Amazon search experienced a severe outage today. It didn't last long but impacted much more than just the search box and results. It's a good moment to realize how important the search really is.

Amazon Search Outage

Today Techcrunch reported about an outage affecting

If you’ve been trying to search for something on for the past few hours, you’ve been receiving a “service unavailable” Error 500. That’s because Amazon is suffering an outage.

Search Is Not Only Search. It's A Data Provider

Now the thing with search is that in most online platforms it powers plenty of other features under the hood. The same TC article states that the impact was broader:

While the homepage and the product pages are still working, you also get an error if you try to open a category. Clicking on “Books” for example gives you an error. The issue also affects the Amazon mobile apps.

Then it goes deeper. Search in many platforms provides data for data exports, integrations with other systems, mass email campaigns. It may affect various systems that seem to be far away from the actual search: invoicing, news pages and news distribution. That's because search has become a data provider.

Search Down Means Lost Transactions

This is pretty straightforward in case of any ecommerce or transaction sites. Users not being able to find the products they need are just a click away from other providers. With search underpinning even the alternative ways of navigation around a site - like category or author pages - the impact of a search outage can have a colossal impact.

Poor Search Results -> People Don't Get What They Need

Even without an outage application that has poor search may fall short in providing the users what they look for, thus loosing money. In the end user needs an answer to their problem and impact of inaccurate search may account for big losses in case of systems that handle huge traffic.

The importance of the search can be critical for some businesses:

Alexa needs to stop sucking at search if Jeff Bezos thinks it could be Amazon’s fourth pillar

Key Takeaway

We'll be very curious to learn about the reasons of the search outage at Amazon. We know they're doing excellent engineering work over there. This kind of problems are inevitable especially given the scale and complexity of what they do over there. The lesson to remember here is to keep your search stable and fast at all times, while making it relevant and smart.


If you're a tech person here's a post on how to build a simple and smart search.