Basics of online commerce still neglected

It's tempting to assume that selling online is now such a common concept that we can all take it for granted, but there's still enough defectively stupid sites out there incompetently hawking their goods to make me think that an e-commerce 101 course wouldn't be short of potential attendees.My broad attitude to the world these days is "if you won't sell it to me online, I probably don't want to buy it", but quite often those intentions collapse because of poorly planned sites.

It's tempting to assume that selling online is now such a common concept that we can all take it for granted, but there's still enough defectively stupid sites out there incompetently hawking their goods to make me think that an e-commerce 101 course wouldn't be short of potential attendees.

My broad attitude to the world these days is "if you won't sell it to me online, I probably don't want to buy it", but quite often those intentions collapse because of poorly planned sites.

Two examples spring to mind. I recently decided to book a train ticket from Adelaide to Melbourne on the Overland, probably the least famous train operated by Great Southern Railways (which also operates the Ghan and the Indian Pacific).

The GSR site boasts an online booking facility, but over a fortnight of consecutive attempts, I never once got the service to work, instead encountering a series of random error messages and exhortations to send details of the problem to an anonymous-sounding support e-mail address.

When I eventually did that, the customer service representative basically suggested I should ring instead. Since I was on the other side of the globe and hence not in a suitable time zone, this was not a very helpful suggestion.

It seems the only way to actually make a GSR booking is to make a phone call (which I eventually did when I returned to Australia). In that case, why even pretend to have an online presence?

The second option came when I was buying some event tickets from Ticketmaster US. The site offers an option for printing your tickets immediately, which would have been ideal for me (no worrying about it getting lost in transit, or having to queue to pick it up at the other end).

Unfortunately, that choice is only available to holders of a US credit card. This seems utterly insane to me. After all, they're checking the validity of my credit card anyway when I pay for the purchase, so if I'm willing to save them the printing cost on the ticket, why would they argue?

Now, in both these cases the incompetent sellers had one advantage -- they were selling goods that I really couldn't purchase anywhere else, so I was forced to persist. If there'd been any other available option online, I'd have been onto it like a shot and the commission would have been well and truly lost.

There's an important lesson there for companies looking to expand online sales -- do it properly, or you'll risk actually shrinking sales rather than expanding your customer base.

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