Online Snafus Will Not Be The End of Home Depot … (HD Part I)

As chronicled in a recent issue of StoreFront BackTalk, a recent try at not shutting down completely Left Home Depot Customers Running in Circles (which is terrible as there was no danger and there should have been no doubt*). Basically, what happened was that on Wednesday, February 1st, Home Depot took its web site offline to upgrade IBM Websphere from v. 6 to v. 7 (in a blatant display that it doesn’t understand e-Commerce very well, but that won’t be the end of Home Depot either, so that’s ok). This wasn’t the problem — the problem was that, in an effort to ensure that visitors still had something to look at, the “Pardon Our Dust” page that informed customers the site was temporarily down included a link to the company blog (still up) that had a new post for Do-It-Yourselfers at the top of the page. What’s wrong with that? Well, the post linked back to the product on the Home Depot site which was, naturally, redirected to the “Pardon Our Dust” page. Most of the other links went to a “Moved Permanently” Page which, in turn, linked either to another “Moved Permanently” page or the “Pardon Our Dust” page. The customer was left chasing his own tail. It was bad, and, as StoreFront BackTalk suggested, they should have just closed the e-Store for the day.

But it won’t be the end of Home Depot by any stretch of the imagination, even though e-Commerce folk still grumble that sites today — with mirroring and cloud options — shouldn’t have to shut down at all for simple scheduled software upgrades, as pointed out in StoreFront BackTalk’s follow-up on how Home-Depot’s WeekDay Noon Shutdown Made Perfect Clock Sense. After all, the retailer does most of its online business on weekends and mornings, and with an 18 hour upgrade, that left noon on a weekday — so it either had to pony up the $$$’s to replicate it’s site during the outage or take the small revenue loss from being down for the 18 hours that were projected to be the least revenue producing. (And sometimes it can be more distracting, and thus more costly, to aim for 100% uptime because if something doesn’t re-route properly, a poorly working site can do more reputation damage than a site that’s taken down completely and replaced with a pleasant notification. After all, Apple takes their online store down all the time and they still make a fortune as their customers know their will be new and better products to buy when it comes back up.)

And then there’s the customer reality to consider.

  • Customers Understand All Sites Need to Go Down For Maintenance
    They just want to be notified — and not run in circles if the site is down. And if Home Depot apologizes for this oversight in its maintenance, they’ll forgive it.
  • Most of Home Depot’s Business Is In Store
    I don’t know the stats, but I know the reality. (1) Before an average consumer buys something for her home — which is going to cost quite a few shiny nickels — she wants to see it. Most people use the on-line site for research. When they purchase, it’s typically because they’ve already seen the product in the store and are ordering it online because they want it delivered. (2) Most of their big dollar transactions are from contractors. And contractors are buying in the store, not online. That’s why they have contractor sections in the store.
  • Only a very small percentage of (potential) customers would have visited the site in that 18 hour window and noticed the problem.
    Again, most customers are using it primarily for research for DIY products, which is happening mainly on the weekend, or to order something they researched and found in-store on the weekend or the night before, which is happening mainly in the morning.
  • No animals were harmed by the downtime and no child labour was sweating in a factory to bring the site back up.
    e-commerce snafus don’t bring down a 68 Billion dollar plus home improvement chain. A one-day snafu won’t even make a noticeable change to its bottom line. Let’s face it — a small corporate social responsibility slip-up such as forgetting to audit a supplier’s supplier who uses child labour will do much more damage to its brand and bottom line than any website snafu ever will.

To make a long story short, it had a snafu, but it has nothing to worry about as a result. However, this doesn’t mean it has nothing to worry about. It has a lot to worry about. In fact, it’s entire business could be at stake as you read this. And the sad thing is, Home Depot might not even know it!

*Don’t get it? Too bad … but on the bright side, you feel just like a Home Depot customer who visited the site after 11:59 am on February 1st!