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Online Christmas orders from retailers go titsup

IT glitches at Fortnum & Mason and Sainsbury's hamper operations

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Looks like Christmas won't be delivered for hundreds of families this weekend who've shopped online at Sainsbury's and Fortnum & Mason, thanks to IT problems.

Fortnum & Mason has blamed "severe" IT problems for its failure to deliver its famous luxury hampers in time for the big day.

The high-end retailer is now no longer taking orders from its website and is directing people to its shop in Piccadilly, London, which will be open until 5.30pm on Christmas Eve.

The company, whose hampers are priced up to £5,000 and which opened for business in 1707, introduced a new IT system across the business this year.

It sounds like this system was unable to cope with an unexpected surge in Christmas orders.

In a statement Fortnum & Mason told The Reg: "A combination of the well-reported 'late Christmas buying season', leading to an unprecedented 300 per cent year-on-year increase in customer transactions during December and the introduction of a new IT infrastructure across the business in 2011 has put extreme pressure on our operations."

Over at Sainsbury's, meanwhile, people who ordered food through the retailer's website found that their delivery slots vanished when they tried to review the order they'd placed online. A spokesperson for Sainsbury's told The Reg it is investigating the cause of the problem.

The spokesperson for Sainsbury's said the retailers' website glitch had affected fewer than 100 orders. Sainsbury's is the UK's third-largest grocer.

Fortnum & Mason said it is confident the "vast majority" or orders would be delivered in time for Christmas, saying it was "doing everything we can to full fill as many orders as possible". Refunds will be offered to those who don't receive their orders.

The company has drafted in hundreds of extra warehouse staff to shift the hampers, while its customer service team will continue operating until New Year's Eve.

There were no details on the systems used or the actual causes of the problems in both cases.

Traditionally, however, companies have been burned by the installation of massive IT ERP and CRM systems, intended to run the entire order taking, fulfillment and delivery process upon which they depend.

Famously, iconic US chocolate-maker Hershey's was unable to deliver enough sweets to retailers during choc-tastic Halloween period of 1999 following the installation of a $112m SAP and Siebel system. Hershey has lost $100m in sweet orders.

The whole episode has echoes of The Good Life 1977 Christmas special, and will serve as a chilly reminder of the perils of having your Christmas delivered in a van.

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