Thinking about building an e-business?  Think again!

Listening to all the media hype on TV, you'd think every mall in america is going to close down and great hoards of e-shoppers are going to take to cyberspace, gobbling up every virtual item for sale.  WRONG!  Let me tell you about my experiences so far.  And, in all fairness, it's not all bleak and dismal out there.  There are some successful e-shops out there., are two of my favorites.  Search their extensive holdings, place your order and, voila, it pops out of your mailbox a couple of days later.  But, it's not all roses out there.

Quite literally.  Gardening is a favorite hobby of mine, and my wife has a particular passion for roses.  Late last winter we poured over the print catalog offerings of our favorite (and well known, and prestigious) rose supplier (whose name will remain anonymous) preparing our summer dream yard.  After making our selections I sat down to start filling out the order form, translating all those big numbers into too-small boxes, figuring out tax and shipping, writing a check, finding a stamp, and sending it off.  Then I got this "brilliant" 21st century idea - I'll place this order online!  It seemed like a wonderful idea.  Just click the little radio button next to the colorful picture of each item, placing it in my shopping cart, fill out my credit card number and I'd be done in minutes.

I typed in the URL - (once again, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, as the case may be...) and waited in eager anticipation.  And waited.  And waited.  My browser's status bar twitched and jiggled as java applet after java applet loaded.  Color pictures,  more java apps, animated gif's, it went on and on.  Finally I was presented with, I must admit, a relatively impressive home page.  Well, ok, this is just the big 'first impression' page, and that's ok.  Let's get down to real shopping.  The next phase went along OK, but each page took several minutes to load many beautiful color pictures and more java.  After I had finally marked each item for purchase I glanced at my watch.  I'd been at it for an hour and a half!  Wow, I could have filled out that infernal order form by now!  But, this seemed like the proper, 21st century thing to do.

It went downhill from there.  I finally canceled my order, called the 1-(800) number and placed the order in about 10 minutes from the print catalog.  All in all, I wasted about 2 hours attempting to use the online catalog.  I wrote my friends at Jefferson and Perry, expressing my dissatisfaction with their online shopping experience.  Here's the reply I received -

Dear tblackbu:

We listen to and research all opinions about our web site.  We hear from both sides of the coin, so to speak.


Jefferson and Perry

Now, that's warm, fuzzy customer service, wouldn't you say?  I visited their site again early in June.  Nothing has changed.  So, below is my manifesto....

Things you gotta do if you're an e-shop web designer -

  1. Test your site using a 28.8kbps dial-up connection.  While DSL is a wonderful tool, it is still far from attaining status as a cultural standard.  Try browsing, comparing, and selecting at least 5 items.  If it takes you more than 15 minutes, it's back to the drawing board...  My guess is you won't be able to traverse even half the screens necessary in that amount of time.
  2. Can you bring up photographs of similar items simultaneously for side-by-side comparisons?  Online comparison shopping needs to be at least as easy as browsing a hard-copy catalog.  As a web designer myself, I'll admit this is a real challenge.  It is impossible to make reasonable comparisons if it takes 5 steps to flip from one item to another.
  3. Can I use my printed catalog as a guide to online merchandise?  If I'm using a standard dial-up connection there may not be enough hours in a day to shop the online catalog.  Make sure the merchandise and catalog numbers are compatible so I can simply fill out the online order form from my print catalog.
  4. Your privacy policy must be easy to understand.  It must explicitly outline how personal data will be used.  It must provide the shopper specific options to refuse distribution of personal information.  And, don't ever, ever, use the e-mail address I provide for order confirmation as a future direct mail marketing tool without my permission.

That's all. Carry on...