Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Cautionary Tale - or How Not to Set Up a Website

I have just spent an hour ordering some wine as a Christmas gift.  Not different bottles going to different people.  I wasn't even choosing individual bottles.  Just sending a case of six wines that I should have been able to order and pay for in a few minutes.

I had browsed a couple of websites and discovered that Wines Direct was offering a £30 off voucher for new customers at Laithwaites which meant that I could send something really nice rather than just quite nice.  So I clicked on the case I wanted, filled in my details and clicked the big red button saying 'continue'.  Which brought me back to the main page.  Eventually, after doing this a few times, and realising that 'continue' really meant 'discontinue'  I discovered three links at the top of the page for 'delivery', 'summary' and 'payment'. 

I clicked 'delivery', filled in the details of the recipient, and clicked 'payment'. I put in my card details and my billing address plus the voucher code and clicked ‘make purchase’. A message came up to the effect that the recipient’s name and address were missing. I backtracked and put them in again (and this also required putting in my card details again). The same thing happened.  I tried it a third time and, yes, you’ve guessed it . . . it didn’t work.

Finally I gave up and rang the company.  The girl I spoke to was helpful but knew nothing about the vouchers on the Wines Direct website and I spent ages hanging on while she asked her colleagues about it.  She said it must be a Virgin Wines voucher.  I read out to her what it said on the Wines Direct website and told her that clicking on the voucher code brought one to the Laithwaites - not Virgin - website.  I gave her the url of the voucher offer.  The only thing that stopped me giving up and starting again . . . with Virgin Wines or another website . . . was the fact that, with £30 off, this case of wine was very good value.

Eventually we got it sorted and I paid for my wine.  I put a little message in with it . . . it had to be little because Laithwaites allows only a measly 70 characters (including spaces) - half the length of a Tweet!

So I think this is a lesson to anyone who has a direct sales website, especially at Christmas when you sell products that might be sent as presents.  Your website has got to work.  I wonder how long it is since any Laithwaite employee has checked out the website and tried ordering something to make sure that it's possible without the customer tearing his or her hair.  I wonder why the customer service staff on the 'phones don't know about all the voucher codes available - surely someone could print up a list for them.  I wonder why they are so mean about the size of the message . . . surely a few more characters would cost them nothing.  And I wonder how many customers they lose simply because of the inefficiency of their website.

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