Target built a new website from scratch after outsourcing its online operations to Amazon for 10 years. But the launch of its in-house platform hasn't been smooth.
With Black Friday approaching, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel sought to assure analysts and investors that the retailer's epic website troubles are being addressed.
"Our online business and technology teams are working tirelessly to correct the issues that have arisen with the re-launch of Target.com. We know we're not yet providing a consistent experience online, and we won't stop until these issues are resolved," Steinhafel said this week in a conference call with analysts to discuss Target's Q3 fiscal 2011 quarterly results.
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Target.com's troubles exploded with the launch of a new line of apparel from Italian brand Missoni that took down the website for most of the day on Sept. 13. According to data from Web metrics specialist Keynote Systems, 93% of people who tried to access the site that day, up until midnight, got the "fail doggie" error message. No more than 7% got through to the real home page, estimates Keynote's Dave Karow in a comprehensive blog post dissecting the outage.
The site experienced a shorter outage on Oct. 13, and then again on Oct. 25. On the day of the Oct. 13 outage, Target announced that Steve Eastman, former president of Target.com, had left the company to pursue other opportunities.
The Missoni launch was the first major online initiative for Target since the Minneapolis-based retailer took over running its website from Amazon, which had managed Target's online operations for a decade. Target built its new online platform from scratch, developing it over a two-year period and launching it in August.
Guest response on the day of the Missoni launch was unprecedented, said Kathryn Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising, in this week's call with analysts.
"On Target.com, Missoni demand created online traffic that outpaced any Black Friday or Cyber Monday in our history, putting a great deal of stress on our newly launched online platform," Tesija said.
"While we didn't anticipate putting our new site through such a dramatic test at such a young age, we are quickly moving forward to make improvements, applying what we've learned from the experience to implement hundreds of fixes that will elevate the guest experience and enhance stability," she said. "Moving to our own Web platform is part of a larger strategic commitment to enhance Target's multi-channel capabilities, and we continue to devote significant resources in support of that commitment."
Having made significant fixes to the e-commerce platform, "we believe the platform is stable," Steinhafel added. When asked about replacing Eastman and adding to the IT team responsible for Target.com, Steinhafel said it's a work in progress.
"We are in the process of building out that team and adding more resources to that team. We have been doing that all along. We, very shortly, will be naming a leader of that team," he said.
In building its Web platform from scratch, Target condensed a three-year program into two years and knew there would be issues with a project of that magnitude, Steinhafel said.
"We fully expected to have some issues coming out of the changeover and we've had those -- that amount of issues and more. So we feel confident we've got the right amount of resources, the capital that we're spending to make those fixes as well as the team members in place to make great progress going forward."
Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter @annbednarz and check out her blog, Occupational Hazards. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.