A Retrospective Look at Click Frenzy

Well, Click Frenzy has come and gone, and what have we learnt? Here are a few points to consider:

  • People using the words “success” and “failure” are almost all using them in the wrong context.
  • However one wants to try and spin or define the event, it is impossible to not use the word “embarrassing” as well.
  • Without a doubt, Click Frenzy as a brand is dead in the water. I’d be surprised if they could resuscitate it.
  • Despite the failures, it has been talked about, and has raised the public consciousness about buying online.

Many have labelled the event a failure, which I tend to agree with, but that doesn’t acknowledge that some retailers have seen incredibly strong sales through the period. For instance, Westfield.com.au, which I’m heavily involved with, was active the entire time and trading very strongly.

Then, on the other side, others have tried to spin it as a success, and downplay the significant issues, saying that it was regrettable that Click Frenzy and many retailer sites, big and small, fell over, but that the strong underlying demand for the event and the media mentions generated made it a positive experience.

My issue with both these viewpoints is that they are categorically the wrong way to think about it. Success in this case needs to be considered from the viewpoint of the customer. Was it successful in helping customers find bargains? No, not really. Many customers couldn’t connect and had a horrible experience. Their awareness of online shopping increased, but a completely negative experience. To quote a commenter on Mumbrella:

A new shopping centre is designed. But when it is built, someone forgets to add in some doors. At launch, some retailers manage to punch a few holes in the building, and a few customers follow and purchase some stuff. However most people are left raging outside. “But look,” say the owners of the building, “all these people want to get into our shopping centre, look at the demand, what a success!.”

Failure is a correct way to think about it from the customer viewpoint, but wrong from the perspective of PR and sales. Sales increased for many retailers - if they could keep their site up - and the PR and media coverage was immense (particularly if you subscribe to the “at least they are talking” school of PR).

A better way to evaluate Click Frenzy is to ask: was the most made of the opportunity? In that sense, there was some “success” in raising awareness, but the potential and promise of the event was severely impacted by the execution. And this should be the real reason that it failed: it never delivered on the significant groundwork and expectations.

Why did it fail? Some have pointed the finger at the technical providers or the site hosts, and I suspect Click Frenzy had inadequate technical advice, or perhaps chose to ignore the advice, but perhaps they underinvested in their platforms, or didn’t go with experts. The fact that the Click Frenzy Magento installation and code was visible to anyone with a browser (as of writing, it is still available in Google’s cache) also points to bad technical implementation. In any case, the failure reflects on Click Frenzy and its promoters more than anything.

What are the lessons?

  • It should be a wake up call for all online companies in Australia. The “geeks” have been talking about platform stability for a long time, and the companies that have underinvested in experience and resources in this area can often be embarassed at inoportune times. Real expertise on what online retailing means still needs to develop, and the rare skills in this area need to be cultivated and valued. That means engaging strong techical talent and acting on their advice.
  • The Click Frenzy promoters have probably learnt a lot from the experience. They should be congratulated for working so hard on their vision and generating a massive amount of PR, and have hopefully learnt the folly of not executing on the technical side. However, it is their responsibility to get that right, and they can’t shift the blame there.

An interesting week for ecommerce in Australia!