Halfords' website was down for over 24 hours, after the retailer experienced problems around the renewal of its domain name, Halfords.com.
From yesterday morning for over a day, visitors to the Halfords website were met with a page from web hosting firm Net Solutions, which said: "If you are the current registrant for this domain name and wish to continue the registration on the domain, you must immediately contact the domain name provider and renew the domain name to ensure the name is not deleted."
The page that appeared also offered links for buying bikes and car parts, Halfords' key businesses. The links go to rival companies, including large bike retailer Wiggle and a range of car parts shops including BMW accessories dealers.
Halfords declined to provide a clear reason for the problem, other than to say it experienced a "temporary administrative issue in our domain name renewal process", which could indicate it had not paid for the renewal or that there had been another type of error.
The website went offline yesterday at around 10 am, it is understood. In a statement, Halfords apologised to customers and said the domain name renewal was finally "complete". It added that was "expecting the site to be accessible again shortly". The site reappeared online at around 11.30am Friday 21 January.
Halfords did not comment on the potentially heavy impact to its business of the site being offline for so long. But in its last annual report to shareholders, it said the website was a vital channel, because apart from online sales, it also offers a 'reserve online and collect in store' function that is vital to store revenues. Four in five web customers go on its site and then to a Halfords store, it said.
Owen Cole, UK technical Director UK at IT vendor F5 Networks, criticised the fact Halfords had not successfully renewed its domain name in time. "Letting your registration lapse online is like putting up the shutters on your shop and taking down the sign. People know where you are but they can't buy anything."