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Gift, card sites break a few hearts

Flower and candy retailers and electronic greeting card companies struggled to process orders or deliver goods in time for Valentine's Day, according to a recent study.

Sending gifts and cards online for Valentine's Day left some consumers feeling unloved by Net merchants.

Flower and candy retailers and electronic greeting card companies struggled to process orders or deliver goods in time for Valentine's Day, according to a study released today by San Mateo, Calif.-based Keynote Systems, a company that measures the performance of Web sites.

In some cases, online card companies suffered site delays or outages because of heavy demand for their services. Customers counting on sites such as Blue Mountain Arts, Egreetings.com and Hallmark.com to deliver their electronic valentines were unable to log on to their services only 27 percent to 57 percent of the time, the report found.

Flower and candy sites faired better at processing orders but many of them faltered in delivering merchandise, Keynote said. The measurement firm placed orders with several of the top online candy and flower companies, including Godiva.com, Sees.com, 1-800-Flowers.com and FTD.com, and found that only 38 percent of the companies delivered all of its orders in time for Valentine's Day.

Daniel Todd, Keynote director of public services, said that the challenges of delivering goods for Valentine's Day is greater than Christmas. Because Valentine's Day is a single day, there is more stress placed on fulfillment systems to meet delivery deadlines.

"Many of these sites were not able to meet the demands of the high volume of traffic and orders," Todd said in a statement. "It appears that there were many disappointed Valentine's sweethearts."

The failings of these sites follow similar troubles during the latest holiday season, showing that many online companies are unable to handle extreme holiday traffic. During December, analysts criticized online merchants for failing to reinforce their Web sites to avoid long service delays. E-commerce companies that struggled during the holidays include Toysrus.com, Amazon.com and online travel agency Expedia.

Yesterday, Blue Mountain Arts, Egreetings.com and Hallmark.com suffered intermittent outages and delays in service while processing floods of online greeting card orders. During the day, a message on the Egreetings Network site read: "Due to unprecedented numbers of people sending Egreetings.com Valentines right now, our system is very busy filling orders. Please try again in a few minutes."

Representatives from Hallmark.com and Excite@Home, which acquired Blue Mountain last year, also confirmed that heavy traffic slowed their sites. A Blue Mountain spokeswoman said that company delivered 7.3 million online-greeting cards yesterday and had sent nearly 10 million as of 5 p.m. PST today.

Gordon Tucker, chief executive of San Francisco-based Egreetings, contends that nobody could have predicted the swarms of visitors to its site yesterday. Tucker said that Egreetings would send more than a million cards for Valentines, a record that breaks the company's previous single-day best by 80 percent.

"We're never satisfied when it takes customers longer than a second to get on the site, but we are happy about the level of business," he said.