It was all over facebook and twitter, in magazines and newspapers… Goddiva (www.goddiva.co.uk) would be celebrating their third birthday today with a one hour flash sale from 12.30pm – dresses for just 3p! Wow! I had a look on the site and decided I’d give it a go – especially considering delivery is also free (as standard) – I had nothing to lose.
It is said that if something is too good to be true then it probably is. And at lunch time today that saying showed it’s ugly head again. The site fell over. Women couldn’t view the dresses, then they couldn’t add the dress they wanted to their basket, then they couldn’t pay for it, then they didn’t get confirmation of their order. Oh, and then the backlash. Social media definitely played it’s part this afternoon! And yes, I commented – I was disappointed.
Ok, let me think about this.
In days before internet shopping, a flash sale would be something that people found out about by word of mouth. It took place in a specified location – in an actual physical shop in a town, probably London or another big city. People would tell their friends and then they would queue up outside the shop ready for the doors to open. At doors opening time, women (let’s face it girls we’re the culprits!) would pile into the shop, grab what they wanted, pay and leave. Staff at the shop would control the number of people entering the shop to ensure the safety of all. If someone was holding an item of clothing it was considered theirs – if something was hanging up it was considered available. It was chaos. Once everything was gone staff would come out and tell anyone still queueing that there was nothing left. People would be very disappointed, feel they had wasted their time, but could see the numbers of people infront of them in the queue, and people leaving the store with their chosen item in a bag. Everyone knew the rules and that was the way it was.
Now, though, flash sales are something else. With the emergence of online stores and the culture of social networking, sales like this are no longer physical, they are virtual. We are given a date and time, we tell everyone we know, and then we all sit and at the specified moment we all log on to the site at the same time in the hope of grabbing ourselves a bargain. While we’re not all squashed and squabbling in the store, we’re clicking and clicking trying to be quicker than the million other girlies wanting the same item.
The problem with online flash sales is that they rely on the system to make them work. While in a physical sale we are stopped at the door if the shop is full, with today’s Goddiva sale we weren’t – instead the website fell over. Whether it was the server, the bandwidth, the way the site was designed or whatever, the fact was the site couldn’t cope with the volume of traffic. Error messages said the site was undergoing maintenance, the page could not be loaded and so on. Every now and again something would load… we could choose our dress, we could add it to our basket, we could register/log in, some even managed to pay.
The people at Goddiva realised their system was not coping and extended the sale for another hour. This gave more of us a chance. But most of us were not successful. I, for example, managed to get my chosen dress (the green one in the screenshot above) into my basket – I even saw it in there a few times. But I was never able to pay for it.
Goddiva unfortunately left hundreds of women really disappointed. And in today’s social media culture they took to facebook and twitter in droves to type, to blame, to express their frustration. Me included. I commented on Goddiva’s facebook page – I said that I was disappointed, I said that I didn’t get the dress I wanted, I said that I felt the response we were getting from Goddiva about the lack of a website to view was really bad, I said I thought the ‘tough luck’ comment Goddiva put on their wall was not sensible. Others commented on my comment to say they agreed. I felt ok about that – I had said my piece, I wasn’t rude, but I said what I thought.
Wow – what a disaster for Goddiva. They start the day celebrating their third birthday and end it with heads in hands being called all sorts of names online.
The fact is that running a campaign like Goddiva have done was bound to lead to an absolutely massive amount of traffic on their site, all at the same time. In fact, Goddiva say themselves “As anticipated, we had a high level of interest”. But unlike if this sale had been in a store, they were not going to be able to control the number of people who clicked on their website at the same time. So, they needed to arrange things especially to cope – servers, bandwidth, payment systems, even extra pickers and packers to get the orders out in a reasonable time. Apart from that preparation they also needed to ensure they had the right sort of experts ready to sort any problems out as they arose during the sale. They needed to serve people on a “first come first served” basis, make sure that if someone had something in their basket they were able to pay for it, and be certain that if an item went out of stock in a particular size that it said so on the website straight away.
And while I have no doubt that the people at Goddiva did attempt to sort out all of these things in advance, the website still fell over, even those who got as far as the payment screens couldn’t pay for their items, and a lot of people were left so very frustrated. Even 4-5 hours after the sale ended the website was still offline.
It is really bad that the site fell over and makes Goddiva look unprepared. But in flash sales, sites do break, they do fall over. Think about the last time you tried to book tickets to an event the second they went on sale… it can take a while.
What is most frustrating, though, was the length of time it took for Goddiva to answer the comments on facebook and twitter, which were getting worse and worse as the minutes ticked by. Social networking is about a conversation… and for there to be a conversation communication has to go two ways. When speaking to some friends this evening about their thoughts on today’s failed sale the answer was almost always “they should have been available to speak to customers on facebook and on the telephone” and “the message on facebook was all wrong, not nice when you’d spent two hours trying to check out”, for example. I think if Goddiva had been ready for the backlash then they would have been much better placed to deal with what happened. As it happens, it could well be their ‘tough luck’ attitude (as it came across) that has put many women off ever buying from them again – bad customer service cannot be rectified with a money-off voucher.
As you can tell, first experience of an online flash sale was an extremely disappointing one.
But let’s put this into perspective. We are talking about a dress here and some lunch break time wasted, we are not talking about anything more serious than that.
As it happens, customer have now started to relay conversations they’ve had with customer services – it looks like Goddiva are going to consider honouring orders where people had an item in their basket for 3p but were unable to make a payment due to the site problems. We have been told to email and to expect a reply within five working days. I guess I’ll just wait and see… I might be wearing that green dress after all!
I would hate to think what it is like in their office this afternoon. Here’s hoping Goddiva manage to pull this thing around and whatever mistakes were made today don’t affect their business long term. Two pieces of advice if they choose to do it again though… 1) Make sure your systems can cope with demand and 2) Have someone ready on facebook and twitter to answer comments/questions as they arise – people expect that at the very least these days.
UPDATE FRIDAY 29th OCTOBER 2010
I received an email from Goddiva this morning saying that they were sorry but had run out of 3p stock and so would not be able to fulfil any more orders.