The site seemed briefly accessible at 6:45 p.m. PT, but various other attempts to enter it were met with at least three types of "error" messages.
"We're sorry, an unexpected error has occurred...You can return to our home page to retry your request by clicking here," stated a message at 7:15 p.m., which included a link back to the homepage so shoppers could conveniently continue to test their patience. "...Or, if clicking the link above does not correct the situation and you are continuing to see this message you may try to begin a new shopping session by clicking here."
Representatives of the company, based in Paramus, New Jersey, could not be reached for comment.
Starting around midday or possibly earlier, visitors were greeted throughout the day with a brief posting that read: "Due to the overwhelming popularity of the BIG BOOK of savings, we have had to limit the number of guests to our Web site...Please accept our sincere appologies [sic] and try again later."
This weekend, Toys "R" Us mailed out a special catalog promoting holiday discounts, capping several days of national advertising in print and on television to kick off the shopping season. It may have been the cause of the spike in demand.
The outage confirms analysts' worst fears that many e-commerce sites are not well enough prepared to handle the crush of holiday traffic, a criticism that has been leveled specifically at some of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers.
Toys "R" Us, in particular, has stumbled with its Internet plans in recent months. An agreement with Benchmark Capital to help expand its Web site was abruptly canceled in August. Amid the turmoil, the chief executive of Toys "R" Us resigned.
Toys "R" Us faces intense competition from other online stores, including eToys, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and KB Toys.
Competition is expected to be particularly tough this holiday season, which many retail and financial analysts consider a make-or-break period for some e-commerce companies. Net stocks have been slumping in recent months, and online companies are looking to the holiday period to provide a boost.
Consumers are expected to spend about $6 billion online this holiday season, analysts have estimated.
Toys "R" Us is not alone is suffering outages. Virgin's music store recently was clogged because of demand from a sale on CDs. Amazon.com's site also has undergone periodic outages, frustrating customers.