Behold, the power of Lady Gaga. The pop superstar’s new album, “Born This Way,” managed to crash Amazon.com’s servers soon after the retailer offered it on sale for only 99 cents. Consumers, initially wowed by the discount, quickly became peeved by the dragging download speeds, and took to the album review section to complain not of Gaga’s music but of their ridiculous experience using Amazon—one fan I know said it took upwards of six hours to download the CD.
For outsiders, it might be easy to chalk up complaints to spoiled Gaga fans (aka her “Little Monsters”), who arguably should be happy that they’re even getting “Born This Way” for under a buck. But for Amazon, the deep discount wasn’t a random bout of charity—it represented a huge opportunity to present consumers with an alternative to iTunes, and to introduce its cloud-based music service, which was recently overshadowed by Google’s entry to the digital locker space. Yet with such an opportunity on the line—Lady Gaga’s last release, “The Fame Monster,” was the best-selling album of 2010—Amazon crumbled under the pressure of its own marketing. Indeed, several hours after the servers went down, Amazon refused to elaborate beyond a brief and unapologetic statement. “We have been experiencing high volume on today’s Deal of the Day and downloaded have been delayed,” Amazon said. “All customers who order today will get the full [album] for $US0.99.” But many questions remain. Were high volumes not expected for today’s best-selling artist? Is Amazon not designed to handle high volumes? Does this say anything about the strength of Amazon’s cloud service, if servers crashed from one release alone? Requests to Amazon for answers were not returned. An Amazon spokesperson had earlier declined to give the number of downloads for Gaga’s album, and did not return subsequent requests for comment. In other words, Amazon’s strategy appears to be: Stay quiet and this will all go away. But that strategy seems at odds with the high bar of customer experience expected by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Only several weeks ago, Bezos appeared at a Consumer Reports event, where a moderator described how a recent CR study revealed that “people are livid over their inability to connect with a live person” at Amazon for customer service. In response, Bezos talked at length about the importance of customer experience and support at Amazon. According to Bezos, Amazon prides itself on eliminating the causes of most calls to customer service. “The best customer service is when the customer doesn’t need to call you,” he said. “The number one [reason for] contact has been, ‘Where’s my stuff?’ We have driven that contact down so far, and the way we’ve done that is by delivering everybody’s stuff.” Here, Bezos is referring to physical delivery, but the same holds true in the current context—Amazon has failed to deliver Gaga’s album digitally, and has left numbers and numbers of fans wondering, “Where’s my stuff?”