Serving the midnight market – why uptime counts in online retail

Being available whenever customers need it is an aspect of providing the excellent service that keeps people coming back to his site.

May 16, 2013

When Gary Amstutz moved his rubber stamp business to the web he expected online retail to be different – but he didn’t realise quite how different. The big surprise? How many of his sales are made after normal business hours.

“We make sales from our site every hour of every day, even at 3am,” says Amstutz, who launched rubberStampSA.co.za in 2005. “It surprised us at first, but then we realised: Many of our customers are small- to medium-sized business owners. Midnight is when they get time to do their admin.”

As a result, says Amstutz, he has learned quite how critical 24/7/365 uptime is to an online business. “I consult to many other online businesses as well, and it’s very clear that choosing your service providers for uptime is key. That means not just your web site hosting service, but also your payment gateway.”

Amstutz chose PayGate back in 2005 on the basis of their service quality, and says “I can’t think of a moment when we lost a sale because PayGate was down. As a retailer you can’t just assume these important services will always be on. Some payment service providers seem to think it’s okay to go offline for maintenance after midnight, but it doesn’t work that way. I’ve seen online retailers suffer from several outages at their payment gateways, which had a significant effect on their business.”

Being available whenever customers need it is an aspect of providing the excellent service that keeps people coming back to his site, says Amstutz. “One should always aim to exceed customer expectations, because by shopping online they’re sacrificing some of the ‘touch and feel’ that’s so important. So where some people are still amazed when what they’ve bought and paid for actually arrives, we aim to make sure it arrives within less than 24 hours.”

This convenience, says Amstutz, is what is driving online retail. “South Africa is catching up very quickly to what’s been happening overseas, where it’s all about the convenience factor. Why spend time and petrol sitting in traffic to get to a shopping mall when you can do it from home? Online retail is the way to go – and the winners will be those who make buying online so quick, easy and hassle-free that their customers can’t quite believe it. Deliver fast, and always be up.”