PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Vox Pop:
September 2000

Every now and again a star emerges from the postbag who has been bottling up a rant (or two) under even more pressure than yours truly. After my piece despairing at the corporate web presence (in body if not mind) of first Black and Decker and then Sony, Geoff Lane of Manchester Computing is a kindred spirit.

"...Unfortunately lousy corporate web sites are the norm, not the exception.

Last November, I was attempting to get access to the online banking service on I was, of course, foiled because the site only worked with Microsoft or Apple browsers. This was eventually fixed a couple of months ago (about the same time as the Barclays "Big" TV promotions started) by implementing bog standard digital certification, something they could have done at the start. Anyway, there were some serious problems with the site so I tried to contact the webmaster on; unfortunately although there was _something_ listening on port 25 on the server, it wasn't accepting email. So I tried the "feedback" web page which failed with "Object not found" errors. I then tried the phone helpline but discovered that a 24hr online banking service had a helpline that was only open 8-to-8 (I tried at 10pm) and didn't have an out-of-hours call recorder.

All these problems may now been fixed, but the way that Barclays just didn't want to communicate was worrying - what if I'd found a security flaw rather than bad design?

Another example; HP have a large web site with all their past and current products featured - HP is obviously proud of their products. But HP doesn't sell directly to the common people. I was looking for a price for the Jornada 820 and the relevant HP web page had a link to Dixon's home page but after a search I discovered that Dixons didn't stock the Jornada 820. I didn't buy one, how many sales of WinCE devices have floundered for the same reason?

Far too many corporate web sites are set up by the PR department and have flashy, slow to download, home pages with zero effective content.<  Often hidden behind these barriers are good sites but as the home page has no obviously useful links the browser will just move on before the images have finally finished loading.

Too many corporate web sites hide their content away in opaque databases thus preventing search engines from seeing the pages.

Too many software company web sites are plain lousy which makes me doubt their capability in authoring software. Far too many pretend that their products have no bugs.<  It seems that they don't understand that there are only important reasons why someone visits the site...    

·         I'm looking for product info including probable retail price.      

·         I've a problem with a product and need support and/or patches.     

·         I've discovered a bug and want to report it.

If I can't see obvious links to pages where these facilities are presented I'm going to go elsewhere. - 'nuff said. There's a common complaint that people are just not using the web to buy stuff.<  In my experience only companies such as Amazon have actually "got it" so far. The site may not be cool, or post-modern, or fashionable but they do get you to the point where you can buy something with little delay.

Now if only web sites would realise that they can't continue to deliver during the working day.


And why can't the delivery company call first to check that delivery will be possible? Oh no not even when given the number and a request to check. But they are perfectly happy to deliver a second time -- is this any way to make money?

 Here's another one: I just tried to buy some compact flash memory from (they've had a phone/mail order business for years.) The web site is OK (but you have to enter your name/address details before the shopping basket will accept entries; this means you have to enter fake details if all you want is a total cost to compare with other suppliers.)

The order was accepted, I got email confirmation of the order and delivery address.

A day later I received only half the goods ordered and the delivery address was mangled in a manner that suggests to me that all they do is print out the web-based orders and hand the sheets over to their normal mail order system where the details are re-keyed by hand (and in this case complete with a partial, misspelt delivery address.

Sorry, this is starting to sound like a rant…"

 No no, please don’t apologise. Any more readers that can save me the trouble of working up the blood pressure for the monthly rant are warmly welcomed to do so.

The serious issue here is that the mishandling of the “ecommerce experience” by so many sites that are run by people who just “don’t get it” is causing the entire genre to suffer from the “All ecommerce is crap” syndrome.

And before anyone asks, despite the tar and feathering Black and Decker received in this magazine, there was no effort of any sort made to contact me. So next time you are thinking of power tools, then try Makita, Elu, Power Devil, Bosch and anyone else I missed – I have no direct experience of any of those (yet) but they could not possibly be more indifferent than Black and Decker, if they tried.