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7.5 Online Purchasing Purgatory

Before you jump into the dot.com world, I'd like to share with you one of my recent online retail experiences that happened to be particularly horrible. I hopped on the Internet and purchased a small widget. After I officially placed my order, I received absolutely no email confirmation that my order had been received. Was it received? I really needed this widget.

I thought about calling the company on its 1-800 number, but there was no such number posted on its Web site. Somehow I just knew my order was in trouble. Nevertheless, I decided, against my better judgment, to have faith that my widget would soon be winging its way to my Boise home.

I waited a week or two, and, to my surprise, my package showed up at my front door. Unfortunately, the company had shipped the wrong product. Good grief! Therefore, again, I needed to call the company. This time, I found a telephone number in the collateral pieces that were included with the incorrect product they sent to me, but, naturally, it wasn't even a toll-free number. I called the number and, much to my dismay, I ended up in a seemingly endless series of expensive telephone queues. This was such a big headache for such a little widget.

It makes a person wonder: What is wrong with these online companies?

For one thing, so many of these companies just haven't refined their own internal systems. Unless you're going to follow through by tuning up your own internal systems, your customers are going to have a bad experience. I can almost guarantee that. You can't just bolt something on to the front end of your Web site and expect the situation to be miraculously rectified.

I find a surprising number of online retailers that don't even bother to add anything onto the frontend of their sites. They just take the simplest commerce engine available, with absolutely no regard to the customer experience, and then they just start taking orders. Then, someone, somewhere, manually enters these orders, and, before you know it, orders are falling into a black hole with no visibility or communication with the customer.

It's a prescription for online purchasing purgatory. It's also the best way to ensure that you have both unhappy customers and customers who never return to your site again.

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