A Lesson in Successful Ecommerce PromotionsFair Reader, take an ecommerce lesson from Target.com:

If you’re going offer a killer ecommerce promotion, make sure you’re ready.

No, I mean really ready.

It’s every marketing professional’s dream to launch a promotions campaign that wildly exceeds expectations and makes the proverbial cash register ring…that is, until it completely crashes your ecommerce site.

On Tuesday, Target released their new designer line from Missoni online and in Target stores. Unfortunately, the retail giant didn’t anticipate the enthusiastic response of its shoppers and their impact on the Target ecommerce system. Within three hours, online shoppers had effectively crashed the Target.com site and retail stores were picked clean. In short, they weren’t ready for the onslaught of shoppers all at once.

Why is this so interesting to me? Well, because Target is an exceptional ecommerce retailer and a force to be reckoned with in the world of retail. Presumably, they have a dedicated ecommerce team, fashion trend analysts that predict what will sell and in what quantity, buyers with a clear understanding of the demand for Missoni goods, and the server bandwidth to stand up to repeated holiday seasons and huge sales.

I’m interested because this isn’t the sort of thing that I would expect to happen to Target.com. I don’t point this out to embarrass them—rather to encourage my readers to consider the impact of a powerful promotion on their ecommerce site. If enthusiastic shoppers can run into trouble on a huge ecommerce site, it can happen to you.

Whether your ecommerce site is B2B or B2C and you’re planning a promotion of any size (and I hope that you are), here’s some guidelines to follow before you launch the promotion:

  1. Make sure your site is ready. Do all the critical functionalities work properly? Are all of the items featured in the promotion online and available to order?  Can you successfully check out? Test the entire process, multiple times to be sure. Then test it again.
  2. Bandwidth, baby. Is your server ready to handle an onslaught of excited shoppers? Consumers are unpredictable. The promotion that you think might be “the big one” could launch to the sounds of crickets chirping or could quickly overwhelm your site and its servers before you’ve even had your morning cup of coffee. Prior to launching your next promotion, make sure that your servers—internal or external—are ready to handle a substantial increase in traffic.
  3. Repeat after me: contingency plan. You won’t be able to predict when your ecommerce site is going to crash under the weight of excited shoppers, but you can be prepared to handle it. Create an internal contingency plan so that you know how to get your site up and running as quickly as possible before it crashes. Talk to your hosting provider and determine how they will be able to help you in a pinch when your demand out strips your bandwidth. Have a retargeting marketing campaign at the ready in case you need to reengage with shoppers who weren’t able to buy. Get press statements ready, just in case.


No one thinks their ecommerce site is going to crash when presented with a new sale or promotion, but the truth is that even with the best-of-the-best sites, excited shoppers can stress and crash the system. Preparing for such an event now will pay off later if you ever experience an ecommerce meltdown in the future.

Being mere blocks from the flagship Target store in downtown Minneapolis, I’m intrigued and will probably go see if I can find out what all the fuss is about, but in the mean time, Target’s experience with launching the Missoni promotion is a great reminder for anyone offering ecommerce promotions. Be ready—this could be the big one.

Ready to learn more about how to make your ecommerce initiative a success? Watch the on-demand webinar, Ecommerce Website Best Practices.