I received an e-mail recently from a reader who was exasperated by her attempts to do some online shopping. She claimed it would have been quicker to drive to the supermarket.
Since I regularly use the Internet for some goods and services and have found it both convenient and useful, I started to think about just what sites I visit. Mostly I browse the Trading Post online - gotta be a set of jousting sticks going for a bargain sooner or later - and the real estate sites. Yeah, I keep dreaming about the country mansion. And I often use travel.com.au to book a flight, and, less often than I like, to book a holiday. The site's always there but my available leave seems slow to grow. Of course comsec.com.au gets regular visits so I can watch my nice safe blue-chip stocks going downhill faster than the Jamaican bobsled team.
But I don't use the Internet for general shopping. So, today I thought I'd better have a look at some sites that sell the everyday things and see if my reader's comments were due to a bad connection or whether things in online shopping world are really that glum.
Oh dear. She was right. Online shopping sucks. And it sucks badly.
I hope you haven't invested in any of these high-tech marketing machines hoping to get rich anytime soon. You might well get rich if you can get your hands on their shares before the float, but after that, if you're waiting for them to turn a profit and pay dividends, the wait is going to be longer than using a 28Kbit modem to download pictures from playboy.com - or so I'm told.
Most of the online shopping sites I visited today have absolutely no idea how to build or run an online business. The current theory seems to be that all you need to make your online store a success is to have a list of stuff that you sell. Wrong. Why on earth would I buy online unless I can get the same or better service than I get from the local store?
First stop was wineplanet.com.au to see what wine I could buy to have with dinner. Well, it soon became obvious that it wasn't going to be for tonight's dinner. And the way that site is structured, you need to know in advance what wine you want to buy. I could choose white or red, or narrow it down to Chardonnay and so on, but nothing was sorted by price. I don't know about you but I'm not the kind of guy who just buys the best damn wine and hang the expense. I tend to visit the local grog shop and look at the "Semillon under $20" category and so on. And nobody on this site was there to suggest which wine might go best with a little seafood pasta. Surely it would be bleedin' obvious to offer the sort of advice and price information that is on display at every grog shop in the land?
How about sending the missus a few roses? Off I go to rosesonly.com.au in search of a nice gift. Well, this site is a total waste of time as well, although I'm sure I'll be told they do a zillion dollars a day in sales. You can browse their catalogue but you can't click an item to buy it. You have to go to the order form and choose the item from a drop-down menu. I can live with that, but you then have to manually add up the price of the items you've chosen and enter your own total at the bottom. Do these guys know what a computer is for? Give me a break.
A rose by any other name would smell, so why not get the girl some perfume? Over to supershop.com.au and click "fragrances". Choices are then boy, girl, or unisex. Well, after waiting a full five minutes, and I have a 512Kbit link, I was presented with a listing of several hundred perfumes in alphabetical order. How am I supposed to know what perfume smells like what? I know there's no sniff button yet but surely some marketroid could effervesce about each bottle of stink to convince me to buy one.
Not getting very far here. How about a gadget for around the home? Off I click to homeware.com.au to see what is on offer. This site looks better. Everything is in categories based on the room of the house. Choose bathroom. Drop-down appears. Choose hairdryers. Up pops a display of one hairdryer. I'm not kidding. They sell only one model from one manufacturer. Even in communist Russia they had a choice of two models. This is a homeware store? In your dreams.
Sod it, I'll just buy the latest CD from my favourite artist. Happens to be Jeff Beck, so you can already tell how old I am. Chaosmusic.com.au must be the place to go CD shopping, I'm sure. Site looks good. Search bar at the top. Jeff Beck. Displays a list of CDs. But they are in alphabetical order! Do they think this guy named all his albums in order starting with "An album" through to "Zis album"? For crying out loud, why on earth wouldn't you list the albums in order from the latest to the oldest?
Yep, online shopping sucks. I'm off to the local bricks-and-mortar mall. The online mob can get clicked as far as I'm concerned.
Ian Yates is editor of ARN's sister publication The Industry Standard. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org au