Computer manufacturer Dell was facing a barrage of criticism after a series of systems failures left customers unable to complete their Black Friday bargain orders.
In addition to an across-the-board (and not especially generous) 12 percent discount, the company put up a number of oddly-named 'doorbuster' deals which were to go live at specific times during the day.
One of the most tempting of these was a plain vanilla Inspiron laptop, dangled in front of lunchtime bargains surfers at a very attractive £199 price. On any ordinary shopping day, this two-tonne price buys a Chromebook or feeble Celeron netbook, but today it could secure a proper 15.6" laptop with i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a terabyte of hard drive.
Well, in theory at least. Like an uncounted number of others, I'd spotted the bargain and was poised for the curtain to be lifted at 1pm. What followed was 80 minutes of Nietzschean misery as I attempted to navigate the labyrinthine web layers between 'add to basket' and 'order completed'. And I never did get to 'order completed'.
I thought perhaps it was me, or my creaky old existing laptop (which is, of course, the reason I wanted a new one). I thought it was perhaps the strangely complicated series of layers down which any would-be customer had to descend. There is no shortcut to the checkout here, like the half-hidden alleyway in Ikea that cuts out all the bedroom and bathroom stuff.
Add to basket is followed by an unhelpful 'review options' pop-up which has no OK button. It's a mirrored room with no exit. X-ing it at top right merely returns to the offer page. Click 'add to basket' again, click anything that doesn't look like it means buying Office or an extended warranty, and… crash.
We've been here before, though, haven't we? Refresh, refresh, back button, forward button. Finally we find a new page: 'review basket'. This is looking promising.
But it wasn't. Several more crashes, system unavailables, gateway timeouts, and server-is-too-busys later, each level of the labyrinth drew me tantalisingly closer to the goal of a cheap laptop, yet only delivered me to a new frustration.
Dante reckoned there were seven circles of hell. By pure coincidence, I found seven circles of Dell: add to basket, select options, review basket, proceed to checkout, delivery, account set up, payment). Each one failed multiple times. Each one. Multiple times.
But I got there. I got past the checkout, input my address for delivery (and persuaded Dell three times that yes, this was a real address and more accurate than the autocomplete version it insisted was better), set up a guest account, and got out my credit card. The laptop was in my basket, and the price was £199 including VAT and delivery. It had taken an hour and twenty minutes, and in another browser tab I was still holding for a customer service assistant. That didn't matter now, and my progress from number 958 in the queue to number 604 was no longer relevant. Bang in the long card number. Bang in the expiry date. Flip it over for the three-digit security code. Look back to the screen: Total order £379.
Reverting to social media, I realised that a full blown shitstorm was erupting as others, like me vented their frustration. On Twitterer called it a 'bait and switch' scam, while another observed wryly that if the company can't even run its own computer, why would anybody buy its cloud services.
Gizmodo UK contacted Dell UK to invite comment or explanation. A spokesperson would only say: "We have been experiencing some disruption to our web site. The site is now back in action and we are very sorry for any inconvenience caused. There will be further doorbuster deals on Monday."