around waiting for the site to come back up – they’ll just move on to your competitor. Larger and more popular sites (like my company’s) are somewhat isolated from this phenomenon, but it still hurts. [...]

  2. [...] minutes. All your customers just left, and only the most loyal will come back. I wrote about that here. Actually, another forum member wrote about that, and he said it much better than I could. He [...]

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