Report: Sites struggle to keep up with demand

Leading online retail sites were struggling to keep up with consumer demand this holiday shopping season, according to data released Monday by Internet performance management vendor Keynote Systems.

Two key indicators of online performance, the Keynote E-Commerce Web Transaction Performance Index and the Keynote Consumer 40 Internet Performance Index, plunged in performance beginning at 7 a.m. Pacific time when the response times (speed) and success rates (reliability) on both indices slowed.

Companies included on Keynote's e-commerce index include Amazon, Best Buy, Costco and Eddie Bauer.

The average response time for completing a transaction on the e-commerce transaction index is typically 13 seconds to 14 seconds, according to Keynote. Yesterday, however, it took more than 21 seconds to complete a transaction, and the success rate fell to 80 percent, from the average reliability of 97 percent, the company said.

"Unlike last year, when we reported that there was a decrease in reliability of the sites on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it looks like this year that sort of phenomenon occurred on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend," said Keynote analyst Roopak Patel.

Patel said that it's probably because people who usually shop online may have waited to take advantage of their high-speed connections at work to do their shopping.

The numbers did restore themselves as the day went on, Patel said.

"What we've seen this morning is somewhat different than yesterday," he said. "Response times steady out around 15 seconds, but the success rates tend to be lower than the norm. They are around 88 percent to 90 percent. So even though today is a better day than yesterday, still one in 10 users probably can't complete their online tasks."

The lower performance numbers come as online consumer research vendor ComScore Networks said it expects more people to purchase items over the Internet this year than last.

From Nov. 1 through Nov. 26, online retail spending totaled US$5.7 billion, an increase of 23 percent over the US$4.6 billion spent online last year, according to ComScore. And from Nov. 22 to Nov. 26, online retail sales were US$1.23 billion, an increase of 35 percent compared to the corresponding days in 2003.

Online spending was up significantly on Thanksgiving, compared to last year, ComScore said. This year, consumers spent US$133 million online, up from the US$67 million spent last Thanksgiving. On Friday, Americans spent US$250 million online, up 41 percent from the US$178 million spent in 2003.

ComScore said the increase in online spending this year was partially due to increased home broadband connections, making online shopping faster and more convenient.

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