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Do you remember when online shopping was new, and it hardly ever worked? The Internet was so slow that it seemed faster to drive to the store. In the early days, few things were available online. And the shopping sites had an annoying habit of crashing before you completed your purchase.

Over time, the online shopping sites got their act together. The Internet got faster, the selection improved, and buying online was far easier than visiting a store. That wonderful situation lasted until, oh, this year.

Have you tried to buy anything online lately? Yesterday my wife, Shelly, helpfully handed me a catalog with some items circled as "suggestions" I might consider buying her for Christmas. Perfect, I thought. I'll have this stuff ordered online in five minutes.

Then Shelly pointed to the discount code number for this retailer and reminded me to enter it for the buy-one-thing-get-another-free promotion. No problem. It added some complication, but not much. I figured I'd just type a number in a box. Bingo-bango.

Then Shelly handed me a gift card she got from some sort of loyalty program, with its own code, for some additional discounts. Okay. I'll figure this out. Two complications is no problem.

Then Shelly explained she wanted two items, and each would have its own free thing that comes with it, and each was different. Now I'm wondering if the promotional code applies to just one thing or everything, and when will I know the right time to enter it for multiple item purchases? Hmm. I'm starting to confuse myself. But I'll figure this out.

Then Shelly pointed to the expiration date for this deal. I only had a few hours! I needed to drop what I was doing. Suddenly this project went from awesome to inconvenient. I had better things to do in the next few hours.

When I went to the retailer's site, I noticed it offered free shipping for purchases over $100. My purchase would be near the limit, but would my discount code and gift card push me back below it? Now things are getting complicated because I have a thousand things on my mind and I'm not sure I can remember to apply the discount code, use the gift card, request the free item, and game the system for free shipping. And there are some codes on the back of the magazine that seem important. Do they matter?

Next I need to navigate to the page for my item. No problem, I think. But I didn't count on the site being designed by terrorists. The site starts by begging me to register so they have me on file. No thanks. I try to search for my items, but I'm being attacked by pop up ads and offers. No! No! Dammit, NO! I swat them back and press on through the over-designed pages with too much detail and too little clarity. Finally, I find the items I seek, despite the site designers' excellent effort in making the navigation difficult so I would see lots of other stuff I don't want.

Luckily, I have Norton's Identity Safe that lets me fill in forms automatically with my name, address, and credit card. But Norton keeps filling in my phone number wrong. And every time I fix it manually, it somehow reverts back to wrong. This takes seven retries.

Meanwhile, I notice it's doing the same thing with the credit card number. It's insisting on auto-filling with my old credit card number, not the one I signed up for to get airlines miles, which was another giant headache. I could edit the Identity Safe database so this doesn't happen, but that's ten minutes of additional problems I'm not willing to take on. Just...let...me...do...this.

But does my preferred credit card have any available balance, I wonder? I remembered seeing an email that said my statement was ready. I track down the email, and from there headed online to check my balance. While I was logged in, it seemed efficient to pay off the credit card. Now I'm drifting further from my core task, and the timer is ticking on the sale window. I return to the retail site.

But there's a complication. The item has some size options I wasn't expecting. Now I have to hunt down Shelly and query her. I repeat the hunting and querying two more times for other questions I wasn't expecting to encounter.

When it was time to check out, my tally came to $99. I was one dollar short of free shipping. Screw it. I was too close to the finish line. I completed my purchase and ate the shipping costs. Now I hate the retailer with a white hot vengeance for making me work so hard to do something so simple.

This experience wasn't unique. Another big retailer put me through an even worse hassle for an item that, when I finally got to checkout, wasn't actually available. My point is that online shopping has gone from convenient to intentionally complicated, and I don't see that changing. Amazingly, I now prefer driving to the store, fighting for parking, and simply handing my item and my credit card to a sales clerk. I'd even pay extra for the convenience.

Is it just me, or has buying online become a pain in the ass?
 
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Dec 7, 2011
Yup - Website designers get paid for how fancy and slick a site is, not how robust it is. More and more I find myself having to try 2 or 3 different browsers before one (not always the same one) gets me through the site. I know what I'm doing and it's not on my end. Amazon is smart and keeps it simple and fast, most others have so many popups, graphics, java apps, that it's hard to get through their entire process. I had to call CVS.com last week and it took 30 minutes and 3 people to figure out that somehow my shipping address record (which hadn't been touched in years) was corrupted, so whenever I got to that page of the checkout, it hung and crashed.

Note to retailers: Most of the best web developers don't work for you. Make them keep it simple or you -will- lose sales.

/j
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2011
And speaking of websites that don't work, when was the last time you took a proper look at your own blog's functionality?

1. SPEED-If I open the blog post page, then hit 'Vote' then 'Go' it takes a long time to reorder the thread. It's basically very s l o w which indicates either a poor configuration or a slow/overloaded server. Or both.

2. CONFUSION-If I do the above on anything but the 1st page of the thread I get a list of your previous posts but none of the replies I'm looking for. (I use Windows7/FF8.0.1)

3. Plus a few other problems I cannot recall.

Talk about calling the pot grimey arse!
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
It seems to me that you are blaming an entire industry for one stupid retailer and your inability to use your software. You should have told !$%*!$ you don't buy from idiots, and then read the manuals for your software. If the manuals are too complicated, you should get other software. Many browsers have the functionality of that identity safe thingy built into them, for free.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
Forget the discounts, you can afford it.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
Scott I'll have you know the very first thing I ever bought online was from your site, I got both a Dogbert's New Ruling Class baseball cap and t-shirt. "Wow" I thought "I'm actually putting my cc into a web form to buy something online! A heady experience.

I've long since lost the cap but still have the shirt. A collector's item!
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
For such a rational person, you disappoint me. Factor in your stress which, by your own account, is what pushes people to the grave, and you should toss all the discount codes and promos in the rubbish bin. 1. Go to site; 2. Login, 3. One-click shopping, 4. Eggnog.

Result: positive. You'll lose some cash, win a lot of peace of mind.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2011
Seriously Scott, I think as a member of the 1% it is your duty to stimulate the economy as much as possible and forget the discounts. This would greatly improve your online shopping experience. Leave the coupon clipping to your minions.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
Don't forget Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

 
 
Dec 7, 2011
It's about to get worse. "Dynamic pricing" is the reason everbody in an airplane has paid a different price for their ticket. And they say it's about to hit online shopping in a big way. If cookies or other marketing spyware indicates you've bought luxury items recently, the price displayed for say, a Dilbert t-shirt might be $2 more for you than for someone with no online shopping history.

Sure we'll start to notice that companies are nickel and diming us to death, but since they'll all be doing it, we'll have nowhere else to go.

Shopping for a Dilbert persian rug on dilbertNameYourPrice.com might be a real challenge in the future. First you'll have to "dress down" and take off all your jewelry before you navigate to the site and turn on your required webcam. It might help to put up a large poster of tenement housing behind you, and a recording of babies crying.

When the shopping window pops up, a guy in a turban looks you up and down and says, "Ah, Mr. Fancy Windows 7 Ultimate user wants to buy a rug, eh? For you $2000!"

 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2011
S h e l l y should order her own stuff, but address it to you. That way you can wrap it, and she can act all surprised Christmas morning. That's how I'm getting a Playbook under my tree this year...
 
 
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2011
intentionally complicated? not really. 10-15 years back building a website was simple. then the marketing folk got involved, management got all hands on, security became a big issue, usability got ignored, affiliates wanted their share, owners got greedy and decided to spread their resources across tens of mini-websites instead of looking after just one, ... you get the idea. and don't get me started on designers who use flash.

then margins fell and businesses decided to save money by nickel and dimeing everybody.

get the picture?
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
Shopping in any form is a hassle anymore. I had to go to Best Buy the other day. I dreaded every minute of it. I just hate going there. I just want to go shop get the stuff I want and get out. I go in get the stuff I need, toner cartridge and a cable. I feel the fear and frustration come over me in waves. I so hate that store. I go to the check out line getting more and more anxious. Dreading the upcoming transaction. Finally I get to the checkout.

Hello, sir did you find everything alright.
Yes I have everything I need and I do not need anything more.
Ok, well would you be interested in warranty on your items.
No, I just want the stuff I have here. No warranty.
Ok, well would you like a subscription to one of these magazines.
No, I just want the stuff I have here.
Ok, would you like to sign up for a Best Buy rewards card.
No, I just want the stuff I have here.
But sir it is totally free.
No I just want the stuff here and just want to leave.
Ok, then would you like to put this on your best buy credit card.
No, my back card will work just fine.
Well I can sign you up for a Best Buy Credit card and you get the free rewards card and 10% off your purchase today.
No, I just want the stuff I have here. Please let me get this and leave.
Ok, will you be needing the geek squad to come out to your house to help you install your cable or toner.
No, I am quite capable myself, can I please just check out and leave.

God I hate that, I remember I used to love to go to best buy and browse and buy junk I didn't need but the pushier and pushier they got. I now do my best to avoid going to those stores.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
It doesn't seem like your problem was with the website, but more with your own choices to try to stack discounts and use time saving applications and your wife's confusing order. I probably make 50 online orders per year and I probably average about 2 minutes in the transaction period. And that includes going and looking for additional coupon codes once I reach the checkout.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
I think you are on to something. I frequently find myself uttering, "please just let me give you my money" to the cold-hearted website. Several sites have lost sales because the won't take my money quick enough.

Additionally, I dislike when I find a product on a company's website, but they don't actually sell it and only have a list of distributors. JUST TAKE MY MONEY!
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 7, 2011
Well explained. I’ve recently been run through this sort of online-purchase obstacle course, also at the insistence of my wife. (hint: the real savings is her getting you to do it)

I liken the experience to a *shopping haunted house* where one is herded along, confused & surprised, until you stumble out the other end with one emotions frazzled.

It takes real effort to know your goal and stay focused when shopping in general, but particularly when making online purchases. Its their maze, and you have to travel it to get out with the trinket in hand!

Just like computer appointment calendars; just because it exists, doesn’t mean one has to use it.;)
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
I do shopping on Amazon, NewEgg, the Android Market, and a dozen other sites. I still find online shopping to be faster, easier, and overall more enjoyable than physical stores. Coupon codes aren't any harder than bringing cut out coupons into the store. Making a deadline for a sale isn't any harder than getting to a store before it closes. Finding an item in an online catalog is FAR simpler than finding the right aisle in a store. Shipping vs gas costs are just the price of doing business, but free shipping as a bonus offer is worth wrangling those few dollars. Even if you were in the store, you'd still have to ask !$%*!$ for the size she wanted. Nothing is different online vs in person, except that you didn't have to drive to the website, braving the cold and traffic and other people, and you didn't have a cashier to fiddle with the coupons. Personally, online is easier, hands down.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
As somebody who doesn't live in the US (Canada), and who has a hobby involving collecting stuff, I have a bit of a different POV.

Once the exchange rate got near to parity, online shopping from the US became far more feasible- since distribution is much more of a pain in Canada than the US, ESPECIALLY with later waves of product, it is a lot less hassle for me to order online.

And that's ignoring the fact that there's a good subset of stuff that I collect that's imported, and that I can't get locally. Online shopping is great for getting my hands on those items.

Ignoring the collector bit for a minute though, online pricing can sometimes be better even domestically. I can buy books online via Chapters or Amazon for cheaper than I can find them in stores, and qualify for free shipping very easily. And as for PC games, Steam is quite possibly one of the best ways to get stuff, especially if there's older games you want. Steam runs sales several times throughout the year that slash game prices, and you can get some insane deals.

But yeah. You mention the case where your item sold out before it was purchased - if you collect anything that's limited supply, that's a fact of life. There's one small overseas store I've used that will put up new product at predefined times, and they sell out of the high-demand items within a minute.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
I just do all my Christmas shopping here:
http://www.dilbert.com/store/

Problem solved.
 
 
Dec 7, 2011
A former employer of mine is a B2B technology reseller, the stated goal of the website was to drive customers to call our salespeople.
 
 
 
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