A rare occurrence for the e-tail giant, Amazon was suffering intermittent service interruptions on Thursday: For a time, visitors to www.amazon.com saw only the error message "Http/1.1 Service Unavailable." The site was back up again around 3 p.m. ET, then down again, then once again available. It's unclear if all users are experiencing the outages at the same times; at one point it was available from the computers in our Manhattan office, but was listed as down by the indispensable website Down for Everyone or Just Me.
On Twitter, some snarky commenters have suggested that an outage of this sort is good for the company's profits, as the company can't lose money when it isn't selling. All joking aside, though, even a short service disruption may mean millions in lost sales. Amazon projected it would make between $15 billion and $16.6 billion in net sales for the first quarter of 2013, so by our math that means it's losing around $7 million in sales for every hour it's down. (Of course, that assumes that everyone who intended to shop this afternoon and couldn't access the site will simply take their business elsewhere, which isn't necessarily the case.)
As of 4 p.m. Amazon shares were down 2.5% on the day, though there's no guessing how much, if any, of that lose of market confidence can be attributed to the service outage.
We've reached out to a few sources at Amazon to find out what's causing the problems, and we'll update this story as we learn more. In the meantime, let us know in the comments if you're still having trouble with the site.
UPDATE: An Amazon spokesperson writes, "The gateway page of Amazon.com was offline to some customers for approximately 49 minutes. Other pages of the site were accessible and AWS [Amazon Web Services] was not impacted." The spokesperson did not elaborate on the cause of the outage.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.