IBM Digital Analytics (Coremetrics) had an outage on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Here’s what happened and what you should do.

In Blog by Tim Grant / November 24, 2018

    IBM Digital Analytics (formerly known as Coremetrics) experienced an outage that impacted their customers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

    This outage slowed down websites (the browser load event) on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and caused many website services to fail for 40% to 50% of traffic.

    Some of the website services impacted by the outage include:

    • Live chat
    • Retargeting
    • A/B Testing
    • Analytics

    Without these conversion-critical services, retailers impacted by the outage lost significant amounts of revenue on the busiest shopping days of the year.

    Here are some of the sites that were impacted on Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

    ibm site outage

    What is IBM Digital Analytics?

    IBM Digital Analytics is a SaaS analytics provider that many enterprise eCommerce sites use to understand buying behavior, monitor marketing campaigns, and track product sales. It is a very robust analytics service that provides sites with very powerful insights.

    How does it work?

    IBM Digital Analytics uses JavaScript to load on every page of a website. Data is collected about every page, product, and purchase and sent back to IBM repositories for reporting. This is the same data that is already collected by the site’s web servers, but analytics solutions like IBM make processing and reporting on the data much easier.

    One of the prescribed implementations of IBM Digital Analytics is to load the required files in the <head> section of a web page. Placing content or services in the <head> of a page should be done sparingly because items set to load in the <head> can slow down the rest of a page and delay the browser’s load event.

    Since many website services are designed to not function until the load event occurs in the browser, delaying the load event can impact site usability, functionality, features, and aesthetics.

    The outage

    The IBM Digital Analytics outage began at 10:03 EST on Black Friday (11/23/2018).

    The outage caused the browser load event to be significantly delayed for sites loading IBM Digital Analytics in the <head>. The browser loading spinner continued to spin unless you waited a minute or so for IBM’s content to finally time out or fail.

    As a result, critical website services designed to load after the load event could not function for 40% to 50% of traffic. Web pages slowed down significantly, but Black Friday shoppers could still view products, add to cart, and checkout.

    Revenue impact of the outage

    Powerful services that have real business value could not function for a large portion of traffic. These services include live chat, retargeting, and analytics for real-time decision making.

    Since the outage caused the browser icon to continue spinning, many shoppers waited for it to stop (up to 60 seconds) and others gave up and left.

    Data collection impact

    Our analysis indicates that IBM’s outage reduced analytics data collection down to 40% to 50% of traffic, which means that sites were flying blind and could not make fully informed decisions on one of the most critical shopping days of the year.

    The remedy

    Sites were able to mitigate the impact by moving IBM’s JavaScript tag from the page <head> and defer its loading. After sites took this action, page load times returned to normal and the IBM Digital Analytics JavaScript tag simply failed quietly in the background.

    If this outage is impacting your site, I encourage you to follow this flow chart:

    As a rule, site owners are advised to not load third party content in the <head> of a page unless necessary. If those services fail they could bring down the site or severely impact site capabilities.  

    Conclusion

    The IBM outage did not prevent people from buying, however the outage reduced the competitiveness of these sites while the outage lasted or until mitigated.

    Key metrics impacted were Average Order Value (AOV), Conversion Rate, and attribution from retargeting.

    Our eCommerce clients were able to quickly identify and remediate this issue with Blue Triangle’s Digital Experience Analytics platform, which includes Tag Governance for analyzing third party service issues.

    DON’T LET THIRD PARTY TAGS KILL YOUR REVENUE

    Analyze the performance and placement of all your first and third party content and eliminate their risk to your security.

    Tim Grant
    Founder & CTO at Blue Triangle
    Tim has spent the past 18 years in the web and eCommerce analytics arena, and is passionate about helping eCommerce organizations realize the impact of end user performance on their top line revenue.