Friday, July 16, 2004
I wanted to send a gift to a friend. Football jersey. A guy thing.
I didn't think it would be too difficult to pay a major US-based apparel retailer with a credit card online, since the item was being shipped to a friend who lives within the US. I happen to live in Canada, as does the Bank of Montreal that issued the Mastercard.
The first problem was that the item was "out of stock" in several popular online stores. Since the item is in stock *generally*, it makes no sense that a particular outlet, like the online proshop of a major-league team, would allow itself to be out of stock. (Whatever that even means.) The "stock" thing is the first reason Amazon's kicking everyone's butt, including your local bookstore.
Amazingly, the website at Fogdog, which did have the item, wouldn't allow me to enter the country for my billing address, nor a Canadian province, even though the field was labelled "state or province."
So I called the 800 number hoping to place the order over the phone. I got a lovely woman named Sarah, who informed me (in a British accent) that she's afraid they cannot accept "international credit cards." Now hang on a cotton-pickin' minute. I've been reading my card number over the phone to stores like J.Crew for like the past 15 years. At wine.com, it's not a problem for anyone from any country to ship wine within the US as a gift (to the states that allow it). "International credit card," indeed. The irony is, nice support rep Sarah is probably working out of a call center in New Brunswick.
In online retail at this scale, you're basically an order taker. One of the few things you can add to the process, as Jeff Bezos believed from Day One, is to build a checkout process that works! Designing a form that doesn't break, or understanding that users need to be flexible with payment, billing, and shipping options, is vitally important work that becomes incredibly scalable once it's done. And compared to building malls, ditches, and skyscrapers, or sewing shirts for that matter, it ain't all that hard to do. What is FogDog or any other big-name retailer doing not being able to accept various payment methods, using broken online forms that would be inexcusable today even at mom & pop storefronts?
Amazon sells the jersey for $7 cheaper than anyone else, too.
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