Archives for posts with tag: ecommerce

Down for maintenance

The other day I was in a hurry to check the status of a flight I was taking later that week. I needed to know if I could fit in an appointment before leaving for the airport. When I went onto the website this is what I got.

For a company of this stature, and for a company that transacts online at this kind of scale, I find this flabbergasting. Such a website shouldn’t ever be down, certainly not at peak hours. This was 17:00 on a week day.

When I worked in the cyber-security business, the standard service level agreement for a cloud-based service was what they call ‘five nines’, or 99.999% availability. In some quarters, four nines wasn’t seen as sufficient for an enterprise’s mission-critical systems. To put this in perspective, five nines availability allows for total unscheduled downtime – assuming uptime is calculated on a 24/7/365 basis – of just six minutes, for the entire year, if my calculations are correct.

Which leads me to conclude either that this is one of those moments of unforeseen torture for a company that sets itself the highest standards of transactional availability, or that the company is in fact a bit sloppy or laissez faire with its customers’ goodwill.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I checked back on the site and it was back up, so perhaps we can give Ryanair the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

The fantastic end-to-end experience we get when we shop at Amazon has serious repercussions for our experiences when we shop on other ecommerce sites. This is especially true for us in Ireland when we want to shop on Irish websites.

I was reminded of this recently when I was trying to buy two items on the Currys PC World website. I selected the two items and went to my basket to check out. The first item, incredibly, was not available for posting to me – WTF! – so it offered me click and collect. I selected my closest store and it said it was out of stock. Yes, I was at the checkout stage. The closest store was in Dublin, over 100 miles away. S0 that’s €30 on fuel and a full day to pick up an item that cost €30…

I moved down to the second item. This was not available for click and collect – why not? – but was available for online delivery. With me so far? I filled in my billing details and clicked ‘continue’. No good, WTF! 2. I had to go back up and delete the first item that was only available in practically the next time zone. When I deleted the top item the page refreshed and left the bottom item in the checkout but wiped all of my hitherto completed payment details – WTF! 3.

None of these WTF! moments would have occurred on the Amazon site. I left the Currys PC World site feeling that its experience is so excremental compared to Amazon. We become so conditioned to how good the Amazon buying experience is, and the experience itself, by which I mean the shopping process they take us though – that it negatively predisposes us against other vendors.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I do the vast bulk of my online shopping on Amazon and why they’re hoovering up business.

One of my most fun projects over the last year or so has been to help a company in the ecommerce business with a few product marketing challenges. As a result of writing and blogging on their behalf, I’ve come to know the industry pretty well.

One of the factors that really drives the industry is customer service. This is because everything revolves around the buyer experience, so that people can find what you’re selling, select it, pay for it, receive it, consume it and come back for more as often as possible. Competing on price can often become a race to the bottom and a loss-making business, so your chief competitive weapon is continuous customer delight.

This sounds pretty simple. It gets less simple when you want to sell your product in more marketplaces, because then you have more portals to manage stock levels for, and more places to manage your customer service communications from. Technology comes to the rescue in the form of software platforms that allow you to centralise your stock control, orders, shipments and most important of all customer communications, in one place.

Interestingly, the vast majority of us all are also online consumers, so at an anecdotal level we know what it’s like to be on the end of exemplary or excremental service. Which brings me to the reason for this post.

About three months ago I succumbed to a Living Social bulletin advertising, of all things, dental floss heads at a ludicrous discount. In Ireland, these offers tend to be from UK companies, so you then have to stump up for the shipping as well. Except, it’s not so straightforward. Sometimes, you contract with Living Social to buy the product, then with your special code you then go through to the vendor’s website to arrange and pay for postage directly with them. The first time I couldn’t get the website to accept any of my credit cards, so I had to raise a ticket with them and Living Social, who referred me back to the vendor. Two weeks later, I managed to get the website to accept my credit card and take the requisite amount.

A month later, no floss heads. I sent a pithy email to their support centre to say that I had never received them.

How Not to Do Customer Service

How Not to Do Customer Service

This is what I got back. A loose collection of standard responses and qualifying comments pasted and patched together in different typefaces, masquerading as a considered reply to my problem. I didn’t hold out much hope. They’re either appalling at customer service, or too busy correcting hundreds of undelivered orders, or both, with one being a consequence of the other. Suffice to say, I haven’t got my floss heads yet. These days though, being woeful – or woegious as my Irish friends say, one of my top ten new words of the last decade – is a very dangerous game, because it’s easy for buyers to rate their experiences and influence other buyers. We all know that folk don’t ask vendors for a recommendation, they ask their peers, and the online world makes this a breeze.

I’m too nice, and too tolerant to make a big fuss. But that’s about to change. They have my money and Mr Nice is about to become Mr Nasty. The online pen is far mightier than the sword :-).



Most of us have been shopping online for 15 years or more. I remember my first ever online purchase. It was on Amazon. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. To this day Amazon remains the benchmark of how to serve customers.

For someone like me, who doesn’t live in the country where he was born and raised, online shopping is a thing of beauty. I can send birthday and Christmas presents to family and friends at good prices, avoiding any postage charges because the gifts are being delivered domestically. For people who are at their busiest at this time of year, it is convenient, quick, secure and good value.  What more can you want?

Ironically, I’ve been doing some work with a provider of an ecommerce platform that allows retailers and merchants to extend their coverage across marketplaces. Not just Amazon and eBay, who consume not far off two-thirds of all global ecommerce, but all their international counterparts, as well as a host of other smaller or more niche marketplaces. Having been a consumer for a decade and a half, it’s been a fascinating few weeks seeing how things work from the other side of the transaction.

There’s one thing I’m sure of. The numbers for online are only going in one direction in the future. Indeed, we’re looking at not much more than the tip of the iceberg of what is possible on the web. And by all accounts, the web itself will be but a mere frippery compared with the ‘Internet of things’.  Change is a constant :-).