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Thinking the Unthinkable: Seven Things To Do if Your Site Goes Down

Steve Susina • November 21, 2013

Website is DownLiving Social’s 30 hour outage gave the daily deal firm a lot of unwanted publicity. Any outage–even those lasting a few minutes–is at best an inconvenience for customers trying to order at that particular time. At worst, it destroys credibility resulting in not only a lost sale, but also a lost customer. While we all strive to make sure that our sites and stores are always available, there is always the possibility of downtime. How your firm reacts can mean the difference between a temporary glitch and long term negative sales impact.

All eCommerce firms and online sellers can learn from Living Social’s experience and begin to think about what to do should the worst occur to your site. Here are seven ideas we came up with on what to do if your site goes down:

  1. Assure customers that their personal information and especially credit card data has not been breached (assuming its true). Avoid the temptation to assume that customers know that your website and credit card processes are two completely different systems, and an outage can’t possibly lead to data loss. In the absence of information from you, customers will tend to assume the worst. Let them know that their information has been and will continue to be secure.
  2. Update customer order status. Let customers know if the outage did (or did not) impact expected delivery times, pending orders, and even things like backordered item processing. As with their personal data, customers tend to think the worst–allay their fears with a timely order status update.
  3. Own up to the cause, ideally with a message from the CEO. This is no time to go into hibernation and hope that nobody noticed. Chances are, you’ll find social media channels abuzz regarding your unavailable website. Don’t act as if nothing happened or try to pull the wool over customer’s eyes. Since you’re already going to be communicating with your credit card customers and those who have placed orders, why not include an apology from your leadership.
  4. Use this as an opportunity to launch a promotion. This might be an opportunity to pull out an “Our Loss/Your Gain” sales tactic and get people re-engaged by placing an order. As an apology for any inconvenience, offer a discount, free shipping, gift-with-purchase or some other tactic. Not only will this help recover sales you missed while the site was down, it helps reestablish relationships with your customers and get them back in the habit of placing orders.
  5. Create an FAQ for those who might be interested. What happened? Why id it occur? Who was affected? When did it happen? All questions that customers might be curious about. It may help cut back on telephone calls to your customer service lines, and shows that you care enough about customers to keep them informed.
  6. Document everything that happens–including both causes and responses–so that you’re better prepared should this happen again. Was there a process step that could prevent this from occurring again? Was the outage longer than it needed to be because nobody knew who could fix it, or where critical assets were located? Write it down and make sure that the marketing, merchandising, commerce, IT, communications and executives teams know where to find it should the worst ever happen again.
  7. Monitor your metrics to assess both the short term and long term impact. Your management and board are ultimately going to want this anyway, so begin to gather data as soon as you can. You may have an opportunity to recover financial losses through additional promotion or merchandising. Knowing the impact will guide you on the question of what and how much post-outage recover you need to hit your financial goals for the period.

Nobody wants an outage, and we should do everything in our powers to prevent one from occurring. However, having a game plan already in place is an important insurance policy for that day you hope never comes. Better to think about it now than in the heat of the moment.

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee

About Steve Susina: Marketing Director at lyonscg, graduate of Marquette U, and over 20 years of technology and marketing experience. Steve shares ideas on marketing strategy & tactics, demand generation, and other topics of interest to the eCommerce community. Based out of lyonscg’s headquarters in Chicago, he can be found on Google+.


Steve Susina

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Steve Susina

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