Woolworths, having become the latest victim of the credit crunch yesterday, seems to have taken its website offline this afternoon.

Visitors to the website will find this message: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Please check back later. ‘ 

The website was up and running this morning, so it must have been taken down over the last couple of hours. 

The company’s problems are all over the news, so visitors will be in no doubt about the real reasons behind the site been down, but why has the company chosen to put such a vague message online? 

After all, some customers may have ordered Christmas presents before yesterday’s announcement, and will be concerned about whether the goods will arrive.

I called the company’s press office to find out more, but only got as far as the answerphone. Customer Services were more helpful, and advised me that ‘all orders will be fulfilled where stock is available or else refunds will be issued’.

Tnis is obviously good news for customers, so why didn’t Woolworths put a statement to this effect on its homepage instead of such a vague notice? It would save a fair amount of anxiety for its customers, as well as reducing pressure on its call centre.

While its high street competitors like M&S have been updating their websites over the past couple of years, Woolworths’s website still looked pretty basic by comparison, so perhaps it has been slow to adapt online.

Woolworths website

Webcredible’s recent usability report on high street retailers online put Woolies in 16th place (out of 20), behind rivals like M&S, John Lewis and Argos, though its score of 65% was by no means the worst.

Stats from Hitwise suggest that, whatever the reason, it has not been attracting the same levels of traffic online as M&S, Argos etc. Its market share of internet visits in the Department store category is behing that of all of its obvious rivals:

Hitwise- Top 10 Department Stores ranked by share of visits, Oct 08

A year on year chart showing traffic between October 2007 and 2008 for department store websites category paints a similar picture:

Visits to selected Department Store websites, Oct 07 – Oct 08

This is the seond website we have noticed closing lately thanks to the recession this week; online pureplay 247 Electrical, as we reported yesterday, has also ceased trading.

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Related research:

Online Shopping and Credit Crunch Survey Report