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For the second time in a month, Target's website was knocked offline Thursday because of high demand. By late afternoon, the Minneapolis-based retailer announced that the head of its online business had "left the company to pursue other opportunities."

Target spokeswoman Amy Reilly said she couldn't discuss details regarding the departure of Steve Eastman, president of, but she said it's not performance-related.

Eastman is the second top executive to leave Target as the crucial holiday shopping season approaches. Michael Francis, Target's chief marketing officer, recently left the company for J.C. Penney after a decade at Target.

After years of contracting its website to, Target announced in 2009 that it wanted to bring the work in-house to get full control over the design and management of its e-commerce operation.

Target relaunched the site in August, and it faced its first big test on Sept. 13, when shoppers flocked to for the introduction of a limited edition of Missoni designer collections. The site crashed that morning and wasn't restored until 10 p.m. Shoppers and marketers criticized Target for being unprepared. was down for about six hours on Thursday before operations were restored about 1 p.m., Reilly said. She did not know what caused the crash.

"No retailer wants to have this happen in mid-October as you're marching toward the holiday shopping season," said Minneapolis retail brand expert Mary Van Note of Ginger consulting. "It's like shutting your doors for six hours."

Van Note, who has done work in the past for Target, said Ginger's research shows that online shopping is becoming increasingly complex. Consumers access retail websites from their phones as well as computers, seek out online coupons and do more comparison shopping on the Internet. "Having that vibrant online experience is really important," Van Note said.

Eastman had been with Target since 1982. He started as a team leader at a store and has held a number of positions, mostly in merchandising.

Target, the nation's second-largest discount chain behind Wal-Mart, said it has no timeline for hiring a replacement, but is evaluating options and has a "strong bench of talent within the organization."

Target has about 1,767 stores nationally and is expanding into Canada. attracts about 35.3 million unique monthly visitors, according to Internet Retailer. Last year, attracted 35 percent of all traffic from shoppers using search engines.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335