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Carts that Crash and the Coders who love them

"Nine out of ten people have been forced to abandon an online transaction because the application failed before completion.  ...
two thirds of those transactions - such as booking flights or buying consumer goods - were valued at more than £200."

- From

I don't know about you guys but this has been my experience too! I just look elsewhere and don't return.

The fun part is when you email the site's owners and tell them their program crashed. Either you get no response at all or you get an email "Your browser is too old. Get a decent computer so you can view our site." "You need [Java|Flash|Javascript|Cookies]", "There's nothing wrong with our site. Maybe the problem is YOU."

Dissatisfied Customer Shopping Across the Street now
Thursday, September 11, 2003

I especially find it funny when say for instance Unisys a big MS partner misconfigures CMS

Hale Bop
Thursday, September 11, 2003

I found a few good examples of that recently.

1. Dell didn't like the number of digits in my Amex card and didn't want to put through an order for a new laptop. Hello! That was $3500 worth of business they are prepared to throw away by not knowing the formats of major credit cards.

2. I tried to sign up to a new ADSL ISP last week with a card that expires at the end of this month. The validation routine decided that because the expiration month wasn't greater than the current one then my card wasn't valid. Well, I'm sorry but my bank hadn't sent out a new one.

Knowing the sorts of thinking that goes into these I got around them either by using a different card or in the Dell case, padding out the field with zeros and adding a comment (all the transactions are processed manually anyway HA). I did wonder how many people would just decide it was broken and go somewhere else.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Companies go for online transactions because they want to SAVE money not SPEND it on customer support or even satisfaction. So lousy support, broken "intelligent sales agents" or even no support at all seem just logical from that angle.

Ah sorry, I nearly forgot the twist to turn this thread yet into another outsorcing-trollfeast:

Master Blaster
Thursday, September 11, 2003

Rejecting old browsers or requiring Javascript/cookies are pretty straightforward business decisions.  If 95% of the people who show up at your site have browsers that meet your requirements, and 4% more don't but are willing to open another browser that does (or use a phone or some other means), is it really worth it to spend the money on extra development and testing to make the unwilling 1% happy?  The answer is "it depends" which is why some sites do and some sites don't. 

Thursday, September 11, 2003

"I just look elsewhere and don't return."

As you should.

Some of the problems you mentioned are really not technical problems they are management problems.  In many cases, poor web site performance ultimately boils down to a company that is failing to pay attention to management fundamentals (both project management and business management).

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, September 11, 2003

Nice statistics phantasy, Somebody.

Unfortunately, the study shows that 90 out of a hundred and not one out of a hundred have had problems.

If you are content with these numbers, it's no skin off my back. The guy across the street has the same thing you're selling and his site works on my 2 year old computer and 2 year old browser and I don't know why his site says my cookies are disabled because they aren't -- the problem is my browser is set to reject malformed cookies.

Still Dissatisfied, Still shopping across the street from SomeBody
Thursday, September 11, 2003

"The guy across the street has the same thing you're selling and his site works on my 2 year old computer and 2 year old browser and I don't know why his site says my cookies are disabled because they aren't -- the problem is my browser is set to reject malformed cookies."

Stupid incomptent web site design is a big problem.  The cookies example is once manifestation -- here's another:

When I go to my credit card company's web site I get a big nasty message that their site can only be viewed with Microsoft IE and don't bother complaining about it because this is being done for my own good.

So I configure my browser (Mozilla) so that the user agent reports itself as the latest version of MSIE and guess what -- no nasty message and the site works fine.  In other words, there actually aren't any MSIE specific features on that site.

Common Sense Guy
Thursday, September 11, 2003

This is why I buy from Amazon all the time... I have never encountered any bug, and they make the whole buying experience so easy, including remembering all your addresses and cards.  And you can do everything online, including combining orders and stuff.  The wish list feature I'm sure has caused me (and others) to buy a lot of stuff.  They really have it together there.  They always ship fast and the e-mails they send you are timely and informative.

Pretty much every other site (like, etc.) I have noticed just copies Amazon as much as they can, but it takes a lot of work.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Unfortunately, the study shows that 90 out of a hundred and not one out of a hundred have had problems.

Assuming that the Register's numbers aren't "phantasy", the percentage of users who have had a problem at any web site is a very different statistic from the percentage of users who have had a problem at one specific site.  For example, I've easily placed hundreds of orders online and can only remember one instance of not being able to complete an order due to a problem on a site.  I'm part of the 90% who have had problems but personally I've encountered problems with well under 1% of transactions. 

My point is that browser compatibility costs time and money to develop and test.  It also increases complexity and thus risks introducing bugs that affect all of the customers.  The time and money spent on all of this is time and money that could otherwise be spent on improving the product or store for the clear majority of the users, whether that majority is 99% or 90% or whatever. 

Compare A to B:
A. additional earnings from improved browser compatibility
B. development cost + testing cost + cost of increased complexity + opportunity cost

If 'B' is greater than 'A', it probably doesn't make sense to do 'A'.  If the guy across the street decides to go with 'A', then he might make you a happy customer but he also might not stay in business too long making decisions like that. 

Friday, September 12, 2003

I tend to agree with somebody's startisitics, though commerce sites that only accept IE clearly don't have anybody doing cost analysis.

Now, the cost of making the site compatible across nearly all browser versions is independent of the amount of traffic, so you ought to be finding that high traffic sites like Amazon do this, and lower traffic sites don't.

However most problems are not to do with browser incompatiblity. They are to do with imposing too rigid business rules. It's a standard rule in database design that you impose as few restrictions as possible. Unfortunately few sites appear to have been set up by people who specialize in this area.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 12, 2003

Ahhh, but databases are just places to stuff things aren't they?

Aren't they?

Simon Lucy
Friday, September 12, 2003

Maybe I don't shop online enough, but from the thread title I assumed this was a rant about supermarket trolleys with wonky wheels (surely more than 90%!). The Real World isn't perfect either.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Somebody is right... I have made tons of purchases, and only once have I had problems with the cart.

So while my experience is on the whole very good, I am in turn part of the the 90%. Reports like these are written by con$ultants out to scaremonger clients into hiring them to do a site-analysis.

I would argue that the fact that a whole 10% of users have never abandoned a transaction is a great figure, given that the report seems open ended and includes transactions from the beginning of time.

An interesting statistic might be how much of us have abandoned an in-the-flesh transaction because check-out queues were too long, or place did not accept plastic, or whatever.... A lot closer to 100% I would argue. So why should online be any different.

A more interesting statistic might be what percentage of online transactions each individual will abandon. Anecdotal evidence here would suggest that it is probably less than 1%. Again not a bad figure.

A truly successful business will know which business to reject. The cost of trying to capture the additional sale may not make business sense. You can get 99% reliability for £x. 99.9% might cost £1.5x. 99.999% might cost £10x

Is it really worth increasing the project cost tenfold to capture that one extra transaction in 10000? 

Friday, September 12, 2003

I have never had a cart crash on me, maybe because I am quite selective in my online purchasing behavior.

However, I do very frequently abort transactions which I never meant to complete, because initiating the transaction was the only way to get the data I wanted (mostly price qoutes).

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, September 12, 2003

I'm just waiting for that glorious day when programmers realize that it's 90 times easier for the computer to remove the spaces between every 4 credit card digits than it is for the human to.

Foolish Jordan
Friday, September 12, 2003

I just set up an E-commerce site where I work.  I thought I was being clever going with a hosted solution instead of rolling my own.  Not only were the templates inflexible, but the site shows a blank page with "Service Unavailable" every 100 pages or so.  Next time, I'm writing my own. *bangs head*

Friday, September 12, 2003

Similar to some other faults mentioned, a couple of days ago my wife was trying to complete a transaction, but was thwarted in that it continually informed her that there was an error on the entry (not actually telling her where). After she informed me that she gave up, I took a look at the client side validation javascript to discovered that it "validated" email addresses by look for the ., and validating the root level domain (i.e. .com, .org, etc). My wife's email, like many, is given.surname@domain.root, so it was validating the root level domain as "surname@domain.root". Idiotic piece of scripting that I'll wager has lost them thousands of orders, but alas - I'm not going to bother alterting them. 9 times out of 10 you are emailing the group responsible for the website (which is a very, very bad organization. Website feedback and comments should go to an ombudsmen group that has nothing to do with website creation or maintenance, apart from that group being accountable to them) so they'll give some rude, curt response to imply that the problem is at my end while they quietly use freely provided debugging to fix their regarding their insanely wrong implementation.

On a similar theme: Having a website for your business but not monitoring it (i.e. responding to emails) is 1,000,000x worse than having no website at all. In the past month I laboriously filled out an online form from a local dealer to request a quote for a new furnace/AC (about $6000). Two weeks later I'd heard nothing whatsoever, and I'm not bothering to follow up with a voice call (Why did I waste my time putting all of my info on their form?). I emailed a local music retailer to ask about the price of a particular musical keyboard for a brand I knew they carried. A month later I've heard nothing whatsoever. Oh well, here I come online far away retailer. I've had these sorts of situations dozens of times.

Dennis Forbes
Friday, September 12, 2003

It's not just email that businesses ignore. I had a problem with my DSL and called the company. There was no person to answer and only a voice mail box. After leaving a detailed message, the voice mail system said that the message couldn't be saved because the mailbox was full. Arghhh! I couldn't email them because the fricking DSL was down.

Almost enough to switch to the cable company - but I doubt if they are much better.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Back in February I wanted to buy a ticket for my trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. Instead of flipping through 50 pages of travel agency ads in the yellow pages I went to JetsGo (a local Canadian airline) website. Everything seems okay but really I find the interface hard to use. Then I tried Canadian air, and I notice that some of these sites are really badly designed. It seems they want you to setup your trip/price search in the exact opposite way you would think you would want to declare you trip and seat requirements. And to make things worst I found that most of the offers are poorly supported. They love to arbitrarily group searches into separate pages.. so you never know how much to fill out to see the various options. For example JetsGo had a special offer right after our wedding for Toronto to Montreal for next to nothing.. but if you follow the promo it gets you no where. The order flow just disappeared. I called them up and asked what happened (I am not going to go into how bad the phone system is) and they said the offer is no longer valid. So why is the offer on the front page!!?? is not much better, the offering is poor, and even the 2nd tier airlines charges through the nose. You don't get the deals you really think you could get even if you try to book ahead of time. I have found some sites that won't even let you book more than 3 month in advanced. Which is really strange because this is a very common thing to do when you have a busy life and have to plan your holidays a head of time so your coworkers can cover you.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, September 12, 2003

Ah so now it's 0.1% is it?

For me personally, about half the time I have to abandon a transaction for one reason or another.

Realize that I have cash money and like to buy expensive goods.

No problem dudes! The guy acress the street has it too!

your statistics are pur phantasy! Delude yourselves all you want! I shall not be surprised when you go under, complaining of an "unsustainable business model due to low demand" while your competitor sells the exact same thing and makes a killing! You'll be sitting there in the old folks home complaining about how unfair it is that you could not make sales!

Friday, September 12, 2003

Is it really going to increase a project costs tenfold just to make your website work without crashing?

If that's true maybe it's money well spent.

Friday, September 12, 2003

When I'm dealing with customer service problems, I like to use e-mail to keep a paper trail.  However, it always ends up taking forever to get a response and usually seems to get some half-baked "answer" that doesn't actually address my problem (assuming I'm lucky enough to get an answer at all.)

Several years ago, Fedex misdelivered a time-sensitive package that I was waiting for.  I send an e-mail using a web form, which went into a black hole.  I finally got a response (along with a refund) about 3 weeks later, and the e-mail headers indicated that it was bounced through about three different people before anyone bothered to respond.  This from a company that prides itself in fast service.

Earlier this month, my partner and I signed up for Comcast cable internet.  (Switching from SBC dsl.)  There was an introductory rate of $xx / month for the first six months.  Got the bill and, sure enough, we were being charged the full, non-introductory rate.  I sent them an e-mail (again, using an awful web-form based system), and got a terse reply blaming this on BestBuy (where we signed up for service.)  I then sent an e-mail to BestBuy using yet another web form, and was told that I'd get a response in two to three days.  Meanwhile, my partner picked up the phone, spoke with a Comcast representative in person, and got it straightened out immediately.

My general impression is that the employees answering customer service e-mails are more inclined to make their response quota by issuing some canned reply then to actually try to solve the problem.

Robert Jacobson
Saturday, September 13, 2003


I am not saying that it will increase the cost tenfold to give good service.

I am saying that in my experience, the service levels are not that bad. Most we take for granted, but when we have one bad experience, we remember it.

The cost of moving from 99.99% uptime to 99.999% can be quite prohibitive.

in the first, you lose one transation in 10 000. In the second, one in 100 000. Are the 9 transaction you rescue worth the extra $$. That is a business decision you make, and unfortunately the answer sometimes is no.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

I've run across a few sites that crashed my cart due to errors in their code.  The more common thing that I run across are online retailers that expire carts too quickly.  A very common scenario is:  I'm shopping online and I get interrupted (the phone rings, I suddenly remember that I have to get video rentals back to the store to avoid a late fee, my stomach growls to remind me that I haven't eaten lunch today and it's 3:00PM so I go get something to eat, etc.).  I go away from the computer to take care of the source of the interruption.  When I come back, my cart has expired and I don't feel like going through all the steps to find all the items on the site again and re-enter all my address info, etc.  I might go back and find the two CDs that I really, really just had to have and buy them, but you've lost the other $100+ worth of sales that you would've gotten it you'd just kept my cart alive a little longer.

Matt Latourette
Saturday, September 13, 2003

My favourite is mandatory zip codes. Hey, I live in a country that doesn't have zip codes, or postcodes for that matter!

So, if I just make one up, the credit card address validation fails, but I can't leave it blank or with spaces.

Great. No order for you then.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

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