Monday, 30 June 2008

Plan B

Whilst watching the European Championship Semi-Final between Germany and Turkey, the BBC lost audio and visual coverage from the match due to a power failure caused by a severe electrical storm. Within seconds of the pictures and cutting out, audio coverage was restored through the television. However, it was not John Motson on BBC1 who was providing the commentary, it was Mike Ingham on BBC Radio FiveLive.

Even the most reliable technology can fail and websites are no exception. Last week the Sainsbury's Website was suspended due to a technical issue. During this period, any visitor to the site would have been shown the Site Unavailable page.

When a website does go down, it is important to have a contingency plan in place to ensure minimal disruption from a commercial and from a brand perspective.

Here are three simple things that should be considered:

1. Preserve Brand Integrity.
For Sainsbury's, a brand that maintains a strong offline presence, more could be done on the Site unavailable down page to promote brand strengths and reinforce key sales messages. It should be seen as an opportunity to communicate with their customer base and positively influence brand perception.

For example,
MySpace invite users to play PacMan whilst their site is undergoing maintenance. As a result of their handling of the power failure, I have a greater perception of the BBC, both as a brand and in their ability to provide seamless coverage of sporting events.

Visitors to the Sainsbury's site actually increased during the downtime as a result of the widespread publicity about the problem. Therefore, opportunities existed to actually communicate with and potentially acquire more customers.

2. Minimise Commercial Impact.

Hitwise reported that the downstream traffic from Tesco to Sainsbury's in
creased significantly whilst the Sainsbury's site was down. This is clearly detrimental to Sainsbury's commercial objectives. The site unavailable page could have done more to mitigate this.

For example, they could have displayed a unique discount code that customers could use during subsequent online transactions or even include a scannable barcode that customers could print and take to their local store.

Customers that had their shopping baskets affected, were rewarded with Sainsbury's discount vouchers. This only applies to customers that were mid transaction, not to those who may be visiting the Sainsbury's site for the first time and who may be less likely to visit again.

3. Cease Paid Marketing Activity
Given that the majority of visitors to the Sainsbury's website come from Google, it is fair to assume that a large proportion arrive via paid sponsored links. Therefore, Sainsbury's would have been paying for more visitors to arrive at their Site Unavailable page, than to their regular site, on a standard day.

Adwords campaigns are simple to pause in the event of unexpected site down time so the correct support mechanisms should be in place to identify and implement this as soon as possible.

Site down time is inevitable for any business, no matter how many support mechanisms are in place. Even Google was down for 7 minutes in 2007. It is important for any website to have effective plans in place to mitigate the effects of technology failures and acknowledge that site down time does not have to be catastrophic for their business.

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