Online sales websites – how to lose customers

More than fifty years ago, shortly before Britain adopted decimal coins, I was one of many schoolboys who joined the new craze for coin collecting. People hastened to collect date sets of old pennies and other predecimal coins before they disappeared from our change forever. One day I found a penny in my change with an unusually thick rim. Naturally, I kept it. Fast forward 25 years and during one of my periodic revivals of interest in coin collecting I read in a magazine that that the thick-rimmed penny was a rare variety worth up to £200. I duly took my penny to a coin-dealer, only to be told that it was a worthless fake.

A few years later, the thick-rimmed penny story surfaced again on a coin-dealer’s website where there was an appeal for information from anybody who might have seen one. Although my coin had turned out to be fake, the fact somebody had taken the trouble to fake it back in the 1960s suggested that these coins were known about and sought after even then.

Thinking my story might be of some interest, I recounted it on the form, added my contact details as requested, and pressed ‘Save’. Up came one of my pet hates – “County must be entered”. I hate any site that makes ‘County’ a mandatory field because I live in London and – as I usually respond – “LONDON IS NOT IN A BLOODY COUNTY”. But this particular website was especially egregious because for want of “County” being filled, it had not only refused to save the details I’d entered, it had thrown them away. Including the story I’d spent several minutes typing. Needless to say, I did not retype it – indeed I never went near that coin dealer’s site again.

To be fair, this was some years ago, and the design of online sales websites have improved considerably. Yet their capacity for finding ridiculous reasons for rejecting user registration input never seems to abate.

This morning, I spent several minutes entering my details on an online sales site operated by a very well known UK business, and pressed ‘Continue’. Highlighted in red, up came the utterly infuriating “There is information on this page that is required or not properly provided. Please correct the following and resubmit the page. Area Code must begin with zero”.

No it must not. The site was displaying a country code pre-populated with +44 for the UK. The zero should be omitted from the area code.

I nevertheless added the zeros and again pressed ‘Continue’.

“There is information on this page that is required or not properly provided. Please correct the following and resubmit the page User name, password, and security question must be entered”.

So, all these details, which I had already entered, had been thrown away because I had (quite correctly) left off the zero from the Area Code.

Guess what? I’d been contemplating a moderately expensive purchase, but as a result of this unsatisfactory user experience I decided against it. First impressions are important. It might sound harsh but I take the view that if your website is crap it’s very likely that the rest of your business will be as well.