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Shopping Woes

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I came to a conclusion today. Purchasing an item on the web should not be difficult. At first I thought that there’s nothing particularly brilliant about that statement. I doubt I could find many people who think buying online should be hard. But recently, I’ve begun to think that I’m one of the few people that believe shopping online should-at minimum-be as easy as shopping offline.

Recent experiences at some online stores have convinced me that the designers who built the sites were hell-bent on driving people to offline stores. These sites are awkward to browse, return inaccurate search results, and make completing a purchase a daunting task.

Today I wanted to buy some add-ons for my wireless phone. I need a battery that lasts longer than 2 minutes, and while I was at it, I figured I would pick up an extra charger and maybe a colored faceplate (I thought I’d disguise my phone as an iMac).

I pop into an large online cell phone store and start looking around. Everything starts out well enough. I take advantage of a selection that let me see only products that match my phone’s make and model (a Nokia 6150) and start browsing. There are 78 products in the accessories category? I’m in gadget heaven! First I find a travel-sized rapid charger that looks interesting and I add it to by cart. Nothing else I like on the first page of products, so I hit the "next" link.

The entire next page of results is comprised of cases. Or rather, case. Twenty products listed, and they are all the exact same case, just in different colors. Each product uses the same grainy photo of five cases in different colors. And each uses the same description of the product. "This case ... blah, blah ... shock resistant neoprene ... blah ... available in multiple colors."

After a few moments of scanning the page, I determine that the particular case I am looking at is red. I hop back to the product listing and discover that the next case is gray. And the next one after that is silver. Too bad there’s no picture of the silver one, I’d like to see the difference between the gray and the silver.

After going to the next page and seeing that it to is a listing of case, I decide it is time to try the search engine. Still in the Nokia 61xx category, I search for "batteries." No matches found. Try "battery." Ah, here they are, a list of batteries that all fit my 6150. Except for one for a Motorola phone. I scroll through the list of available batteries and find the perfect one. Would you believe that they make a cell phone battery that has 17 hours of talk time and 30 days of stand-by time? Amazed, I add it to my cart.

After the fiasco with the colored cases, I don’t have any interest in finding a colored faceplate for my phone, and after I browse around for a minute more, don’t see anything else that strikes my interest. I decide to check out.

But how? There are no links to the shopping cart or the checkout pages anywhere to be found. Finally in desperation, I add another item to my cart, figuring that once I do, it will bring up a copy of my cart and I can remove this new item and be on my way. This seems to work. I now have my cart onscreen with my battery, my charger, and the randomly chosen item, a two-way pager. I change the pager quantity count to read zero and hit update.

My whole cart is now empty. Not only is the pager gone, but somehow the rest of my items are gone too. So much for shopping at this store.

I’m certain the designers of this site intentionally made it difficult for me to shop. A complete lack of foresight, planning, and testing could never have produced a site as awkward as this one.

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