Here, with minor edits, is the opening paragraph of an e-mail I received from a winery today:
Dear [redacted] Customers,
We’ve decided to re-send last week’s e-mail announcing the release of two new [redacted] wines, since many of our customers encountered difficulty in placing their orders on our website. We have since learned that our website vendor was having serious server problems that prevented some of our customers from completing their orders (other orders were placed successfully). Over the week-end, the problems were fixed and the ordering system is now in [sic] working. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your e-mails, alerting us to these problems.
First of all, breathe a sigh of relief that this wasn't your winery.
What would have happened if some frustrated customer hadn't sent them an e-mail? They might still have a broken e-commerce site. They might be wondering why that e-mail offer they sent isn't generating as many orders as usual.
I could be cynical and assume that this is just a way of sending another e-mail blast to get people to take action. But I'm not. I feel sorry for whatever revenue this winery lost (my understanding is that they are, like many wineries, trying to move slow-selling products). I suspect it also had some impact on their customer's perceptions as well.
I took a moment to look up the IP address for the winery's Web site (they host their own e-commerce solution). Doing a lookup through ARIN (the entity which assigns blocks of IP addresses for the US), I could see that their IP address belongs to their Web host, Bay Area Network Systems. Presumably, that's where the problem occurred, although it's hard to tell from the winery's description.
What can you do to ensure that you won't experience the same breakdown? Ideally, you have a way to place an order (from outside your own network) that flows all the way through the system and shows up as received. That's the only way to really be sure. And even then, as the letter above shows, that's not a guarantee that it's working for everyone.
If you're like most wineries, where Web sales aren't all that important to the bottom line, you probably don't care. But if you're doing significant revenue via your Web site, you should be asking yourself, "How do I know that my e-commerce site is actually working?"
(If you supply winery e-commerce solutions, I'd appreciate any comments you care to add. Thanks!)