Wal-Mart Website Struggles to Handle 'Doorbusters' Demand

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s website malfunctioned during the Thanksgiving shopping rush Thursday morning, throwing a wrench in some shoppers' plans to avoid long lines by grabbing deals online. For the first time, the world's biggest retailer offered most of its Black Friday "doorbusters" on its website hours before they were available inside its U.S. stores. The discounts, which were offered in stores starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, went on sale starting around 3 a.m. ET. Wal-Mart's website was overloaded with demand which slowed online checkout for some shoppers, said company executives. Walmart.com did "slow down for a little bit when customers were checking out," said Steve Bratspies, the company's new chief merchant, in an interview. "The vast majority had no issues," shopping the site, he said. More people shopped online this Thanksgiving versus last, he said. "As [discounts] became available online, we saw an incredible surge in traffic," a spokeswoman wrote in an email. The website didn't crash, but did slow down, she said. Some Wal-Mart shoppers took to Twitter to complain about problems checking out on the retailer's website, leading to a string of apologies from Wal-Mart's official Twitter account. This holiday shopping season Wal-Mart has emphasized its effort to sell both online and in stores, putting more deals online, adding more features to its mobile app and promoting free in store pick up for online orders. The company plans to invest $2 billion this fiscal year and next boosting e-commerce sales as it works to fend of growing competition from Amazon.com Inc. and other online retails. Target Corp. also offered most of its Black Friday deals early online this year, but Target CEO Brian Cornell said the retailer's website had no issues handling the holiday traffic and that he was pleased with the site's performance. Earlier this year, the retailer had trouble handling web traffic when it launched a design partnership with Lilly Pulitzer and has said it would spend more to try to fix those issues.