Retailers Still Can't Get It Right


by Samuel Greengard

You would think by now that businesses would have mastered the art of online retailing.

Nothing like Cyber Monday to bring out all the flaws.

First, I head to online clothing retailer Sahalie's site. I select the items I wish to purchase and enter a coupon code. But then I decide to use a different code and the site won't let me override it. I wind up calling customer service and waiting 20 minutes on hold before I can recite the order to the agent.

The miracle of the Web! It's such a time saver.

Then I click over to the Alaska Airlines Website. When I try to purchase a ticket for a friend the site can't seem to pull up her frequent flyer number (which I don't have handy). Okay, I decide I'll skip it and enter the number later. But then the site won't let me purchase a ticket for her, period. It keeps saying that her name doesn't match the airline's records. What?

The solution? I visit Orbitz, which seems to be able to book this airline ticket just fine. Not sure why a third party travel site is easier to buy a ticket from then the airline itself!?

Next I try to book a hotel room. I have an $85 voucher at Expedia, thanks to a class action lawsuit settlement. I have no problem booking the room but for the life of me I can't find where I'm supposed to enter my Marriott number to get the hotel points. I decide to wait until tomorrow and go to the Marriott site to enter my number with the reservation. The next day the reservation shows up once I enter the reservation number but there doesn't seem to be a way to link the stay to my account number. I guess I'll have to remember to give the number to the clerk at check in.

Ain't that progress!

Don't even get me started about all the sites where I enter all my data, encounter an error and then, when I hit the back button, the fields are empty again.

The dirty little secret of online retailing is that we all go through this rigmarole every day. I can understand an occasional glitch. Hey, we live in an imperfect world. What's inexcusable is the tangle of design and programming errors that approach epic proportions. Do these business and IT executives actually use these sites in a real-world way? Or talk to real customers?

Happy holidays!