Rite Aid Goes Offline and Mum

Discussion
Jan 07, 2011
Avatar

By
George
Anderson

This
was going
to be a different
story. It started
out as a piece
on retail marketing
programs geared to consumers who have decided
they want to get healthier and look better. One of the companies
that would have been featured was Rite Aid, which has launched
a program that includes a tie-in with NBC’s "The
Biggest Loser" show. But, a funny thing happened yesterday when we went
to the Rite Aid site. We couldn’t get on. More than 24 hours later and still
that "problem loading page" message keeps coming up (in both Firefox
and Safari).

Anyone working with websites understands that they crash for a
variety of reasons. The best reason (think Groupon) is demand. But, regardless
of the reason, it’s usually considered good form to offer some explanation
as to what is going on. Two email requests by RetailWire for information
on the why behind the crash have gone unanswered although help was offered
on the original "Biggest
Loser" piece.

An article written by Evan Schuman on the StorefrontBacktalk site
yesterday pegged the start of Rite Aid’s connection problems at 10:00 a.m.
Eastern.

Mr. Schuman also questioned why Rite Aid had not gone public to address
the issue. He wrote, "If Rite-Aid suddenly locked the doors of dozens
of its stores in key markets, do you think there’s any way it would refuse
to offer an explanation when those doors re-opened?"

Discussion Questions: What do you see as the proper response by retailers
when e-commerce sites go down? Do you see an opportunity for retailers to turn
a downed site into a positive based on how they communicate with consumers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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14 Comments on "Rite Aid Goes Offline and Mum"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

When a retailer’s web site goes mum the retailer needs to put a “sign in the window” the same as they would if a regular store suddenly went dark in normal business hours. The consumer needs an explanation!

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Public acknowledgment, a quick apology and, if the outage is more than a few minutes, a promotion to bring customers back to the site once it is up again.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

A web site should be standard operations for any company dealing with consumers. Yes, web sites crash, but it’s easy to keep one up. If the company is hosting its own web site, there should be a backup host computer and they both should have backup electric generators. There should also be two different communication links to the internet. If the company cannot afford a backup computer and generator, then outsource to a server farm that has the backup required. Anything more than being down 1 hour is simply unacceptable.

As for communicating with people, if your site is down, it is hard to tell people, which is why backing up is required. Down for 24 or more hours likely means there was not sufficient backup in place.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I agree with Max (hey — it’s his birthday, why not?).

I’d only add that in the case of a company handling sensitive information — think prescription history AND credit card data — the company needs to make it crystal clear that no patient/customer records have been compromised.

Many customers will assume a downed site is a hacked site and the fallout from that could be horrendous.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 3 months ago

Constant honest and timely information/communication is needed.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Evan Schuman is right questioning, “If Rite Aid suddenly locked the doors of dozens of its stores in key markets, do you think there’s any way it would refuse to offer an explanation when those doors re-opened?”

Rite Aid’s action or lack of it suggests that they have not yet made the transition that online is a real business. It is very unfortunate. Yes, they should have had a notice on the website. Further, why not ask the site visitors to drop them an email and Rite Aid would return it with a notice that the site is back up? If the site was down because of traffic, think of all the new email addresses that could be captured. But, again, Rite Aid sees themselves in the store business, not the retail business.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

There is no good excuse for poor communication. If your lights are out for a time you sure want the power company to let you know what is happening and when to expect service to be restored. Same with a brick & mortar location. If the doors are locked one will assume the worst especially in this economy. That’s when rumors fly – most of them baseless; but then it is too late. Come on Rite Aid, communicate. It’s late, but we will listen.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Lack of communication about Web site outages can cause the mind to reel… Was it just a technical breakdown? Or something more sinister, like a denial of service attack by hackers? Or even worse, a security breech of the e-commerce database that has compromised credit card data?

Stuff happens. Rite Aid is not immune. But it has choices about how it chooses to acknowledge unplanned events that affect its customers. If it or any company has no communications plan for dealing with technical breakdowns, then it should not be surprised if its shoppers assume the worst.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
10 years 3 months ago

I have tried hard to understand why a retailer might not want to be more forthright in acknowledging a problem with their website. I really can’t think of any reason not to be as informative as possible. People hate uncertainty and lose confidence when the unexpected occurs.

The only reasonable explanation is that Right Aid outsources the online store and the “can never happen” circumstance did happen. Otherwise, if Right Aid does it in house, they should have had some point outside their own firewall to redirect traffic to at least a “we’re temporarily out of service” message. Although in this day and age, I am not sure that is enough to placate the “now generation.” Unless it is a prescription, I imagine most people will simply move to another retailer’s site to make their purchase. I guess that reinforces the advantage of having a pharmacy.

The fundamental lesson here is the one that is repeated over and over again with all technology: Never Say Never.

Lin Yu
Guest
Lin Yu
10 years 3 months ago

The problem is not explaining why the site is down, but the lack of planing for the tie-in with NBC. Whose job was it to monitor site traffic and take action to keep the site up and running?

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 3 months ago

I don’t think there is any way to turn a site outage into a positive – for Rite Aid or any other retailer. The best they can do is minimize the damage with a well executed communications plan.

It could just be that the reason they haven’t communicated well here is that they don’t know exactly what happened yet. As scary as that may be, for legal reasons they may want to be real careful not to say too much until they know what they are talking about. Again, at this point we’re talking about minimizing damage.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I’m a little unclear about how an organization is “supposed to communicate what’s going on” when the very forum for doing so is what’s not working; that having been said, we can probably expand the sign-in-the-window analogy: if they are–or were to be–a new customer, you’ve probably lost them; if they’re a regular, they’ll forgive you…up to a point. The obvious reality is that when any business–retail in particular–isn’t open, it’s losing business…the reason why seldom matters.

Dave Wendland
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Stuff happens (especially at the rate of business today).

The key, as described eloquently in many posts to this discussion topic, is what happens next. The retailer MUST apologize, reward patrons for their patience, communicate quickly and succinctly … then build contingencies so that it doesn’t occur again.

George Anderson
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

A simple way to get the word out on what is going on is communicating with the press. We know Rite Aid employees are getting their emails because they’ve responded to those we sent. They just didn’t address the outage issue.

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