Oriental Trading Site Plummets In Availability—Or Did It?

Online customers trying to reach the 76-year-old crafts catalogue retailer Oriental Trading Company found a lot more hassle than crafts last month, according to the latest figures from online availability research firm Gomez.

But the apparent Web performance plunge may not have happened, and it's a fascinating look into the limits of Web traffic analysis.

When Gomez reported its latest batch of uptime figures for the Top 50 E-tailers covering the month of August, 3,000-employee Oriental Trading came in dead last. How dead last? The top retailer's high broadband connection (Costco) was a 99.83 percent uptime, and the numbers for retailers stayed in the upper 90s all the way down the list, with the 49th weakest high bandwidth uptime performance going to PC Connection, which clocked in at 98.83 percent uptime.

Number 50, Oriental Trading, had only 68.15 percent uptime. That was for high broadband. For low broadband, it dropped to 60.80 percent (no one else on the list dropped below the upper 90s) and for dialup, Oriental hit an impressive 6.09 percent.

The range for dialup was much broader, as many major e-tail chains have given up on dialup, with the second lowest being Toys R Us at 30.17 percent dialup uptime and the third lowest for dialup being The Gap at 34 percent. Still, no one came close to Oriental's 6.09 percent.

"That's unusually low. That's much lower than what you would expect for a major retailer today," said Matt Poepsel, the Gomez Vice President of Performance Strategies. "You'd definitely expect more than 98 percent for high broadband."

Poepsel noted that the site had changed slightly and that "change management, that's a big big change."

But the figures didn't smell right to Oriental. On Aug. 2, the site moved its co-location facility, a transition that was wrapped by Aug. 3, according to Brian Moen, Oriental's VP for E-Commerce. The site sustained a "big outage" on Aug. 2—from 2 AM to 5 PM—but was fully back the next day, Moen said.

When Poepsel started re-examining Gomez's findings, some possible contradictions cropped up, raising the possibility that the data was flawed. One possibility that both execs touched on: In the server transition, addresses may not have all moved perfectly. It's possible that the Gomez server was hitting an IP address that no longer housed active Web activity. But the reports of Oriental's performance had already hit major media.

With the growing popularity of privacy options on existing and new Web browsers, questions have already started about how accurate internal Web traffic analysis is and will be in the next year. This is a good reminder that uptime logs are also subject to the strangeness of the Internet.