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Epic e-tail fail down under

Click Frenzy falls flat, with bad news for Magento and UltraServe

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Australia’s IT and retail communities are picking up the pieces today, after an epic e-commerce fail that has seen a much-hyped ‘click frenzy’ fail to satisfy most punters.

Online retailing is under-developed in in Australia. Few established retailers take it seriously or do it well, while international giants like Amazon have so far stayed away. The high Australian dollar – which currently buys about $US1.03 – means Australians have, however, developed quite an appetite for cheap goods from offshore online retailers, to the considerable chagrin of locals who want tax laws changed to protect their patch.

A new venture, clickfrenzy.com.au, hoped to change all that. Styled as a local version of the Cyber Monday sales about to kick off in the USA, the site gathered an enormous roster of retailers and vendors, among them Microsoft, and erected a site that it said would offer colossal discounts for just 24 hours.

Would-be-shoppers were offered the chance to pre-register, which meant giving the promoter an email address, ahead of the 08:00 GMT November 20 start of the sale. Punters who fronted at that time, and for many hours afterwards, found the site all-but-impossible to reach.

Here at Vulture South, we tried to reach the site using various devices and browsers, an ADSL and a 3G weireless connection between its opening and around 11:00 GMT on the 20th of November, then for several hours after 19:00 GMT on the same day. All our attempts failed. Only at around 00:30 on the 21st of November did the site become visible in our makeshift lab. Similar fates befell the sites of David Jones, an Australian department store chain that ran its own “Christmas Frenzy”, while even websites of retailers suspected of participating in Click Frenzy collapsed as the bargain-hunters descended.

That state of affairs has, of course, produced an outpouring of anger on social media. Much is directed at clickfrenzy. Other opinion bemoans the fact that Australia’s IT industry has shown it cannot handle a predictably large flood of traffic.

That analysis has, to date, tended to focus on the bleeding obvious, namely that the host, UltraServe, has failed rather badly and that the software used, Magento, is probably not up to snuff.

The promoter of the event has, however, insisted that the inability to reach the site constitutes success, not failure, as the massive audience shows the concept is a success and that plenty of punters did get through. In a statement posted to Facebook, the organisation has also said the following:

“The technical directors, developers and infrastructure specialists involved in this inaugural event are working to get to the root of what occurred with the wave of traffic at 7pm. I am not in a position to describe exactly what has occurred yet as the teams involved are working on the solution first to resolve any problems. We will provide answers as soon as they are available. We will continue to issue updates.”

The site’s failure, and the need to offer an email address to pre-register, has also led to many expressing the opinion the whole thing may have had data collection, not online retailing, as its real aim.

Click Frenzy has had to rebut that meme, too, with another Facebook statement saying “We understand there are reports that Click Frenzy will be using the information gathered from participants for third party marketing purposes. We categorically state that this is untrue – we respect the precious nature of permission given and we categorically state that we have not and will not sell or rent any customer information to third parties.”

Vulture South’s inbox is already groaning with emails from vendors’ PR companies, keen to put forward their client as someone who can explain how to do it better. One even termed the incident “a ‘consumer generated’ Distributed Denial of Service attack” as part of an explanation of their own cloud services.

That term may, we suggest, struggle to enter the lexicon.

A likely footnote is offered by online retailers of The Reg’s acquaintance, who say it is all-but-certain that Amazon.com is readying Australian operations. Most welcome its arrival as a tide that will raise all ships. Whether clickfrenzy.com.au has been too badly holed to benefit remains to be seen. ®

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