March 15

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2002-05-01 Email Print this article Print

Tax season's finale brings a thundershower of cash—and it's Block that cleans up. But Intuit is grabbing the future.

-April 15: How the Two Sites Fared">

March 15-April 15: How the Two Sites Fared

To get a feel for how Intuit and Block are doing on the Internet, Baseline asked Keynote Systems to provide detailed data about the two sites' home-page performance in the month leading up to April 15. The results are instructive. While TurboTax for the Web downloaded far faster between March 15 and April 13 than most other tax-preparation sites, by April 15 it had become the slowest tax-preparation site (taking, on average, 5.5 seconds to download on that day). TurboTax's managers regarded that fact with the same mix of anticipation and anxiety that the owner of a popular restaurant might feel at seeing a long line forming at the door—happy for the business, of course, but concerned some customers might get discouraged by the wait and go away. Anyway, they say those already inside the TurboTax servers experienced none of the performance problems so noticeable at the entrance. Baseline estimates that TurboTax for the Web ($19.95 per month before April 1, $29.95 thereafter) generated about $8 million in revenue in the first two weeks of April.

Block's performance numbers suggest no comparable surge in demand, and Baseline estimates Block did no more than $2 million to $3 million in e-commerce revenues between April 1 and April 15. Because Block declined to be interviewed for this article—the company asked for a list of written questions, and then responded only to two of the nine Baseline submitted—that estimate can't be verified.

In any event, those who have managed high-traffic sites say it is preferable to be in TurboTax's position, of being the site straining to accommodate a sharp rise in volume. "It's a good problem to have as long as you don't go past the break point," says Gary Landry, general manager of Frederick's of Hollywood, a lingerie-seller that faces big traffic surges just before Valentine's Day. Landry understands what a breakage can mean; before the company added hardware and load-balancing technology, failures at the Frederick's of Hollywood site routinely caused a loss of 30% to 40% in potential Web sales.

As it happens, Intuit itself lost some Web sales this year. As midnight approached on the East Coast on April 15 and the number of simultaneous tax filers rose above 38,000, the TurboTax servers posted messages to new filers asking them to try back in a few minutes. Some undoubtedly did not. "That only happened for about 15-20 minutes, sometime between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m." EDT, says Meighan, vice president of Intuit's consumer tax group.


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