Managed to secure an iPhone 7 handset at 10:00am yesterday morning? If so – the odds were definitely in your favour.
As a Singtel customer trying to please her mother with a new phone, getting hold of a reservation slot for a 256GB iPhone 7 Plus in Black has been quite a tumultuous task for me. Despite my many attempts, broken website connections and slow loading pages kept getting in my way and in just a matter of minutes, handsets were sold out - in all colours and storage sizes.
And I was not alone.
Within hours, angry Singtel customers flooded the telco’s Facebook page and there were over 2,286 comments discussing the website crash and the difficulties in securing a handset. Some even shared their experience with the customer hotline explaining to the rest of the community that what had occurred was a system glitch.
While Singtel has not yet responded to Marketing's queries on the matter, it did however make consistent status updates on its Facebook page. It informed customers on the technical glitch, the change in schedule for the handset reservation and also addressed the concerns of some customers in the comment thread.
Singtel however, was not the only telco to be swarmed with angry comments due to the pre-orders. While not facing the exact same problems as Singtel, rival telcos StarHub and M1 received complaints on isolated issues on their social media pages. Marketing understands StarHub faced intermittent website issues and M1 faced issues on stock availability.
"StarHub's iPhone 7 pre-order portal had stayed open through the day to serve registered customers. At times under heavy load, access to the portal slowed and we advised customers to try again in a few minutes," a Starhub spokesperson said.
This led me to wonder if more could have been done by the telcos to cope with the high, and sometimes frenzied, demand of the yearly iPhone launches.
I decided to ask some our industry friends.
Preethi Sanjeevi, regional chief marketing officer and head of consumer insights, VML Southeast Asia and India, said that Singtel’s placing advisory messages and updates on the crash and when the site would be up again was an essential one. This would ensure panicked customers that they were aware of the matter and are looking into it.
“Every organisation is vulnerable to crisis, and it is more vital to assess the situation post-crisis and implement a response plan than to fret over spilled milk,” Sanjeevi said. Remedying such a situation however, she added, is not difficult but requires advance planning. In this day and age, where consumers turn to social media platforms to voice their frustrations, it is expected that news of the crisis will spread fastest on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
She added a few angry consumers however, may not be an accurate representation of consumer sentiments. Taking a step back to the website design stage, Sanjeevi explained that it would be better to stress test the site in order to find out the limit to which concurrent users can be served without degrading the site’s performance.
Site crashes aside, slow page-load times can also compromise on the overall user experience - which at the end of the day, is at the heart of what we do.
Although Singtel was steadfast on a communications front, the fact that the technical glitches could still occur on such high profile launches was not something which was acceptable from a consumer standpoint, explained Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer.
“This is the seventh edition of the iPhone and by now the telcos should have had enough chances to learn from their past experiences and be better prepared to manage capacity,” Mazumdar said.
He added that it is quite unfortunate that in today’s day and age, large resource-heavy organisations are unable to handle website load spikes on their sites during such high demand periods. This is especially so for launches such as the iPhone as they are predictable, time-bound events that organisations have ample time to prepare for.
Such recurring issues don't augur well for Singapore's brand image as a technology hub and need to be tackled soon.
But since this is a common problem faced by all three telcos, Mazumdar thinks it is unlikely to hurt the sales of the new iPhone 7.
“It's high time these companies take a leaf out of the books of Amazon, Flipkart, Alibaba, TaoBao that are able to handle far larger e-commerce volumes globally to resolve this issue,” Mazumdar said.