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Online Chaos Marked Black Friday, not Cyber Monday

While the cyber-world was braced for chaos on Dec. 1—the designated “Cyber Monday” sale day for online holiday shopping—it turns out that retailer websites actually held up fairly well as the masses flocked to e-commerce to avail themselves of web-only promotions and deals.

According to NCC Group’s web performance division, an examination of the UK’s top 50 retail websites has found that the Friday before (i.e., Nov. 28) actually caused more problems for retailers than Cyber Monday – suggesting that merchants carried out remedial work over the weekend.

Black Friday is the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday and traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year in that country. But the tradition of mounting so-called early-morning “door-buster” sales and deep discounts has spread to other areas of the globe, providing a wide-spread ground for cybercriminals to grow profits. This year, NCC Group found that nine of the top 50 online retailers in the UK experienced ‘serious problems’ on Black Friday, including websites failing altogether, but only a few issues were seen on Cyber Monday.

The majority of top retail sites actually coped relatively well with the extra traffic on Friday, but for others it was little short of disastrous, with many consumers taking to social media to complain.

“While it’s encouraging to see that many retailers did a relatively good job, this made the failures stand out even more,” said Bob Dowson, director of NCC Group’s web performance division, in a statement. “With the inexorable growth of online retailing, site owners can’t afford to lose a major source of revenue on the busiest days of the year.”

One major (but unnamed) clothing retailer’s site was either down or reporting serious errors for most of the day, putting a serious dent in revenue, he added.

Another reason for the contrast between Black Friday and Cyber Monday could be that more people shopped online this year in general, as opposed to heading into brick-and-mortar stores on Friday. Many consumers reported that last year’s high-profile holiday shopping credit card breach at Target had put them off of in-store shopping; but many retailers also began their online promos early this year. And as a result of spreading online shopping over an entire weekend, there was less overall volume for Monday.

Accordingly, this year's Cyber Monday sales grew by much less than expected, according to data from IBM, as online retailers began their web promotions and sales during and even before the Thanksgiving weekend. Overall Cyber Monday sales, which were projected to grow between 13%-15%, only reported an 8% rise.

And, despite warnings that crooks would be having a field day with websites this year, the biggest concern appeared to be sheer volume—a win for cybersecurity.

“The only way to know if your site will stand up to all those extra visitors is to load test it well in advance,” Dowson said. “This involves subjecting it to the same level of traffic you’re expecting on the big day, but in a controlled way.

He added, “The results will tell you if and when it will fail, giving you the information you need to build in extra capacity if necessary. This is usually followed by a further round of testing, to confirm that any changes you made were sufficient.”

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