Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The First Rule of Retail Web Sites

Note: The incident that inspired this article happened in 2008. Since this particular company has hopefully solved the problem in the intervening years, I've changed the names. But the lesson is still valid.

Never prevent the customer from placing an order.

Seriously!

Let the customer place an order!

Doesn't matter what the reasons are - let the user place the order and then backfill information if necessary.

But a major company that usually gets it right, got it very very wrong recently.

I went to purchase a new hard drive for some backups last week.
Dug out my NAMELESSCOMPANY account info, went to the site, logged in and found the drive I wanted.
Put it in my shopping cart, went to check out and...
No checkout button!
This didn't seem possible, so I carefully scanned the page. Even went so far as to pop it in an HTML editor and search for Checkout. Simply not there.
Tried a different browser. Same result: no checkout button.

So I went to a competing site to order the drive.
But I couldn't let it go... Maybe I was missing something.

I returned to the NAMELESSCOMPANY site. Check my contact info (all still current).
Expecting disaster, I click on the Live Chat Support widget:

14:18:00 System Welcome lonkoenig ...
14:18:00 System Connecting to server. Please wait...
14:18:00 System Connected to interact.namelesscompany.com
14:23:12 System Tim NoName has joined this session!
14:23:12 System Connected with Tim NoName
14:23:12 System http://www.namelesscompany.com
14:23:12 System Hello. Welcome to NAMELESSCOMPANY@work online chat. How may I help you?
14:23:46 You i am trying to order a new hard drive. have it in my cart, but i can't figure out how to check out!
14:24:16 You One would exoect a checkout button...
14:24:53 Tim NoName Well, looking at your account it appears to be inactive in our system, which is why you cannot complete your order.
14:25:13 Tim NoName Let me transfer you to our sales team so they can activate it.
14:25:13 System You are being transferred to another queue. Please stand by...
14:25:13 System Tim NoName has left this session!
14:25:33 System Walter NoName has joined this session!
14:25:33 System Connected with Walter NoName
14:27:06 Walter NoName Good day, I understand you need to reactivate your account?
14:27:25 You only if you want me to complete my order...
14:27:47 Walter Noname Please bear with me and I will take care of this for you.
14:28:49 Walter NoName I have reactivated your account. please log out and then log back in. Your account will be active.
14:29:26 You btw - no indication to me that the account was not active. I can log in and set profile info. I just don't get a checkout button on order. NAMELESSCOMPANY should be glad I bothered with the online chat instead of ordering from a competitor
14:30:33 Walter NoName We apologize for the trouble. Since the account was not used since 1999 it had gone dormant.
14:30:53 Walter NoName Do you require further assistance?
14:31:21 You congratulations. Now I ge5t "Your account has been disabled. Please contact your account manager for assistance."
14:32:57 Walter NoName Have you tried closing the browser and reloading to log back in?
14:33:19 You no that would end the chat...
14:33:24 You i will kill cookies
14:34:50 Walter NoName I suggest you do that as the account needs to be reset. You can contact us through chat again if you need assistance. The account has been dormant for so long it needs to be refreshed.
14:37:23 Walter NoName Thank you for using NAMELESSCOMPANY Chat. Please contact us if you need further assistance.
14:37:23 System Walter NoName has left this session!
14:37:23 System The session has ended!



"System" certainly gets excited! Exclamation points on every line!

Needless to say: resetting the browser solved nothing.
After two tries on the phone, I got to a human who quickly and politely took my order. They didn't need worry about my account being "dormant." Either I have an account, or I don't.

I can place an order if I DON'T log in, but not if I log in with valid credentials.
Certainly a simple bug. But some programmer or software designer someplace at some time made the decision that in an error case, they simply would not show the checkout button.
That person was missing the big picture: they handled the error, but lost the sale.

Footnote: I don't know if they ever solved the problem, because that was the last time I tried to order from that company. I now make most of my tech purchases at the "competing site" I mentioned.

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