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Consumer Confidence -- Fragile, Handle With Care

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Posted April 5, 2001 By Beth Cox     Feedback

I was once again reminded how fragile this consumer confidence thing is after making a couple of recent e-commerce type purchases.

I was once again reminded how fragile this consumer confidence thing is after making a couple of recent e-commerce type purchases.

One of the transactions went as smooth as can be but left me paying more than I would have liked and with a sour taste about the whole thing. The other left me annoyed and unsure whether my transaction was even completed, but it turned out to have a happy ending.

I found both incidents rather indicative of just how dangerous it is for e-commerce Web sites to make their customers anything less than happy.

First off, I was planning to be out of town for a weekend, so I went online and booked a motel room directly from the Web site of a national chain.

Price was indeed an object, as the city I was planning to visit is a resort town, where room rates can top out in the stratosphere. So I visited a travel site, checked some prices at competitors, found a location and a price that seemed OK, and signed up.

Everything went like clockwork -- the search functions at the site were perfect, the reservation process was straightforward, and security for the transaction seemed tight. I got an immediate confirmation right there online that I printed out and an e-mail confirmation shortly thereafter.

When I got to the motel they actually had a record of my reservation, right down to the check mark for a nonsmoking room.

But there were two problems. First off, along the same street as my motel were a half dozen others, all smaller Mom and Pop operations, many with vacancy signs on a Saturday night and advertised prices that beat what I was paying by a pretty penny.

The travel sites that I had visited all had deals with the national chains, but none of these smaller motels were ever offered as options. I'm sure a lot of the operators probably were not even connected to the Internet. And yet I could have saved $20 or $30. I could actually have saved money by NOT making a reservation. Go figure.

Adding injury to this insult, there wasn't any hot water the next morning!

All told, not the best experience. When I got home I called to complain about the lack of hot water, but I was immediately sent to "voice mail jail" and never could get through to anyone. The Web site had a feedback form, entitled, "Let us know what you enjoyed about your stay and how we can serve you." Ha. I complained via the e-mail link, but of course I'm still waiting for a response.

Folks, don't treat your customers like that. We don't like it. And we tell everyone we know about our bad experiences and warn our friends away from doing business with you.

But I told you there was a second e-commerce event, this one with a happier ending.

A friend of mine is getting into the orchid business, and is starting by selling the exotic plants at craft shows and street festivals.

Turns out there is a magazine for those in this business (isn't there always?) and not being Web savvy, my friend asked me to track it down.

That was easy enough to do. The site had plenty of information about upcoming shows, but cleverly required you to be a subscriber in order to access the contact information for upcoming venues. Of course, it's difficult to sign up to be a vendor if you don't have the contact information.

The link to the subscription form worked just fine, and it appeared to be a secured form, so I signed my friend up for a subscription to the magazine, which is a small, regional publication, not a national giant that you can subscribe to at any Internet newsstand operation.

I filled out the form, typed in a credit card number and hit the submit button. Guess what? Nothing happened. At least not that I could see. There was no confirmation, no customer feedback, no e-mail (although they had asked for an e-mail address), no pop-up saying, "thanks for the order," nothing.

I went away from the site unsure whether I had placed an order at all!

This is not how you want to leave your customers -- worried and uncertain, with nagging feelings that just maybe they were ripped off.

I made a mental note to try to call the magazine in a day or so to confirm the order. Of course, one thing led to another and about five days went by without me finding the time to call. And then, out of the blue, the friendly mail human delivered an issue of the magazine.

The moral here is that all's well that ends well, I guess. But geez, if you're running an e-commerce operation, regardless of size, listen up: give your customers a break, OK?

Reprinted from ECommerce Guide

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