Ecommerce and Entrepreneurship Blog | About | Contact | Store Website Goes Down: Mega Retailer Arguably Loses $2,276,866.80 in Revenue

Posted on June 6, 2008 by Tim

Last night (late last night) we temporarily (very temporarily) took our eCommerce properties down for maintenance. The downtime lasted about two minutes. Since not being down is, obviously, absolutely necessary for a pure play Internet retailer to function at all, staying up is of the utmost importance to success.  In order to gain some perspective as to the cost associated with downtime, this morning we performed an exercise to calculate how much revenue we lose a minute while we're down.  Although that number makes me sick to think about, we had no idea what we were in for today, or how timely our exercise really was. Goes Down

This morning, while I was researching our competition on Amazon, I was shocked to see that none of the links were working.  I tried best sellers, a different category and then finally the homepage.  It was such a surprise to me that Amazon was down that my first instinct was to think that it was my connection, my computer, or something I typed wrong in the url.  So I asked a colleague to try to connect to Amazon.  Unexpectedly it wasn't me, my connection, or my computer, it really was that Amazon was down.  I can't yet tell how long they went down, however this article was published at 11:02 AM Pacific Standard Time and our team saw that they were back up by 12:11 PM Pacific Standard Time, so maybe an hour or so. 

Om reports that it was two hours:

"A word from Amazon’s spokesperson: 

The Amazon retail site was down for approximately 2 hours earlier today (beginning around 10:25) - and we’re bringing the site back up.

Amazon’s systems are very complex and on rare occasions, despite our best efforts, they may experience problems. We work to minimize any disruption and to get the site back as quickly as possible.

Amazon’s web services were not affected nor were our international sites."

An Unfriendly Error Message

Currently I get a Http/1.1 Service Unavailable which is a fairly generic and unhelpful error when visiting one of the largest ecommerce properties on the Internet. It seems that nothing is being done to update users of the issue or note when the site will be back up. Even though we have two Amazon accounts we sell through, no e-mails or contact has been made mentioning the outages.

Here is a screen shot of the error page.

Amazon downtime screen shot


We wanted to make sure the issues was not location based or an issue on our end so we tested Amazon utilizing a proxy service.  Here is a screen shot of the error page through the proxy service.


Amazon Proxy shot

Every Minute Amazon Loses $37,947.78 

Since it's infancy, has had it's share of tough times.  The weathering of the dot-com-bomb, perpetual uber lean margins, massive growing competition, an ever growing infrastructure, and now a softening economy, In order to survive, Amazon has been forced to innovate in a myriad of ways.  Everything from longstanding and aggressive free shipping promotions to the Amazon Seller Central Marketplace to Amazon Web Services have helped the retailing giant push forward.  Interestingly, recent metrics have hinted that the mega retailer has swung the pendulum.  Amazon's first quarter results were stronger than expected, thanks in part to strong sales in electronics and general merchandise.  Moreover, Amazon issued a forecast for the current quarter and year that indicates a stronger outlook than Wall Street's current estimates.  During the first quarter, revenues increased 37 percent to $4.13 billion, verses the same period last year.

Jeff Bezos,'s CEO, stated that "Our sales growth this quarter was driven by low prices and millions of in-stock items available for immediate shipment."  He added "We're grateful to our customers."

I wonder if what Bezos really meant say was, "Our sales growth this quarter was driven by NOT BEING DOWN.  We're grateful that we AREN'T DOWN."

Let's do some rough math see what might be losing during every minute of downtime.  Amazon expects to generate between $19.1 billion and $20 billion in revenue this year.  Wall Street's projections are on the lower end of that spectrum, at $19.3 billion.  Let's go the optimistic route and say that Bezos will figure out how to reach $20 billion.

($20,000,000,000 projected annual revenue / 366 days in a leap year) / 1,440 minutes in a day = $37,947.7838 Amazon loses every minute of down time

My stomach just fell out of my stomach.

Now, of course, this math is a bit dirty.  They might not reach their projected revenue high.  They obviously sell more during certain times of the day, week, month, and year.  They generate a significant portion of their revenue during the run up to the holidays.  Their international sites may not have been affected.  They generate revenue via other channels, such as Amazon Web Services, that might not have gone down.  Many, many unknown variables could affect this math.  However, we do know this, the number is big.

Let's see how much they lost, assuming they were down for only one hour (Om's post indicates two hours) using the math above.

$37,947.78 Amazon loses every minute of down time x 60 minutes in an hour = $2,276,866.80 lost due to this morning's downtime

Holy freaking crap!  My stomach already fell out.  Nothing is left to fall out.

Let's say it was only half of that.  It's still seven figures.  Wow.  In the word's of Tommy Boy, "[Tommy running into a glass wall] Ow, That's gonna leave a mark."

I don't know what takes down for an hour, but I hope it was something big and something new.  I think our downtimes are inexcusable and our revenue per minute pales in comparison to Amazon's.  Around the Gordian Project we're always talking about scalability.  One of the issues we think about is as pertains to scaling is, if we find a hole, a bleeder, an inefficiency, and we don't plug, bandage, or efficient-ize it, and then we grow, how does that issue or problem scale with the company.  If the hole grows at least linearly with the growth of the company, then we could be in trouble, depending on the size of the issue, relative to the size of the company.

For whatever reason went down today, I wonder if they went down for the same reason when they were just a "tributary".  If so, maybe back then, when the company was smaller, the dollars lost didn't seem so extraordinary, and as such, the issue one that didn't make the top of the "plug, bandage, or efficient-ize" list.  Now that the company has grown up, the issues relative size, although maybe not bigger as a percentage of the size of the company, means that the dollars lost have much more of an impact.

Maybe Wall Streets more conservative revenue estimates had issues like this built into them.

As Goes Amazon, So Goes Ecommerce... 

Retailers can and do use Amazon's marketplace as their sole internet sales channel or as an additional sales channel to their own website. Amazon's brand and traffic drive sales for the less known retailers and in return Amazon takes a commission of the sale.  Obviously sales were not coming in like they normally do via our Amazon marketplaces.  I would hate to think what we would do if Amazon was our one and only way of selling products on the internet.  Not only did this issue cause Amazon to lose money but it also caused tons of other retailers to lose money, including us.

Alas, the company, "remains the leader among e-tailers" according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index's fourth-quarter 2007 survey.  This shouldn't surprise anyone considering the numbers referenced above.  I guess the bigger they are, the harder they fall.  Not that we would mind having the problem of generating $37,947.78 per minute...


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