Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vendor Website Expectations

Let's face it, most sales these days are conducted on-line.  There are so many resources available, especially for comparison-shopping of pricey products. That includes (from this blogger's perspective): boots and leather gear.

When one goes on-line to look for a product, one expects:

1. The website to have a working search tool. Being able to narrow down the list by a product number, product name, etc., is very helpful and sort of expected these days. Unfortunately, there are some product vendors who do not have a working search tool available.

2. A method to narrow down choices. If the vendor offers a large variety of styles, sizes, colors, heights, etc., of boots (for example,), then one should be able to narrow down the assortment by various key components, such as gender, manufacturer, color, style, etc. Lacking that, it becomes almost overwhelming.

3. The website to work across major browser platforms. Nothing drives me more bats than to have a vendor's website only work on Internet Explorer and not Firefox or Chrome. Sheplers is a prime example of a poor performer on this criterion: their website only displays properly on I.E. and not others. It's a pain in the ass to switch browsers just to accommodate the vendor web designer's coding problems. (And if I am having problems accessing vendor websites with traditional web browsers on a p.c., I can only imagine that this problem is worse for those who use web-enabled smart phones. Just because I am smart-phoneless doesn't mean that I do not recognize that many other people use them for on-line shopping.)

4. Web pages to load quickly and efficiently. Some vendors go nuts with Flash, which when done well makes a pretty display, but takes forever to load sometimes. While I love Northbound Leather for the quality of their products, I hate their website for its display -- Flash is used way too much. The site is too fancy and frilled, and looses some of its functionality and consumer-friendliness in how it was designed.

5. Being able to tell who you're dealing with. I want to know if the company I am dealing with is in the U.S., Canada, the E.U., China, Pakistan, or India (for example.) Most U.S., Canadian, and European web sites are fairly easy to confirm where the company is located. I have found, though, that most in China, Pakistan, or India, are not. I have to "whois" the domain of the website to find out where it was registered. And if a registration comes back as an anonymous holder, I run for the hills. (That is, I surf elsewhere. If a vendor will not tell me who they are and where their products originate, I will not do business with them.)

6. Being able to reach a human being by phone if one has questions. Some orders are complex, and some may require custom work. Having a telephone number to call as well as the hours the number is answered is very helpful. (This is another way to tell if you are dealing with a reputable vendor -- you should be able to reach them by phone if you have questions.)

7. Being able to cut-and-paste text. This isn't thought of sometimes, but from my perspective, there are times when I want to take the exact text from a website to do some research -- such as the product or style number, exact product description, and so forth. Yes, I admit, I may then use an internet search engine to look up the product number to do comparison shopping. But I also compile a running list of things that I have found that have caught my eye, but for one reason or another, I will not want to order now. I get annoyed with websites that display information in a manner that prevents or blocks grabbing text from a page.

8. That shipping options and cost information are available BEFORE requiring confirmation of a purchase. Some vendors charge an outrageous fee for shipping anyway. Other vendors offer various shipping choices and options -- anywhere from next-day delivery of in-stock items to ground methods (usually free to the buyer). What I want to know is what shipping options are offered and how much shipping will cost. If a vendor will charge for shipping, then I add the shipping cost into the product price so when I do comparison shopping, I can compare "apples-to-apples" (that is, what the final price to me would be.) If a vendor will not allow me to estimate shipping costs before purchase, I shop elsewhere.

9. Secure payment processing. These days, one can never be too careful when shopping on-line. A vendor must use a secure payment processing method. I know it's not cheap to offer that service, but I will not give credit card details via the internet unless I know for certain that those details will be safe. (This website provides helpful information on how to determine if you're using a secure site.)

10. Functional payment processing. Okay, after I enter my credit card information and other details and click "confirm my order," I want it to work. Lately, Metboots has lost business from me because their system continued to fail and they would not answer email nor could I reach anyone on the phone who could resolve my problem. (Well, they were happy to take an order by phone, but they would not accept an on-line-only coupon. If their system is messed up and they won't help me, then their lost business is their problem, not mine!)

11. Acknowledgment via email. Yeah, I want to know my order number and have my order information confirmed, in writing. It's also a great idea to send a tracking number when the order is shipped, so I can confirm on my own when a package is coming and make arrangements to receive it -- especially if it requires someone to sign for it. Again, nothing drives me more crazy than to place an order and have no way of knowing the order was received and processed correctly, or when it will arrive.

These are some of my thoughts -- and these days, are not (IMHO) unrealistic to expect. Vendors that offer on-line sales but who do not offer the features described above have to catch up and meanwhile, not expect business from me.

Life is short: buy on-line responsibly and intelligently!

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