It's hard to feel sorry for Australian retailers threatened by Amazon when you're stuck in a queue experiencing the contempt they have for their online customers. If the Nintendo Mini NES console taught us anything, it's that we need a local shopping service that cares enough to deal with peak demand.
Australia's last pre-Christmas batch of Nintendo Mini NES consoles went on sale on Monday. After 90 minutes it was difficult to say whether anyone had actually managed to purchase one after Target's website collapsed under the load.
Even if you managed to place the console in your shopping cart, the website would let you get tantalisingly close to paying for it and then spit out an error or present a "busy" page promised to tell you your place in the queue – leaving you wondering whether it was worth persevering considering that you seemed to have one in your hand but were getting no-where.
Target's Twitter feed insisted that some sales had gone through and units were still in stock but it was experiencing "a really high volume of traffic".
The website kept promising to update you on your place in the queue after 30 seconds yet it never got there. Occasionally you'd get back into the site only to see the "busy" page again. Other times the site would spit out an error and you needed to reload – hoping the console was still in your basket.
While the Nintendo Mini NES sale led to many disappointed shoppers, few will be surprised – the same thing happened when EB Games offered the Mini NES for sale online last month. (Clearly, our advice to other retailers in the wake of the EB Games debacle was not taken on board.)
The reason both sales were a disaster is simple: Australian retailers take a "she'll be right" approach to online services expecting to experience heavy load. This is a mistake the first few Click Frenzy sales made despite assurances that everything would run like clockwork. Even the government-backed ABS census was a total disaster.
What's perhaps more surprising is that the looming threat of Amazon's arrival isn't enough to convince local retailers to throw more resources at their online sales to avoid leaving customers in the lurch.
The king of online retail is expected to officially announce its Australian plans any day now, shaking local retail to its core. Yet local retailers will put more effort into complaining about Amazon then they will into ensuring that their websites can cope with peak demand.
Once Amazon brings the pain, Australian retailers might finally realise that they can't take their customers for granted.