Amazon urged to come clean on outage

Amazon.com should consider releasing more details about the outage that affected its website this week for the sake of customer...

Amazon.com should consider releasing more details about the outage that affected its website this week for the sake of customer and investor confidence, according to some industry observers.

With tens of thousands of customers likely to have experienced various degrees of difficulty with Amazon's website on Monday, observers said the online retail giant would do well to disclose the cause of the outage and what steps were being taken to prevent it from happening again.

Amazon spokesman Craig Berman said the company acknowledged the problem and attributed it to having "complicated systems that have problems from time to time".

Yankee Group analyst Patrick Mahoney said Amazon should be more specific and candid about the snafu, particularly since it happened during the company's busiest sales season. "I hope Amazon doesn't just try to let this blow over and not explain what happened because obviously it happened at a critical time for its business. Consumers and investors really want to know what Amazon is doing to rectify this, so that problems like this one don't happen again."

Mahoney experienced the outage first hand. After entering his credit card information and clicking on the checkout button to finish the transaction, he was served a page that said Amazon's system was unavailable. He remained in the dark as to whether his order had gone through successfully until Tuesday, when he received the automated e-mail Amazon routinely sends to shoppers to confirm a transaction.

"This outage probably created a lot of consumer confusion," said Mahoney. "If you have entered your credit card number and it appears to have gone through but you can't double-check, then you might go back and do it again, and Amazon could then potentially have issues with double-purchasing and problems like that."

Roopak Patel, senior internet analyst at Keynote Systems, which monitors website performance, said Amazon's site was intermittently inaccessible for about four to five hours during Monday morning, with about 20% of site visitors unable to get into the site at their first attempt.

The Amazon home page normally takes two to three seconds to download, but during Monday that average climbed to about 30 seconds, according to Patel. "It was a surprise to see a site as big as Amazon experiencing this type of problem, considering it depends on the online channel for its revenue, and especially at this time of year."

Jupiter Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans said Amazon had a very good track record with its customers and a tradition of communicating clearly with them, which had won it a high level of trust from its customers.

She advised Amazon to provide further details if the outage was caused by a security breach that could affect customers who were on the site at the time, or if the company could not determine what had caused the outage. If Amazon determined that the outage was caused by an unexceptional and clearly understood internal problem, then it might not be necessary for it to go into details.

But Mahoney said that given the length of the outage, Amazon needed to respond in some way.

"Amazon should proactively reach out by sending an e-mail to registered consumers saying, 'This is what happened,' and being very matter of fact with consumers so they understand that if it was a server that went down or whatever, it might be that Amazon has worked on rectifying the problem," he said. "Amazon should show consumers it's not trying to hide things. When you're evasive about why your technology doesn't work, you quickly lose people's confidence."

Scott Silverman, executive director of the online division of the National Retail Federation, said the group didn't have a specific take on the Amazon incident, but that the rule of thumb for online retailers was to "make sure you're clearly communicating with customers and making sure they're aware of how this may have an impact on them".

Gartner analyst Allen Weiner didn't have an opinion on the specific Amazon incident, but said online retailers in this situation should always seize the opportunity to reinforce their commitment to customers. "The best practice is always to admit you made a mistake and assure clients you're taking steps. Reach out to people and put a positive spin on it. Often the worst option is to say nothing in the hope that it goes away or that people ignore it or no one remembers."

Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service

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