New Victoria’s Secret Shopping Tool Opens Pandora’s Box

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Source: Forbes.com

By: Penelope Patsuris

(CANNES, FRANCE) — The Internet is crawling with drooling men, and Victoria’s Secret is ready for them. The lingerie line will hold its second annual fashion show live via Webcast today from Cannes, France.

This time the tech staff for Victoria’s Secret says it’s ready for the rush of traffic. The 1.5 million visitors during last year’s sexy show brought the company’s servers down, preventing many who logged on from ogling the nearly naked supermodels.

It’s hard to say who will upstage whom in a spectacle showcasing the New Liquid Miracle Bra – made with liquid-filled pads that “adapt to your shape,” according to the Victoria’s Secret Web site – as well as, among others, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Stephanie Seymour strutting their stuff in skimpy bra and panty sets.

What the company hopes will get the most face time, however, is its new “shop-while-you-watch” feature, which is set to premiere. “The real challenge for this year’s Webcast will be filling a flood of underwear orders, quickly and accurately, and delivering them on time,” says Gomez Advisors analyst Barrett Ladd. “It’s a much bigger deal to risk consumers’ having a bad shopping experience than it is to risk a poor-quality Webcast presentation.”

A retailer who flubs a show is one thing, but a retailer who flubs retailing is in trouble– witness the 1999 Christmas e-tailing season.

Viewers will see a split screen as they watch the show. The right side of the screen will show the toned-down consumer version of what’s worn by the models, who are pictured on the left side of the screen. “As you watch the show, you can add items to your shopping cart, and we don’t ask you to specify color and size until the end so you won’t be distracted from the show,” says Tim Plzak, director of advanced technology for Intimate Brands (NYSE: IBI – news), the $4.6 billion (sales) parent company of Victoria’s Secret.

How considerate.

Trepidation over last year’s site outage and today’s shop-while-you-watch rollout is probably why the company hasn’t hyped the show nearly as much this year. In 1999 a commercial during the Super Bowl a week before the show aired drew 3 million users to the site on that day alone. “That’s when they realized what kind of interest there would be and started adding servers,” says one company source.

Too late. The buzz reached a crescendo and the pipes got clogged. Thousands of men missed out on all the fun and were left to stare idly at a “loading” icon.

Many more servers will make the site sturdier, of course–the company won’t say just how many it’s using–as will the Webcast’s use of multicasting technology that lets a single video stream serve many viewers at once. Last year the show was done in unicast, meaning that every viewer had a unique video stream, which uses much more bandwidth.

To ensure that processing, shipping and delivering orders goes silky smooth, Victoria’s Secret will integrate orders placed during the Webcast directly into the fulfillment and inventory system it normally relies on for both its catalog and Web site operations. Aside from order execution, the shopping component will put an extra technical strain on the site beyond the traffic volume, as thousands–if not millions–of people load up shopping carts and jump from page to page.

And that’s not to mention the tricky matter of carefully shipping and handling those Liquid Miracle Bras.