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Why The Gap’s ‘Scheduled Maintenance’ Feels More Like an Outage

This post was co-authored by Greg Rubin & Narangerel Bat-Ochir

September is a critical month for online retailers. With one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year just a couple of months away, September is crunch time for ecommerce companies to wrap up optimization tasks before many enter a holiday code-freeze. This is also when customer experience and brand reputation can truly make or break your holiday revenue.

Last week, however, The Gap had an even bigger issue to deal with. According to Internet Retailer, four of the ecommerce company’s five brands went offline in the effort to update their sites for a “better shopping experience.” OldNavy.com, Athleta.com, Gap.com, and BananaRepublic.com went down Thursday morning, displaying an error message stating the sites were unavailable while they were making improvements.

This is The Gap’s homepage performance right before the maintenance occurred:

gap-before2

 

Shortly after, the webpage displayed a 503 response, which is used to communicate when a service is unavailable.

gap-down

After roughly 10 hours of downtime, Gap.com was back up and users were able to access the site.

gap-outtage1-jpg

 

While this was apparently scheduled maintenance, customers were not notified that access would be prohibited and, according to some Twitter users, email promotions were offered during this time, even though access to the site was limited.

“I love it. @gap just sent out an email sale promo and their site is down. Better shopping experience?#badmarketing,” tweeted Tierney Helmers ‏@TierneyHelmers1.

“@Gap How am I supposed to shop when up early w/ toddler if site is down? I’m guessing it wasn’t ‘scheduled,’” said Kayla Wherry Haley.

Whether this was truly scheduled maintenance or not, the limited access should have been communicated directly to customers to ensure that customer experience remained intact, even when shopping wasn’t impossible. Amazon and Salesforce offered examples of how to do this during recent outages.

Today’s Internet landscape requires online businesses to perform frequent maintenance and improvements to keep up with their competition. This instance, however, is a humbling reminder that user experience should always be your top priority—especially during the biggest shopping season of the year.