Holiday shopping made hard

Spending money shouldn't be this difficult
Written by Lee Schlesinger, Contributor
I hate Christmas music. I hate having to listen to the same mediocre tunes year after year, especially in malls and stores. Do retailers think this music puts customers in a buying mood? It's more likely to send me out the door.

So for me, online shopping for the holidays seems like a good idea, right? Just zoom over to our sister site mySimon.com and compare prices or go to ZDNet's Holiday Gift Guide and start clicking? Well, hold the phone, Mabel, it's not as simple as that, according to Internet researchers at Creative Good.

In its holiday e-commerce report, Creative Good notes that too many sites make it hard to buy online. In consumer tests of a variety of e-commerce sites, 43 percent of buying attempts failed. That's a startlingly high number. Imagine if 43 percent of Macy's customers walked out of the store after picking out what they wanted because of inept staff at the cash register. Hmmm, maybe that's not so hard to imagine ...

Creative Good notes some simple improvements that any site can implement to improve its sales, mainly in the areas of helping customers find merchandise and check out once they've selected what they want. The report makes interesting reading.

If you've done any shopping online, you've probably run into problems like these. I sure have.

So far this year, I've bought only one gift online. Someone on my list wanted an MP3 player that played MP3 files on a CD-RW disc and could handle regular music CDs as well. I took to the Web to research, and narrowed my search down to a few candidates. I found the best value at AudioExchange.com. But if you visit that site you'll see an immediate problem. There's very little information about the product listed. For instance, I needed to know whether the unit played CD-RW discs as well as CD-R. The blurb points off to a page on another site, but the URL isn't a hyperlink! If you make the effort to visit the other site, it's not clear that the product it discusses is the same one that's for sale on AudioExchange.com.

All that was bad enough, but when it came time to check out, I got an ASP error. Clearly my order wasn't placed. I thought I'd call Customer Service. But, I rationalized, it was a Friday night, so there was no chance of getting the customer service staff on the phone anyway.

I sent the company an e-mail, asking them to call me if they wanted my order. Guess how much response that produced?

Maybe I'm more stubborn than the average consumer, but I went back to the site the next week, entered my information again, and lo and behold, the order seemed to go through. I didn't get an e-mail confirmation though, so maybe it didn't.

That was a couple weeks ago. Since then, no word from the company. Today, a visit to the site shows that the product won't ship until this week, and the price is $10 higher than what I paid (at least what I hope I paid).

So my fingers are crossed that I'll have a successful shopping experience. I'm looking forward to wrapping up the box, tying it with a big red bow, and giving it to someone special. The label on the gift will say "Lee."

How has online shopping been for you? Talk Back to me with your experiences. Lee Schlesinger is executive editor of ZDNet's Business & Technology Channel.

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