This morning my wife was trying to purchase something from BELK.com. She ran into an issue at the point of transaction. The error that was being returned looked like the credit card number was invalid. Since the first attempt was on a mobile device, she attempted the transaction again from a computer. This was met with the same challenge. Ultimately, three different credit cards were attempted and none seemed to work. After reviewing the card account activity, I could see a total of about 5 authorizations against the 3 cards.
My wife contacted BELK by phone and they asked us to call our cc company (which I begrudgingly did). Finally they were able to process the cart transaction manually and admitted that we weren’t the only people experiencing the problem. They went on to say that their systems were very slow and that they were having issues with transactions internally too.
As someone with a vested interest in technology, I have to sit back and wonder how much these types of issues cost a company like BELK. I don’t want to pick on this one company because I have experienced issues with plenty of retailers during peak purchase periods. I just have to wonder what the real impact to their bottom line is.
While on the phone with the credit card company, the agent said she had a similar experience two weeks ago. My wife asked me why they [BELK] wouldn’t have “fixed” it if they’ve known about the issue for two weeks. I explained that sometimes these issues turn into projects that are enormous in magnitude and can take weeks, months or even years to complete in complex or mismanaged environments.
With all of that aside, I really am curious if this retailer tracks cart abandonment trends. It would be really interesting to see a typical abandonment rate of 10% increase to 30-40% (or more) during these peak sales periods. Given data like that, one would have to ask themselves whether these are simply differences in behavior at a given time (or for a given shopper demographic) or if there are issues with the usability of the system(s) that are decreasing their completed transactions.
In this particular case, I saw a little chatter on twitter so I know there was at least some impact beyond our transaction. I have to think that a technology issue with a retailer on black Friday has the potential to prevent millions of dollars in sales. If I am a CIO of an organization like this, this is one of the scenarios I am working hard to prevent. If I’m a CEO of a retail organization, I’m talking to the CIO about how we are defining and measuring success in our online store. I’m not saying that every issue is foreseeable or that this one was preventable. I just think there is a material bottom line cost and that issues like this one should be prevented when possible.
As technology leaders, we have to consider the bad things that can happen and prepare for the scenarios. Sometimes funding is a challenge and other areas of leadership don’t understand the real risk. In any case, technology issues can cause huge financial impact both in the form of outages and breaches. Leadership must recognize the role technology plays in the modern business and the impact when it fails.
I’d love to hear from you, so share your experiences by commenting below.
Disclaimer: This article includes the independent thoughts, opinions, commentary or technical detail of Paul Stewart. This
may or may does not reflect the position of past, present or future employers.