Customers hoping to buy a $1 iPod were left frustrated when 3deals launched its website on 12 May. From the go-live the site was inaccessible to many internet users for around 25 minutes, with web browsers returning ‘page not found’ errors. When the site came back up the iPods were sold out.
The 3deals launch was heralded in a media release claiming the company would be offering the iPods, but neither this release nor the 3deals home page stated how many would be on offer.
3deals is one of a number of ‘deal a day’ websites, a business model pioneered in the US by woot.com, and in New Zealand by 3deals’ main competitor, www.1-day.co.nz.
RN approached Wayne Denby, the media contact and director of 3deals named in the release, but he was unavailable for comment. Instead, Chris Honore, a buyer for the company, replied to a request for an interview from an email address of parimp.co.nz, the domain belonging to Parallel Imported Ltd (www.parallelimported.co.nz), a separate company from 3deals, says Honore. Both he and Wayne Denby are listed as directors of Parallel Imported by the Companies Office.
Honore maintains the launch problems occurred because neither the company nor its web host, Web Drive, had anticipated such high traffic volumes. “We didn’t spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing, but when one person hears about it in an office and there’s a $1 iPod then it’s pretty viral. I guess you could say we were ill-prepared,” he concedes.
Robin Dickie, business development manager at Web Drive, says 3deals came to the web hosting company with less than one week’s notice after the company was left high-and-dry by its incumbent web host, which said it wouldn’t host the site with the projected traffic.
“On the launch day, due to the immensely popular offer, the server was quickly overloaded with over 1000 concurrent connection requests per second leading up to and around 12pm,” says Dickie. “We were able to keep the server running for most users, except at that peak time around 12pm.”
Dickie describes the 3deals launch as “a great test” of Web Drive’s virtual server environment. Judging by the reports of some bloggers and web forum users, it would appear to be a fail. Richard Pocock, who describes himself as an “internet marketing professional”, in a post headed ‘3deals.co.nz — How not to launch your site’ at www.webhelp.co.nz, begins by complaining of problems accessing the site, concluding: “Awesome thanks, now that the site loaded, I’ve missed out on getting an iPod for $1. Hopefully the site holds up better tomorrow.”
“Shanel” commented on Pocock’s post: “Real bummer, I tried to get an iPod for $1 and also missed out. I guess there must of been a lot of traffic that they didn’t expect and caused their servers to fail.” Pocock responded with a note about the lack of contact details on the 3deals website.
Consumers told to be vigilant over internet trading
Ten iPod nanos were available for the launch and Honore claims 3deals clearly specified that number. “If you click on one of our products it goes into another box and there’s a description on the right-hand side. It was in the description.” The description field is not visible on the home page and is on a part of the site that at the time of the launch was inaccessible to many users.
The iPods were not parallel imported but purchased at retail price, says Honore. “We just pick them up off the shelf and it was a promotion to launch the site,” he says. “It’s a loss-leader.” New Zealand Apple distributor Renaissance says it had nothing to do with the iPod offer and that it wasn’t the source of the product.
Honore concedes that, with hindsight, the number of iPods should have been given more prominence. “We have had a little bit of negative publicity about it. It wasn’t clear, I guess.”
The fact this information was not included in 3deals’ promotional material and was accessible only following a click-through on the website may have misled consumers, says Consumer NZ.
The consumer watchdog is also concerned that it may be difficult for consumers to contact the company. “Looking on the 3deals website home page, there were no physical addresses or a phone number to contact for problems — warning signs for any buyers,” says Maggie Edwards, a Consumer NZ adviser. “In this case, we would suggest people contact the Commerce Commission.”
“We have received a handful of complaints about 3deals, but as yet have not received any information that would warrant further investigation under the Fair Trading Act,” says Adrian Sparrow, director of fair trading at the Commerce Commission. “Consumers are reminded to always be vigilant when trading via the internet.”
Honore says the omission of contact details would be rectified. “We’ve had a couple of emails in regards to that, so we will put that up.” (At the time RN went to press the ‘Contact us’ page consisted exclusively of a web form.) He says the company will not be doing any further marketing until it has solved these problems.