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Monday, Jun. 9, 2008 at 2:42 pm

The Impact of Site Outages

By Brian Bond
June 9th, 2008

website outageLast week, the online world was jolted with something we all thought was impossible: Amazon.com went down.

Outages happen all the time, but there is a scale at which this becomes amazingly rare and the amount of time of the outage was surprising. 30 minutes to two hours doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but when you consider the scale of a business like Amazon.com, it has massive impact to the sales of the company. Advertising Age estimated that Amazon may have lost $1.8 Million, based on the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

Personally, I doubt it was that large — considering Amazon’s revenue mix and the date/time of the outage — but it was a sizable chunk of change. Then consider the collateral brand damage of taking down the sites of all the small businesses who decided to trust Amazon.com as their platform for launching their businesses. Try measuring the true impact of that hit.

The most chilling impact, though, is how much forward momentum was just wiped out for the company and the marketing team responsible for reaching their targets. How many of the hard-fought growth numbers for the period are just negated by technology failure.

This type of impact sneaks up on a company as it matures. It reminded me of an instance in my career, managing acquisition marketing for a large online subscription business. On a particularly high traffic day, the store went down and I was shocked when no one dropped everything to start fixing it.

The problem was scale. In the past, when the company was small, an outage like this wasn’t a big deal because they only lost a few sales. But as the company had grown (with the same people in the same roles), the scale and impact of such a problem was forgotten. It wasn’t until I brought management an estimation of the 5-6 figure number we were likely to lose because of the issue that the whips started cracking and the problem received the attention it deserved.

There are insights to be gained from both examples that any effective marketing team should put into practice:

1) Analytics and Tracking: Make sure you as marketers are watching the health of your site and ads. Most analytics packages have alerts for metrics. Build reports that allow you to see critical areas of your site in real time. For instance, I had a real time view of all the steps of our purchase funnels on my desk at all times and it saved the day a few times.

2) Marketers, understand the importance of building it right as well as fast. Sometimes we push developers too hard to deliver in tight time-frames and scalability and fail-safes are sometimes the first code to get cheated. Developers, empathize with your marketing team’s critical deadlines and don’t go overboard on scalability.

3) Understand, in real dollars, the impact outages have to the top and bottom lines and invest appropriately to protect your performance.

Sounds like something the dev team should do, right? Well, yes, but this is one area where two eyes are better than one and where healthy collaboration helps the entire enterprise.

And to Amazon.com, your recent outage sent the bookworm-like staff here at FutureNow into a raw panic, but we empathize with your recent pain and hope you’ve learned many powerful lessons from the issue.

. .

About the Author: Brian Bond is VP of Marketing and Product at FutureNow, Inc.

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Comments (7)

  1. emphathize?

  2. Really impressive numbers. Do you have any idea how many employees work at Amazon.com?

  3. 8 Months ago they had nearly 16,000 full and part-time employees. Whats really important is that I still think, even at this size, they have shown an aptitude for execution around innovation and testing. this is one of the reasons we enjoy highlighting them on the Grok and at FutureNow, Inc.

  4. WOW! 1.8 million lost? As the business owner of a growing online retailer, I’m always planning for potential technical problems. Although the impact of a site outage always equates to revenue loss, we can certainly learn lessons from those around us – Amazon included. Thank you for the insights!

  5. hmmm never thought that amazon was such a big company.

  6. Wow, a loss of 1,8 milion is very much 16000 employes there..
    I hope for them they won’t get any more troubles because of the Crisis that is going on at this point!

  7. Hi

    I learned that a company as big as amazon new.

    Thanks…

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