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The Click Frenzy bonanza was a marketing exercise run by technical amateurs who appeared more concerned with slurping up Australians' personal information than offering hot deals, experts say.
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Click Frenzy 2013 will be 'simply amazing'
While Click Frenzy director Grant Arnott admits the unprecedented consumer rush was too much for their systems to handle, he denies the event was a failure, saying with more preparation, next year's sale will be 'simply amazing'.
But the director of the company behind the website has defended its crash, saying the site had simply been overwhelmed by a "tsunami" of users.
The Click Frenzy website went down as soon as the 7pm sale began and within minutes the websites of Myer, Dick Smith, Harvey Norman and many others had also been knocked offline or slowed to a crawl. The #clickfail hashtag quickly trended on Twitter, with the main site down for several hours.
MelbourneIT had bots monitoring availability and response times for 153 websites that participated in Click Frenzy. Between 6pm and midnight last night "about two thirds of the participating sites had issues, which is not good", Melbourne IT CTO Glenn Gore said.
Gore said some sites took "minutes to load a page" and Myer was the worst performing, followed by other big brands like Dick Smith, Jeans West, Katies, Quicksilver, Kogan and Universal Music. He said big international retailers had response times in the milliseconds indicating the local brands just weren't investing enough in technical capacity.
In response to claims by event organisers that they were prepared for 1 million users, Gore said "the evidence says they weren't".
"What the data shows is that significant numbers of Australian consumers wanted to take advantage of these sales and they couldn't because the sites couldn't respond; they were either generating errors or just so slow that they were unresponsive."
Several technical experts told Fairfax the Click Frenzy organisers and some participating retailers used software and technology platforms that were widely known to be incapable of handling the demand.
When they could get on to see the deals consumers realised that mostly they weren't bargains at all and they could find cheaper prices on international sites.
But Click Frenzy director Grant Arnott said the site was simply a victim of its own success, with 1.5 to two million customers rushing to get online at 7pm.
"We geared up to sustain up to a million visitors through a 24-hour period. When you exceed that in minutes, the build-up yesterday was tsunami-like in terms of the constant building of registrations we were receiving,” Mr Arnott said.
"From the time we launched the registration site we sent out 4 notifications to registered customers. As the number of registered customers grew above our expected level, we notified our retail partners that interest was likely to exceed our original forecasts, and as a result they might want to look at boostings their capacity to accommodate the additional traffic".
"... No site that we are aware of would be able to sustain that level of activity in such a short [space] of time.”
The big retailers reportedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to Click Frenzy to feature deals on the site. Gore questioned the sense in the big retailers "giving up their customer relationships" to Click Frenzy, which asked consumers to register their personal information via its website.
Danny Bishop, creative director at IMG Sports Technology Group, did the sums and believes organiser Grant Arnott and his team may have taken in between $1 million and $2.5 million from participating retailers before the sale started.
Online advocate Geordie Guy said the Click Frenzy "mess" seemed to occur because marketers were focused on "excitement generation and personal information gathering" rather than the technical side of servicing the demand.
"It's not really clear if the planning was actually that bad, or if the actual website and sales were a secondary priority to an advertising and information slurping exercise," he said.
Click Frenzy organisers asked for people to register with personal information such as names, email addresses and post codes but what the company will use these details for hasn't been disclosed. Consumers didn't need to login to Click Frenzy's site to access the deals and when they wanted to buy something they were directed to the retailers' sites.
"Essentially this is a list-building exercise for [ClickFrenzy organiser] Power Retail," said a spokeswoman for consumer group Choice.
Click Frenzy said today that it would not sell or rent any customer information to third parties and customers could unsubscribe at any time.
Seamus Byrne, CIO of the group which owns several daily deals sites including Catch Of The Day, said his sites regularly served a million customers in 24-hour windows but mostly were able to handle the load.
He said Click Frenzy organisers could have done with more "insight" into the technology platforms it selected.
"From my experience it comes down to planning and testing - there's so many variables in an e-commerce application from your content delivery to your payment gateways to managing the contents of each customer's cart," said Byrne.
"It's an evolving science trying to manage customer expectations and reliably scale."
Byrne questioned what would happen now with the subscriber data given to Click Frenzy and whether it would be on-sold.
Andrew Fisher, CTO of Melbourne data agency JBA Digital, said the technologists behind Click Frenzy and associated retailers were "arrogant" and the retail industry "has spent more time crying foul over the lack of GST on international retailers than gaining proficiency in doing online commerce well".
"Every aspect of this endeavour could have been anticipated. A simple bit of maths by someone who understands traffic and retail customer behaviour could have told you that you'd need to do something special," said Fisher, who is also founder of technology research lab Rocket Melbourne.
"The sort of special that keeps the Ticketek site running when Justin Beiber releases tickets. The sort of special that keeps the Amazon site up when they launch a new gold box. The sort of special that keeps the home page of a newspaper running in the wake of a war or global natural disaster.
Fisher wrote on his blog that he had spent his entire adult life working to stop exactly the type of problems that happened during the Click Frenzy debacle. He had significant experience helping websites withstand heavy load, including ensuring the Melbourne Cup website stays up when hundreds of thousands of people log in at the same time each year to check the winner.
"That there was such a deep failure of our ecommerce systems shows that Australian retail is not ready for a global stage," he said.
Samuel Yates, CEO of Ultraserve, which hosts the Click Frenzy site, admitted the customer experience was "poor" in the first few hours but more capacity was added quickly and the site had been "running great since about 9pm last night"
He said the reason that the sites experienced a failure was "an uprecedented amount of traffic and coverage leading up to the event".
He said in the hours leading up to the event 500,000 extra people pre-registered.
But several tech experts said there was no excuse for websites going down in these circumstances if they are operated by those with adequate technical knowledge.
"There are many IT professionals with experience on how to manage rapid load changes on web servers ... there's no longer any technical reason why any organisation should have their website fail due to expected or anticipated load," said digital entrepreneur and public sector technology advocate Craig Thomler.
with Sarah Whyte