How to Deal with a Website Outage in a User-Friendly Way

On Friday the 28th November, Black Friday no less, the web went a little bit mental. We all love a good bargain, so much so that this year, many major retail websites struggled to cope with the demand.

As I sat waiting for sites to load, hammering the refresh button so I could get my fill of all the retail goodness, I got to thinking about how holding pages, when everything goes wrong, have a real impact on user experience.

Here’s a few examples that caught my eye:

Brand/Quality focus

Tesco Direct holding page

Tesco Direct took a very simple approach, with a holding page featuring a short message, “some things are worth waiting for…”.

The key here is to make the wait seem worthwhile. The message also has a strong brand implication, with the text hinting at the quality of the service and the products on offer.

Tesco have kept things simple, not clouding the message that you should keep trying and stay with them, reducing the likelihood of leaving.

Product/Offer Focus

Particularly relevant to companies with offline, bricks and mortar outlets, the holding page used by GAME worked well at outlining the deals you were coming to the site to see. What better incentive to stay on the website than that?

Game holding page

This has a similar effect to that of the Tesco Direct holding page, but with more information on the biggest deals. This could be seen as overcomplicated – they’ve come to you to buy online, why steer them in store – so should be balanced carefully, but it certainly works well to give people a good reason to either stick around or run to their local shop.

Queuing systems

Currys took an approach that didn’t put so much focus on the deals or the brand, but instead attempted to make things as easy and fair as possible. They used a virtual queuing system, which placed you in a queue, with a countdown until you were free to enter the site – with a popup after your wait to let you know you were ready to get started.

Currys holding page

The fact that you know exactly when you’ll be getting onto the site with this approach is really beneficial. You can’t help but feel that you could be left refreshing and refreshing the page until you eventually lose the will to go on, but this is no longer an issue when you have a well-defined queue. This should help increase the number of people not leaving in anger and give you the chance to sell some of your goods.

Which is for you?

So here we have a few different approaches for assuaging the frustrations of users when a site goes down… but which is best?

All in all, the approach you take should be considered with what you are trying to achieve as a brand. If you’ve got a well-established offline operation, push that as much as you think is right, or balance it with keeping customers enticed enough to bear with you online. Likewise, if you’re worried about people feeling frustrated or hard-done-by, consider implementing a virtual queuing system so this is no longer a problem.

Working on this certainly shouldn’t replace investments made on infrastructure – keeping your site live at all times will ultimately be the best experience, but it’s certainly work considering for anyone in a business with extreme peaks like we’ve seen on Black Friday.

Ultimately, my advice is to consider all parts of the customer journey, because the overall combined effect of every interaction a visitor has with your site is probably the most important part of delivering a positive user experience.

December 11, 2014|

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