Some inauguration viewers were fascinated by the historical tidbit that President Barack Obama took the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible.
Others were more interested in the J. Crew sage green leather gloves that Michelle Obama wore to hold the Bible for her husband — not to mention the pale pink and royal blue wool coats the Obamas’ daughters wore, also from J. Crew.
Indeed, a lot of viewers apparently decided that they must own the gloves and coats themselves. In an interview with my colleague Liz Robbins at The Caucus blog, Jenna Lyons of J. Crew said, “It’s an incredible validation to have the First Family like what you’re doing.”
Maybe too much of a validation.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Web page on J. Crew’s site that features women’s gloves had crashed. By Wednesday morning, the whole women’s section of the site had crashed. Later in the day, the entire site was down, with a note that said, “Stay tuned…Sorry, we’re experiencing some technical difficulties right now (even the best sites aren’t perfect). Check back with us in a little while.”
J. Crew’s Web site joins the many media sites that could not keep up with the surge of inauguration Web traffic. Many of the sites that promised to stream live video of the inauguration struggled or failed to provide a steady stream because of the influx of traffic.
Early Tuesday, J. Crew, which designed the children’s coats and velvet ribbon belts especially for the Obama girls, posted a note — “Congratulations to the first family” — on its home page.
Later, the company added another note — “Yes, they wore Crewcuts” — with a link to shop the brand’s Crewcuts children’s collection.
The outfits were designed exclusively for the Obamas and are not available from J. Crew, though “highlights” from the inaugural outfits may appear in the fall 2009 collection, the company said. Still, all that promotion apparently swamped the site.
“It’s just the sheer number of users coming on,” said Matthew Poepsel, vice president of performance strategy at Gomez, a firm that tracks Web site performance. “It can swamp an application’s infrastructure and lead to poor user experience at exactly the wrong time.”
If a Web company expects a surge in traffic, it can prepare by building up capacity, Mr. Poepsel said. If the traffic is unexpected, though, it can be hard to fix the problem after the fact. More and more often, “with the pace of the Web and how information gets out, no one can predict when this will happen,” he said.
Of all the brands the Obamas wore, J. Crew’s site showed the most impact. But other brands also got some benefit.
Michelle Obama’s day and evening dresses were the talk of the town, and on Tuesday, the names of the designers of those dresses, Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu, were the 70th- and 11th-most-searched terms on Google, according to Google Trends. On Wednesday, though, Isabel Toledo fell off the list and Jason Wu had sunk to 55, while J. Crew came in at 33. (Mr. Wu’s Web site and the site of Ikram, the Chicago boutique where Mrs. Obama shops, appear to be having no troubles.)
Perhaps fans of the Obamas’ style are seeking a more affordable way to imitate the new first family. “Michelle Obama has proved that high fashion can be affordable,” J. Crew said in a statement.