Web Informant #140, 25 January 1999: http://www.strom.com/awards/140.html
Timing is Everything
When it comes to transacting business over the web, timing is everything. I mean, I go to the web expecting to save time. We assume that tracking down information, goods and services via the telephone is passe these days. However, the time saved in convenience is often lost at the back end when it comes time to deliver the actual goods. Here are some examples, taken from my own recent surfing experiences:
- I was all psyched to order groceries from Peapod.com. The service was finally available in my area, so my wife and I sat down to place our order. About 30 minutes later, after navigating a maze of options and selecting the items we wanted, we learned that the soonest Peapod. com could ship our order was five days from now! Excuse me, but we needed to go food shopping right now. Maybe we could have waited till tomorrow. But five days?
- A friend asked me to post a review of her book on Amazon.com. Gladly, I said. I wrote the review and sent it off to Amazon, using the handy form Amazon provides. A week later she sends me email complaining that the review isn't there and what kind of goober am I, did I write the thing yet? Of course, I say. I did it right away. So I go to Amazon.com, and sure enough, no review. So I call (yes, I picked up that funny thing on my desk called a phone) and after a few minutes reach a live human who says it can take two to three weeks to post a review. Yikes! Sure glad they don't take so long to ship me my book order (although some of you have complained to me about that over the holidays).
- Try this one on for size. I am on a site called hatfactory.com, which sells, you guessed it, hats. Cute site, lots of nice touches, very clean and mean eCommerce. So I order a hat. A week goes by, no hat. I happen to know the head honcho at the place and send him email asking what gives. He says the hat isn't ready yet but tells me I've given him a great idea: adding a feature telling customers when their order would be ready. Another week passes before my hat arrives.
- I wanted to book a hotel room for an upcoming business trip. I went to Priceline.com, which now lets you "name your own price" for hotels (they started doing this with airline tickets and have branched out into other areas). Unfortunately, you can't pick the hotel, just a region and a vague category. For example, the entire South Bay rather than downtown San Jose and a three-star hotel rather than a particular brand series. Sorry, but they need to do better than that. Because the regions are large, I might wind up at a hotel too far from my client. So I go to Hilton.com, figuring they will be able to help. Yes and no: the rate on their web site was $40 more than the quote I got when I called their 800 number.
- Then I needed to get airline tickets. So I went to Delta's web site and, after plowing through many screens, got a pretty good discount fare. But now I am starting to wonder. So I call Delta's 800 number and save an additional $150 on the same flight! (By the way, the phone call took all of three minutes.)
You can glean two morals from these events.
First, managing customer expectations is essential. While I still like Amazon.com, taking three weeks to post a reviewer's message is ridiculous. And there's no indication that your review is on hold. An email with something like "I'm sorry, all uploads are busy right now. Expect to see your pithy review in three weeks' time" would be nice. And taking two weeks to deliver a hat isn't bad - unless you expected it sooner. Again, the issue is managing expectations. Telling the customer when an item will be made and shipped should be standard on any site (and to the Hatfactory's credit, now is). And if Peapod ever wants to capture new customers, it better figure out a way to get food out the door faster. I guarantee that of people have abandoned their orders after finding how long deliveries would take.
Second, why did I save so much dough when I picked up the phone? Is the data available to web customers not as good as that available to the operators standing by to take my call? Or maybe the web sites can't really find all the bargain fares and rooms. Perhaps the sites are just too complex to navigate, and the bargains impossible to find? Maybe all of the above. Again, it gets back to managing those expectations, not to mention increasing customer confidence.
Back in the old days of eCommerce, just being able to complete the transaction without your browser crashing was considered success. Nowadays we want more from web storefronts. And while record numbers of people are shopping over the Internet, the experience still isn't as good as placing the order by phone. And if my very real dollar savings is any indication, using the web still costs too much!
This Thursday morning, I'll be in Washington DC for the annual ComNet trade show. My panel of experts will be speaking on "Managing Your Email Mess: Tips on Getting the Most Productivity Out of Your Messaging Network." If you are in town for the show, stop by and say hello.
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entire contents copyright 1999 by David Strom, Inc.
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