Gap Cant Afford Online Retail Holes's weeks-long blackout was the result of poor planning. Experts offer advice on how to avoid downtime and keep sales going strong.

Shopped online at lately? Well, no worries. Neither has anybody else.

While overhauling its online retail presence this month, Gap Inc. completely shut down for nine days straight—a move that made Web developers and retail analysts wince. The online retail store is back online now, but apparently only available to a limited number of users.

Gap Inc. has not announced a final go-live date for

"An outage is the worst thing that can happen," explained Real Tech News founder and Web analyst Alice Hill. "Think back to eBay going down, and last falls PayPal outage. These instances are huge PR disasters—they anger and frustrate people, and for the Gap it also means a loss in sales."

According to Gap Inc., its September overhaul also extended to some of its other retail sites, including,,, and, most of which were down for several days.

The financial impact of the downtime wont be calculated until Gap Inc. releases its September earnings report next month.

The overhaul followed a tough August for the clothing retailer. Last month, Gap reported a 5 percent decrease in monthly sales compared to August 2004—a $6 million slippage.

The shutdown also comes at a time when consumers are just beginning to shop for fall and winter clothing.

Some analysts defended the shutdown, arguing that online sales only account for 4 percent of the overall retail market, or about the volume of 2 or 3 big stores for a franchise-oriented company like the Gap.

Yet, experts agree, its better to maintain an uninterrupted presence online, to build users trust.

What lessons can other online retailers and site managers take away from the Gaps situation?