While many online retailers will be counting the profits from increased sales on ‘Mega Monday’ there is a sobering lesson on how not to run a discount promotion from Ebuyer.com.

The electronics retailer joined the discount trend by offering a range of sale items for just £1, including laptops and PCs. However, the website couldn’t handle the extra traffic that this offer generated. 

Ebuyer.com was down for several hours, before eventually coming back online at around 2pm. By then, angry consumers had started flooding Facebook and Twitter with complaints and abuse.

Unfortunately the increased traffic sent by the £1 bargains caused the site’s servers to crash, even before the sale went live at 11am.

Ebuyer managing director Armando Sanchez posted a response admitting there has been a “degree of disappointment over this sale,” but didn’t go as far as to apologise.

Fabio Torlini, VP of Cloud at web hosting company Rackspace, said the outage will have done significant damage to Ebuyer’s brand:

For me it’s like if Harrods had a massive sale and had people queuing outside but then didn’t open the shop. It’s likely that people will look elsewhere and they’ll probably feel a bit bitter about it, it’s a massive faux pas.

Research shows that 38% of consumers will abandon a website if it takes more than 10 seconds to load, and nearly half of those surveyed (45%) said that if they believe a website is too slow they will turn to the retailer’s competitors instead.

Torlini said websites can easily avoid outages by testing how much traffic they can cope with before launching a campaign. Cloud technology also allows sites to be more flexible and bring in more resources if they are hit by peaks in traffic.

This isn’t the first example of a retailer struggling to cope with increased traffic. In 2008 Debenhams’ site crashed for two days during a sale and causing customers to turn to its rivals instead. Also, US e-commerce sites, including Victoria’s Secret, experienced some downtime thanks to the extra Black Friday traffic. 

The results of a website outage can be devastating for e-tailers, but it is avoidable. In the case of busy Christmas shopping days, or sales and promotions, retailers should be able to pre-empt the extra traffic that will hit their websites. 

For example, retailers can do some load testing to see how much traffic the site can handle before it falls over, then take steps to deal with this well in advance of any anticipated traffic spikes. 

Failing to do this means sales are lost to competitors, and annoying hundreds (or thousands) of customers. Ebuyer may well be wondering whether this £1 sale was worth the effort.