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Online retailers overloaded on Black Friday

Is this what they mean by "economic slowdown"? Keynote Systems, a mobile and Internet testing firm, says of 30 sites it tracks, 15 percent had performance problems Friday.

When people talk about "economic slowdown," I am pretty sure this is not what they mean: So many buyers flocked to popular online retail sites on Black Friday that many sites slowed to unpleasant levels under the crush.

Keynote Systems said Friday of the 30 sites it tracks, 15 percent had noticeable performance problems. The problems were mostly in the sites' shopping cart and checkout systems, not the catalog functions.

"Every year, we see a handful of Web sites that aren't ready for the holiday rush. The problems are in the shopping cart experience, where you cannot complete a purchase," Shawn White, director of external operations for mobile and Internet testing firm Keynote Systems told me.

I experienced this for myself Friday. Shopping on the HP site (for printer supplies, sadly, not gifts), I found navigating from page to page so slow that I eventually gave up.

According to the Associated Press, was offline for two hours Friday. Kohl's and Saks also had problems. Amazon and Target slowed, but not critically.

Although 15 percent of the Keynote-tracked sites had issues this year, last year the number was 30 percent. Wal-Mart, which did poorly last year, has functioned well this season so far. Costco, NewEgg, Best Buy, Dell, and Apple also performed well.

"I'm kind of bullish on online shopping," White said. "We're still seeing people flocking to Web sites, shopping for deals." Online sites are "are having to cut prices even deeper, since brick-and mortar-shops are offering incredible deals to get customers into stores," he said.

Looking on the bright side, perhaps this means that the online retailers' economic stimulus packages (deep discounts) are working, and people are buying things on this first day after Thanksgiving, according to the usual U.S. holiday custom.