Friday 11 April 2014
Many months ago I went to buy a fairly specialised piece of equipment online and found it out of stock. There are no other suppliers but luckily the site included an "email me when back in stock" option so I went with that and thought no more. Yesterday I finally received the "back in stock" email and flew to the website, all excited, credit card in hand. Yes, there it was and, astonishingly after so many months, it was still in my basket so, there's the big blue "Checkout" button and off we go!
Except we didn't "go". What actually happened was that I spent the next 10 minutes becoming increasingly (and alternately) amazed, frustrated and annoyed at what was quite simply the most laborious and tiresome checkout process I've ever seen. Here's what happened:
Me: Clicked "Checkout"
Site: You must login or register to complete the process.
Why? Why must I register to buy something from you? No sane high street store is going to let you get to the till with an expensive basket of their products then refuse to sell them unless you sign up to their newsletter. OK, but I really want this thing, and anyway, how hard can it be? So I'm looking at the login screen which asks for a username and password. Now, as I said, it's been months since I went to this site so I can't remember if I registered to do the "back in stock" thing and there's no clue on the screen what the username might be - is it my email or a name? Neither, infuriatingly, is there a "forgotten password" process. You can, apparently, reset your password but presumably that might require you knowing what your username was. Hopeless. I go ahead with a new registration, using my normal email, hoping that if that email is already in the system it'll warn me and there might be more options. No, apparently not, but at least I'm now registered and I'm back to the checkout page, still showing my basket.
Me: Clicked "Checkout"
Site: Your account is inactive, you must activate your account before you can checkout.
Seriously? OK, where's my email tab, yes, there's an email and a link to click. Clicked. Opens in a new tab and says I'm now active. The old tab is still showing the "account is inactive method" so...
Me: Click "Back". Clicked "Checkout".
Site: You must complete your profile information before you can checkout.
By now there is steam coming from my ears. There's a good chance this thing will be sold out again by the time I actually place the order. If this hadn't been the only supplier, and they weren't so darn scare, I'd have walked away ages ago. OK, first page of the modal dialogue asks me if I'm a company or personal buyer. Well, I'm a company, and I'm in the UK. Easy enough. Next page is all the usual name, address stuff, but also a box for VAT number. Now I've been using the web for a few years so I was able to guess - and guess I had to because there was no other indication - that the red bar to the right of VAT number means that the field is mandatory, which is odd, because not all UK companies are registered for VAT in fact a large proportion aren't. So, I wonder what happens if I leave that blank. No, no dice. No warning either, it just sits there with the "Next" button disabled. So, presumably if you're not VAT registered you have to buy personally, which would make it difficult for accounting purposes but no matter, I get past this.
Me: Clicked "Checkout".
Site: Presents a summary of my order. Hurrah! Hang on. Only at this point did the order display a further £35 of shipping and taxes - this on an item that only costs £85 (or appeared to). So, I could have gone through all the above and only then found out it was going to cost me £120 instead of the £85 it shows in the basket! But, I need it and I'm not giving up now so...
Me: Clicked "Checkout".
Me: Clicked "Checkout" (yeah, 'cos that's how computers work, if it didn't work first time it might second)
Me: (screaming) Why won't you do anything? What do you want now? Blood? A signed affidavit from the Prime Minister?
Then I notice in writing 1mm high, dark grey text on a light grey background "You must accept the Terms and Conditions to complete the sale". I check the box, really hard.
From this point on it all becomes very boring. I was offered PayPal which, of course, worked effortlessly and a few seconds later I had a confirmation.
The worst of it is, these people probably don't even know they have a problem. The nature of their products and their relative difficulty to obtain means the likes of me are prepared to cross lakes of fire to buy them but if this were a more readily available product I'd be surprised if they made any sales at all.
So, never underestimate the importance of a smooth and simple checkout process for ecommerce sites, it could be the difference between success and failure.