Thursday, October 1, 1998

The perils of online ordering


By David Gewirtz

I've got to say that buying stuff on the Web sometimes just plain sucks. Out of three recent purchase experiences online, two were the pits. The third, a large buy from Amazon, went just fine. The only downside to the Amazon purchase was that the experience proved so easy I probably bought too many books!

By contrast, for the other two, the experience was awful. Now, I want to be clear that I'm talking about the experience of actually placing an order online, not buying a product that's promoted online. It's the actual transaction processing that went to crap.

Example #1: 1-800-Flowers

I was dating this woman. I'd promised to show up for a party she had and I just blew it off. [Special note to any woman I'm currently dating, whenever you read this. This was not you. It would never be you. --DG] But I'd promised and the next day I was feeling guilty for not showing up. I figured it'd be easy to just send her some flowers.

So I went to 1-800-Flowers. They were the only florists that came to mind quickly and being a guy, I had no idea what to send. I hoped their Web site would help. It did. I found a nice arrangement.

And then I tried to order. I decided to order online because the company was offering a discount for orders placed online. Here's a hint: place your order by phone. She's probably worth it and the stress will be much less.

I placed the order and got a confirmation. I relaxed, my guilty conscience feeling much better. But I expected her to call. Whenever I've ever sent flowers, I always got some sort of response from the recipient. But this time I didn't. I didn't want to call her and ask her if she'd gotten the flowers. That would spoil the effect. So I called 1-800-Flowers. And got cranky.

At first, they had no idea if they'd sent the flowers. There was no record of a purchase. Someone would call me back. An hour or so later, I was called by a supervisor. I was told that there was a problem on the Web site and the orders hadn't been delivered to the company from their Web provider. So the flowers would go out the next day.

This was not good. When you send flowers, they need to arrive pretty near instantly. Overnight is tolerable. A day or so later is undeniably unacceptable.