Web Informant #398, 3 February 2005:

Two Common eCommerce Mistakes




There are two times in a customer's purchasing life when any ecommerce solution falls apart: when a potential customer has made up his or her mind and is ready to buy something but can't, and when an unhappy customer is trying to resolve a problem but can't. And despite numerous advances in computing software and new applications, neither of these situations are significantly better as a result.


Actually, both of these scenarios apply to ordinary retail commerce as well as the Web-based models, they are just more noticeable when it comes to the Web. How many of us have spent hours clicking around a Web site, trying to find the product that we already picked out? They just don't want to take our money. Please, Mr. or Mrs. Customer: just Go Away! Take Your Business To Our Competitors.


Neither of these scenarios is news. I think I first started writing about the frustrations of ecommerce about six or seven years ago, back when ordering things via the Web was A Big Deal. Now I buy all sorts over the Internet and don't even think twice about what I am doing, it is just a part of the fabric of my daily life. That is, I don't think twice when everything goes fine.


But sometimes you have to stop and think that the Web merchants aren't getting any smarter about things, despite the pervasiveness of Web shopping. Why? Because they still don't understand what it takes to supply good customer service, or how their shopping experience actually works from their customer's perspective. We need to bring back the Secret Shoppers and teach these guys a lesson.


Yesterday I tried to buy a new refrigerator at Best Buy. I was in one of their stores, I was online, and I ended up completing the order via the ordinary telephone, a device that is more than 100 years old. I was almost ready to just bag the entire thing and go to Sears or someplace else there are lots of places within a short drive of my new office in suburban Los Angeles that will sell me a fridge. It wasn't like I was looking for something exotic, either. A nice new fridge. White, that will fit in my new kitchen (in California, unlike New York, most of the time people move their fridges when they move houses).


What got my goat was the contrast in Best Buy between the virtual army of blue-shirted "greeters" that met me at the door versus the empty aisles in their appliance department that were devoid of any sentient human helpers. There were several of us customers wandering the appliance aisles, in search of someone who could help us and take our money. We all had the look of lost sheep. I had to go find the manager, a nice woman of about 24 years of age who promptly abandoned me to a clerk in customer service, who was a nice man of about 23 years of age. Said clerk was clueless as he tried to locate a fridge (they come in white? I don't see that on the computer, he said initially). Eventually, he left his cash register-PC station at the counter and went to an Internet-connected PC to print out what I needed.


Sad commentary no. 1: Houston, we have a problem here. When your own staff goes to the Internet to find out something that is supposed to be handled with your internal systems, it is time to redesign those systems.


Okay, I had enough of all of this interpersonal contact anyway and I was still jet lagged from crossing numerous time zones. I went home and with the comfort of my own PC I tried to buy the darn fridge. Well, I couldn't the bestbuy.com site won't let me shop without enabling cookies, and despite my best intentions to allow them to plaster their files all over my hard drive and using two different Web browsers (first I thought it was a Firefox issue, then tried to track it down in Zone Alarm), I gave up and went to bed feeling quite frosty, to say the least. The next day I went into the office and borrowed a PC and tried to complete the deal, only to find out that my credit card wasn't working all of a sudden.


The second situation that I mentioned that of being to have someone take ownership when you have a problem I will let Rich DiGirolamo tell you about it directly:



Rich writes a wonderful column called Are You Done Whining and it always serves to entertain and enlighten. He is a corporate motivational speaker and HR consultant, and his biweekly columns are full of sage insights and humor. The one in the link above talks about when he tries to return a purchase on a gift card, only to find non-working computer systems and less than helpful customer service personnel.


Sad commentary no. 2: If your job is customer service, then service the customer. Take the initiative and figure out a way to solve their problem. You will gain a customer for life if you do.


Just so you know, my wife is one of those customers for life at Best Buy, after having a great experience a few years with a returned laptop. But that didn't help us with our fridge. I did manage to buy one, after getting on the horn and going through the whole process with a lovely woman. But the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, we'll see if the fridge actually shows up next week as promised.



David Strom


Tom's Guides Publishing

31225 LaBaya Dr #107

Westlake Village, CA 91362

+1 (818) 991-0282 x204



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