NOTES FROM THE FIELD: More meltdowns . . .

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: More meltdowns . . .

In spite of the mountain of perfectly wrapped gifts that have been sitting in the corner of Randi's apartment for the last three months, my girlfriend is in a snit about one online order gone wrong.

"I'm never ordering with Bugle Boy again, Bobby," she told me. "Now I have to go out and get you something else."

After what seemed like days after she placed her order, Randi received an e-mail telling her it was out of stock. Then they told her the item wasn't coming back into stock - ever.

Of all the threats online retailers must face during their busiest quarter of the year, from fraud to distributed DoS (denial of service) attacks and sluggish sales, none can come close to the wrath of Randi.

As she picked up the phone to call its customer service line again, I made my exit. I may be a hard-nosed reporter, but I can't bear to watch torture.

More site meltdowns

A few more readers have reported in from the field that their holiday shopping got temporarily derailed by slow or down sites. eToys had problems late November, said one reader who ended up buying the Barbie Volkswagen New Beetle from a Target store instead. And has had three glitches since Thanksgiving. Meanwhile PayPal has had some incidents of double billing, according to a few readers. It almost makes you want to go to the mall. Well, okay, maybe it's not that bad.

Paper and viruses

In its effort to get in the swing of this new digital age, Ford Motor has been working to turn itself into a paperless organisation, sending everything to its dealerships via e-mail. In theory, it's a great idea to cut down on paper and printing costs, plus the addition of that environmentally conscious spin to your operations. But Ford has found that virtual communications come with another price.

In the process of digitising all its auto-documentation and sending it to dealers, the car company has also been sending viruses aplenty down into its channel. Makes you wonder what sort of virus protection they have in place at the headquarters.

The Scrooge report

Feeling much like Bob Cratchit (I checked these spellings against a copy of A Christmas Carol that I found on the Web), just days after Thanksgiving many employees of Red Sky Interactive were seeing pink when the company announced its first round of layoffs.

Our spies say the layoffs came because the company hadn't been able to bring in any new business for the last six months and existing business was slowing to a crawl. That may not be too surprising. It's tough for visitors to its Web site to figure out just what the company does for a living. But it did manage to appoint a new chief creativity officer the day before it sent out the pink slips. Uncle Ebenezer would be proud.

After she was satisfied with the amount of pain she inflicted on the Bugle Boy customer service representative, Randi gave me a call.

"I need to get you another present, Bobby," Randi said over the phone. "But I'm out of ideas."

"Honey, all I want for the holidays is a new president-elect. I don't even care what brand anymore."

Robert X. Cringely is a regular contributor to ARN's sister publication Infoworld

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