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Amazon's 'morning nightmare' lasts 11 days, and counting

Peak-time woes bedevil merchants, customers

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Amazon.com suffered an embarrassing outage earlier this week, but promised customers that problems with its IT systems had been rapidly fixed. This claim, however, has come under closer scrutiny from Amazon users in the UK, US and Canada. Many members of Amazon's Seller marketplace say the company has been suffering from long-standing problems during the peak holiday shopping season. And, to the dismay of Amazon PR, the company's IT staff agrees with the sellers.

On Monday December 6, Amazon admitted that its homepage had become inaccessible. A spokesman said the problem's had lasted for "a morning" and declined to provide any specific details on what has caused the outage or how many customers were affected.

It could be the longest morning in Public Relations history, however, as the problems stretch back over 11 days.

Numerous Register readers complained that Amazon's statements about the problems being fixed were simply false. This reporter tried to access his Amazon account page after the "fix" and experienced similar issues to our readers. Orders could not be tracked and our shopping cart was closed.

These problems are minor in comparison to those faced by members of Amazon's seller marketplace. A flood of complaints have filled the Amazon seller message boards, decrying slow order processing times, slow payment processing times and lagging inventory updates. Tasks that typically take close to 30 seconds are requiring hours.

Sellers in the UK started noticing a significant increase in problems on November 26.

"This week has been slow and sales ceased yesterday," writes Sylvia Ringer. "None today at all? This in theory should be the best week for sales, as most people get paid at the end of the month. In previous months . . . that has been the case for me."

Where were the sales going? Apparently, into Amazon's software ether.

"I also had trouble getting into the Amazon site at all last night and this morning," writes BA Finch. "There are quite clearly some significant problems."

No. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman assured us that the only problems occurred on Monday, and they were quickly resolved. These complaints from Nov. 26 were clearly fiction.

So what about the complaints from Nov. 29?

"Everything since . . . yesterday that costs more than £10 has gone into "payments processed" but hasn't completed yet," writes Grogan2.

"I sold two books yesterday over £10, both still pending - dead annoying," adds Lucy Lui1.

Similar gripes continue on right up to Monday this week: December 6.

Interestingly, Amazon completed maintenance operations on its US, Canada and UK sites near the end of November. Shortly thereafter it received a spike in the complaints and was forced to issue a number of maintenance reports back to the sellers.

On November 26 - that date sound familiar? - the Amazon UK Marketplace Team writes, "We performed urgent maintenance on Amazon Marketplace last night and unfortunately fallout from the event is causing a proportion of listings to be unavailable for purchase on-site."

In fact, the Amazon UK team reported four problems - listings not updating, the urgent maintenance, order and listing problems and seller account problems - on or around November 26. It then fixed two more problems on December 6.

The US and Canada sites began feeling the pain last Friday, December 3.

We are currently experiencing an issue that is impacting customers' ability to place orders on the Amazon.com and Amazon.ca websites.  Engineers are actively engaged on resolving this issue and we will continue to provide updates until service has been restored.   Thank You,

Dan C. Amazon.com

How about Monday, December 6 when Amazon's spokesman said all the problems were fixed.

Greetings from Amazon.com,

We continue to experience impacts from the issue reported earlier. The customers' ability to place orders on the Amazon.com and Amazon.ca websites is no longer impacted. The issue continues to impact the availability and access to our bulk upload processing systems. The delivery of Ship Sold Now e-mails and order reports are also impacted at this time.  Bulk uploads that can be submitted will be queued for processing and once this issue has been resolved, will resume flowing through the system.  Engineers continue to be engaged on resolving this issue and we will continue to provide updates until service has been restored.

Thank You,

Dan C. Amazon.com

According to Amazon's IT staff, the problems were actually fixed on Dec. 7 with the company still working to churn through backlogs of orders.

Then, wouldn't you know it, this message pops up today.

Greetings from Amazon.com.  

We are continuing to work on the issue that is causing the incorrect status to be displayed for some listings in Seller Your Account.  We will continue to provide updates until the issue has been fully resolved.

Thank you,

Lacey N Amazon.com

It took four calls to Amazon.com PR Craig Berman to get a response. He broke his silence with the comment,

"Oh yeah, what is it - biting the hands that feeds IT, right?," he said. "Great."

"The site is up and running," he continued. "I've been walking folks through stuff all day," he said; a less than adequate response in the face of a flood of complaints and problems experienced by vendors, customers and Amazon's own IT staff. So it's official: the company is not suffering from technical problems during the height of the holiday shopping season. Orders are not being lost. Sales are not being slowed.

Amazon is a sleek, efficient selling machine that will make no complaints about lackluster sales when the holidays are over. The morning sickness will surely be excuse enough for investors who view Amazon as a dotcom retail bellwether stock. ®

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