Where To Turn When A Major Service Goes Down?

As Black Friday / Cyber Monday fast approaches, ecommerce merchants cannot afford a major glitch in their shopping carts. Assuming you’ve accounted for the things you can control (no security issues, streamlined checkout, great search results, good code, etc…), what about the things not under your direct control?

What can go wrong?

If you cart returns real-time shipping options from shippers such as UPS, FedEx, and/or the US Postal Service (USPS), you are relying on their servers to return accurate and fast rates. If their servers become overloaded, slow, or go down, your shipping options may stop working

Is it a problem on their end, your hosting provider’s end, or a problem with your cart?

If you charge credit cards in real-time, you rely on your payment gateway provider (like Authorize.net, PayPal) to be able to return accepted/declined messages quickly. If they go down, or become slow due to too much traffic, what happens to sales at your store?

Is it the gateway, or something you did in your cart?

Where to turn

When you think a major shipping / gateway provider is having a problem, what’s the quickest way to determine this? Why, TWITTER of course! That’s what I do whenever we start to see backed up processes on servers. I run (ok, actually type fast) to twitter.com and search for the provider’s name.

So, if USPS is acting up (like they did a few weeks ago for a few hours), I search for “USPS” on Twitter. You can bet if there’s a problem, people will be tweeting within minutes of an issue.

If there’s too much noise in the results, trying put the pound “#” sign in front of the company name, as in:


That is called a “hashtag” on twitter. It’s a way for people setup categories. It can be helpful to search a hashtag to get more pertinent information about a topic/company.

Note: USPS, UPS, and even FedEx have no real-time alert system when their rate servers have a problem. I’ve found twitter to be the best source of information when these shippers have issues.

Searching Twitter does not work for all companies

If the company you rely on is not a national / global service, it may be too small to have a lot of people discussing them on Twitter. You may need to check that company’s specific twitter account, status page, etc… to get more detailed information.

Have a backup plan

Once you find out your shipper of choice or payment gateway provider is having an issue, make sure you have a *tested* backup plan to keep those orders flowing. Whether that’s a static “shipping by weight” table you can quickly enable (like our ShopSite Pro custom shipping module add-on), or switching your cart to manually collect card information, make sure your team understands how to quickly put this into action without breaking your cart.

So the next time you think a major company you rely on is the source of the problem, do a quick twitter search to prove this is the case. Put your backup plan into action, and continue to monitor twitter periodically to see when people say things are back to normal.

I’m sure there’s other simple ways to deal with these type of problems. Feel free to share these ideas with all of us.

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