Last Tuesday 20 November, Click Frenzy became one of the most talked about stories in Australian media. In an effort to set things straight, here are my personal views on the Click Frenzy story.
A little over a week ago, on Tuesday 20 November, the nation tuned in, clicked on, and was temporarily ticked off when a little project of mine called Click Frenzy ‘click failed’.
It was, to put it mildly, a disastrous start.
Furious customers were met with error messages for hours, #clickfail trended on Twitter and the technology industry went nuts.
The irony is not lost on me. As owner of Power Retail and an active member of the e-commerce community, I have reported on plenty of website crashes, commented on strategy and decision-making, and critiqued numerous e-commerce ventures.
So it’s poetic justice that I should suffer the amplified humiliation of a very public crash and the subsequent backlash in the media and online.
I’ll cop that. My career portfolio now boasts memes, a parody video, and a renewed appreciation of the power of social media as a tool for angry customers to vent.
Click Frenzy has certainly polarised opinion. The extremes of speculation have been breathtaking, not to mention the abusive phone messages, vitriolic emails and media taunts. If the consequences did not have such dire implications for the welfare of my employees and my family, I might find it a fascinating lesson in the world of business.
So I wanted to take this opportunity to set a few things straight.
My intention with Click Frenzy was, is, and always has been to establish a successful Australian initiative that would allow local retailers to get a boost before Christmas, and customers to enjoy a thrilling shopping experience. I wanted to create Australia’s biggest day for online sales.
Unfortunately, we got off to a horrible beginning. A number of customers experienced frustration and disappointment with the early technical issues and there were some advertisers who were disappointed. We’re working through this now on a case-by-case basis but given the angst that these issues caused, I’d like to address some of them here.
Customer registration information
There have been reports that customer information gathered for Click Frenzy has already been sold off or will be to third party marketing companies for the purposes of spam, and customer details could be held on file for up to five years.
Many are asking, why did you ask customers to register in the first place? It is definitely a question we should have addressed more explicitly from the outset.
There were a number of reasons. The initial scope of the project included a login, where registered customers could view special sales on the site for members only. However, as we drew closer to a completely immovable deadline, our technical team decided to remove this item from the scope of works, along with a proposed social login function.
The registration information was to be used to issue updates and reminders about the Click Frenzy deadline, announce participating retailers and, while the event was on, inject life and energy throughout the 24 hour period with several scheduled EDMs. It’s hard to believe now, but a week before Click Frenzy began we thought 300,000+ visitors would be a great result for our first year event. We thought we’d need multiple email reminders before and during the event to ensure registrants didn’t miss out.
As history now shows, over 1.6 million visitors converged on Click Frenzy at 7pm on Tuesday the 20th of November. The massive surge of interest on Tuesday built off the back of comprehensive national coverage of the sale across all major TV, radio and press throughout the day.
Click Frenzy had taken on a life of its own.
As we monitored the surging traffic, we agreed in consultation with our technical advisers not to issue the proposed ‘reminder’ EDMs as this could further destabilise the site. Already each item of media coverage was resulting in massive spikes as the event start-time drew nearer.
We know what happened next, the wrath of the nation via social media drove home the prevailing sentiment.
Post-event, our plan was that registrants would receive email communications inviting feedback on the event and ways to improve.
At every stage of the process, customers could opt out of the Click Frenzy database, and we continue to process these requests daily. To opt out, click the Unsubscribe link at bottom left of any email or confirmation you have received from Click Frenzy, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.
We are certainly concerned about people’s personal information, and we have most definitely learned a great deal about the sensitivity around this and how critical communication is in allaying fears. We have now learnt a brutal lesson, and the media and public have rightfully voiced their concerns, which we are addressing.
At no stage since the actual event began have any registration details been used by Click Frenzy or any third party to send marketing communications to subscribers. Any claim that someone has received marketing communications using data supplied by Click Frenzy to another business are completely false.
There’s been plenty of talk on the quality of the deals and the range on offer.
We hear you and we will address this.
To be fair to many of the retailers, we had not provided a great deal of time to adequately prepare. We were also asking them to take a leap of faith on an untested venture. Most thought our ambitious plan to attract hundreds of thousands of shoppers to the site for 24 hours was pie in the sky. We didn’t know then that we were set to become the centre of national attention and blast our forecasts out of the water.
When Click Frenzy became a media talking point a week prior to the event, previous sceptics wanted in, along with over 2000 more expressions of interest. Despite tripling our resources to ramp up, we were unable to accommodate many of the retailers interested.
Ultimately, there were more that enjoyed the deals on offer that didn’t, as evidenced by the fantastic overall sales results achieved by the event.
Reporters and analysts are suggesting I’ve pocketed millions. I could have, potentially, had we opened up Click Frenzy to the international retailers wanting to pay to get on board. We knocked back significant sums of guaranteed revenue from the likes of Macy’s, ASOS, Topshop, Marks & Spencer, Wiggle and others to keep Click Frenzy focused on supporting local retail brands.
We also rejected requests from some participating retailers wanting to pay more to access the database of registrations. Despite what has been reported and suspected, none of the participating retailers have been given access to personal registration data.
But despite all of this, Click Frenzy actually had some great successes.
A majority of our participating retailers were very happy with the return on investment. By late that Tuesday evening as the sky was falling on me, I was buoyed by texts and emails from customers small and large reporting positive sales. In the wash-up now, we are addressing the major concerns but we also know that even with the outage, the traffic far exceeded what was originally forecast.
Data from analysts Quantium released on Friday showed that overall, Click Frenzy participating retailers boosted sales by over 2.5 times greater than their previous best online sales day.
Even non-participating retailers saw uplift, and we couldn’t be happier that Click Frenzy sparked such exciting activity and competition. It was fantastic to see non-participants manoeuvring to take advantage of the Click Frenzy buzz, as it became the talking point of the week.
So what has been learned?
Despite our well-publicised troubles, our goal in establishing Australia’s biggest day for online sales was achieved.
What is most disappointing to me through this experience has been the personal nature of some of the attacks and commentary.
Out of all of this, the negative reporting and focus on me alone as having entire responsibility for #clickfail has taken a toll on my family. One article in particular focused entirely on me personally and mentioned my deceased father – zero relevance to #clickfail and very distressing to me, my mother, sister and brother. Reading that elicited the tears I’m sure the irate customers calling me ‘mongrel’, ‘loser’, ‘disgrace’, ‘failure’, etc. were hoping for.
The same piece referred to an unnamed charity, one that absolutely deserves a shout out. Thank you Make-A-Wish Australia. When I’m having a bad day, it’s Make-A-Wish that provides perspective. It’s fair to say I had a few personally tough days last week, but they’re insignificant compared with the challenges endured by so many of the families we meet through Make-A-Wish.
Take 11-year-old Owen – suffering from leukaemia and spending months in hospital, Owen endured a relentless routine of torturous treatments to cure his life-threatening illness. With every needle, biopsy, chemo or other painful procedure, Owen is given a coloured bead representing the treatment type. Since first being diagnosed, Owen’s chain of beads has grown four feet long.
The kids and families I meet through Make-A-Wish have true courage in the face of terrible suffering, and the joy that The Wish Effect brings is something words cannot describe. When you have perspective like that, taking the hit for Click Frenzy ain’t so bad. I’d like to acknowledge all of the love and support I have received via texts, emails and phone calls from not only friends and family, but also from some business figures I admire and respect enormously. Thank you all so much.
Despite investigations into my background by journalists, my history proves disappointingly beige. The one incident of note that was dug up was a job I walked into as editor of a series of travel publications nearly 12 years ago. Replacing the previous editor and starting on a project called Welcome To Victoria, within weeks I was forced to respond to New Zealanders outraged about a book produced by my predecessor. The hotel room guidebook produced in Melbourne featured images of the South Island within stories on the North Island, and as the person in the chair I had to answer to the media.
Desperate for a twist, this incident was dredged up to further reinforce my incompetence during last week’s media failure-fest.
We are truly sorry to all who were frustrated by Click Frenzy’s outage. Of course it is not what we intended, and it was a terrible disappointment for us as well as our customers when the site we’d boasted would hold up – didn’t.
Nonetheless, we made a massive impact.
A site that didn’t exist two months ago saw more than three million visits and over 22 million page impressions, with participating retailers collectively recording two and a half times better results than ever before.
Someone liked it.
Even e-commerce rivals who could have sunk the boot in recognised that we did something special, putting online shopping on a pedestal for a week and showing the Australian business community a visible manifestation of the widespread appetite for online shopping.
I have listened, I have learned, I know what my mistakes were and I have to live with those. I have a parody video now too.
And I shall return – #clickfail hasn’t broken me or my loyal team, who were unbelievably supportive and dedicated throughout a very testing period. For that, I cannot thank you guys enough.
Now it’s back to work – I have dozens more monumental stuff-ups ahead of me.