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May 13, 2008
News - Free Day Recap
about 5 years ago
I think what they wanted to do was nice- I think the execution was terrible. Amazon tried this same thing with their holiday deals a couple of years ago. The winning deal was an xbox for $99 or something like that. What happened? Amazon collapsed under the load. This is a company with extensive experience in running a high traffic web site built on an extensible architecture and even they couldn’t handle it.
I realize that Sparkfun has a lot fewer customers- but they also have disproportionately fewer servers as well. They also lack the extensive experience needed to run a high capacity site like this. Honestly- I’d love to read the postmortem for the free-day outages. What failed? Bandwidth? Webservers? Database? What mistaken assumptions were made? Did they expect fewer visitors? Did the server capacity not scale as expected? What could have been done differently? More servers? Smaller images? Streamlined HTML?
The problem, Gremlin, is that the first priority of free-day was supposed to be “giving back to the community,” not being “a promotional event.”
“So do you think I should have denied from participation in free day?"
The point of free-day was supposed to be "to give back to the community.” Have you contributed to the community- either by contributing to the forums or making purchases that keep Sparkfun in business? If not- then yes- you should have been denied. Obviously the Sparkfun people seem to feel different. That’s their right, of course, but I get the feeling a lot of people feel they were lied to about the real purpose of free-day- and I, for one, do not like being lied to.
In your case you did order something- a few months ago- that would have qualified you for participation. I also suggested several other ways to organize this that didn’t require purchasing anything- using forum participation as an alternative.
The problem isn’t that people didn’t get stuff- everyone understood that there was a limited supply. What bothers people is the number of new people and resellers that didn’t know Sparkfun from a hole in the wall but who showed up to get free stuff. Great marketing perhaps- but definitely not the right way to “give back to the community.”
In that case you’ve only confirmed what Shawn said- this wasn’t about “giving back” to the community but bringing in new customers. Is that good for Sparkfun? Well- if they succeeded in attracting more new customers than alienating existing customers- then yes. Unfortunately I think this left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
Please don’t take my comments as sour grapes. I’m lucky enough to own my own company and can purchase whatever parts I need without thinking twice about it. Free stuff is always nice but missing out isn’t going to make any difference in the projects I get to work on. (Pictures of my lab are available upon request :) )
What I feel bad about is that there are a lot of people that could have really used some parts, but instead the money went towards resellers and freeloaders.
Might I suggest some different options for next year (should you decide to do it again):
1. Announce Free-day. Some orders will be free, but you won’t know until after you’ve completed the purchase. Only people who would have bought anyway get a gift and the freeloaders don’t. This ignores students and others who could use the freebies though.
2. On Free-day- everyone gets 50 or 75% off- up to $100k. Again- it helps avoid the freeloaders who just want to resell- their profits go way down. It’s also more palatable for students and others without a lot of money- 75% off is still better than nothing at all.
3. Pick a day at random- anyone who orders or comments in the forums on that day gets $100 coupon (up to $100k). Don’t tell people which day. This is more inclusive of students and others who contribute but can’t order a lot of stuff.
4. On Free-day randomly select 1,000 people from the registered accounts that have ordered or commented in the last year and give them coupons.
Any one of these would have worked better and resulted in fewer headaches.
What was the point of Free-day?
“First and foremost, we want to give back."
Instead of giving back to the SparkFun community- ie those people that buy from SparkFun and contribute to the forums- we had lots of people jumping onto the site, having never bought or contributed anything. A lot of people that just wanted free stuff- often to resell- got lucky and did so (plenty of twitter comments said exactly that). A lot of the people who contribute and could have used these items- did not.
Worse- instead of just not getting something- people wasted several hours trying to get something. It would have been one thing if they’d just gotten a rejection- you win some- you lose some. Wasting time waiting for an absurdly slow site just offended a lot of people. I didn’t experience "sporadic outages” this morning- I got a total outage. The site never once loaded.
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