Whilst everybody warbles on about the wonders of Web 2.0, am I the only person who wonders why so many companies do such a lousy job of implementing Web 1.0 technologies (i.e. web site and email services)?

Part 1 – Web Sites

Why do web sites make it difficult for you to find and buy what you want? For example, I’ve been researching laptops and sometimes the only way to find out about the products is to avoid the vendor web site and go to a review site instead. Bad strategy for the initial vendor in mind, ‘cos the review site introduces all sorts of other models for consideration and you start to see a pattern from reading customer reviews (hint to Sony – I think you need to address your apparent customer service problems…)

Sample culprit: Toshiba

Type in www.toshiba.com. Get to a home page with a screenshot telling me they are ‘committed to people, committed to the future.’ Lovely. Click on ‘Products and Services’. Presented with a page listing the various products and services. Click on ‘Tablet PCs’. At this point, I’d like to see a list of available Tablet PCs to start reviewing which one I’d like… What I get is a search box (no drop down list, assumes you know the model number I guess) or 4 options: Home/Home Office, Small/Medium Business, Enterprise, Government/Education. Toshiba should try reading ‘What customers want‘. If I click on Home/Home Office, I get offered various links organised under Computers, Accessories, Projects, DVD store and Electronics. Listed under Computers is ‘Notebooks’ and ‘TabletPCs’. Now, let’s see, I’ve already clicked on Tablet PCs once, so why do I now have to do it again? I click on Tablet PCs and am finally presented with a page listing the different TabletPC models. If I click on Small/Medium Business, I get the same page as Home/Home Office, but without the DVD store and Electronics list. If I click on Enterprise, I can find out info about ‘Corporate Direct’ and have 3 links to choose from: ‘computers’, ‘accessories’, and ‘projectors’. So I have to click on Computers, that presents a page with 2 links – notebooks and TabletPCs, I click on TabletPC and, lo and behold, finally get to the page listing the TabletPC models. If I select Government/Education, it’s the same painful process as for Enterprise, except ‘Community’ info replaces ‘Corporate Direct’.

Hint to Toshiba – fix your Products & Services page. At the moment, if you click any option listed under ‘Computer Systems and Digital Products’, you get presented with the damn same page – select from one of 4 options: Home/Home Office, Small/Medium business etc. none of which reflect what your potential customer expected when clicking on ‘TabletPCs’, ‘Notebooks’, or whatever…

And Toshiba is far from the only culprit. HP has the same crazy demographic method. I wanted to check out the current iPaq range (my beloved iPaq 4150 is nearly 3 years old now so maybe it’s time to see what new toys are available). Go to http://www.hp.com. Big fat menu on the right for demographics (click on home/home office, small/medium business…) But in small print below the irrelevant advert image is ‘Handhelds and calculators’. Click on it and, lo and behold, 2 links – PDAs for home/home office, and PDAs for business. Click on home/home office, now have another 2 links – iPaq Pocket PCs and iPaq+phone+camera. Click on iPaq Pocket PCs and finally get a list of 3 iPaqs. Then have to go back and click on iPaq+phone+camera to see those models of iPaqs (hint: some people may not have decided beforehand on whether to take the phone option or not). Go back and back again and click on PDAs for Business and, surprise surprise, there are some different models listed here. For some reason, HP has decided home/home office users don’t travel and hence don’t need to be shown the GPS editions… Doh!!!!!! Why would you try and limit your potential sales?

Even the well designed sites manage to cock up at some part of the process. Sony has a great site for viewing their notebooks. Simple and clean, few clicks required to be presented with the full choice of models. But try and buy one… well that’s another matter entirely for those of us who do not reside in the USA (I’m in the UK). You can view the laptop and simply click the orange button to add it to your cart. Only when you get to the shipping stage of checkout do you discover it is only applicable to addresses within the USA. Cancel out and go back to the home page and, whilst it does say ‘Sony USA’ there is no obvious link on either http://sonystyle.com or http://sony.com to switch to the international site. So off we go to Google to locate the UK site (http://sony.co.uk). The site design isn’t quite as good but still only takes a few clicks to get to the page about laptops. Find the slightly different version (I was looking at the Vaio TX range) but now I have to click the ‘buy online’ button, which takes me to a new site (Sony Europe) where I now have to re-navigate through the options again to get to the Vaio TX, different options to the UK site but hey ho, I can finally choose the laptop and actually buy it if I want to… except I’m not sure I want to anymore, having read the customer reviews criticising support.

I wandered through various vendor sites and all bar 1 suffered from these sorts of problems – they all made it difficult to review/compare products and difficult/impossible to purchase if you lived outside the USA. The one exception: Apple. On the Apple site, it is easy to review/compare products. On the home page, the last option on the menu is ‘Where to buy’ that provides links to the international online stores. The only improvement would be to make it more obvious – if you are reviewing a product and click to buy, add a button on the cart for ‘international purchases’ and then take your cart automatically to your appropriate online store.

I can’t stress enough that these 3 examples are by no means unique and are in fact better than an awful lot of other sites out there. If organisations still haven’t mastered the basics of simple Web 1.0 technologies for presenting content and allowing people to buy stuff, there’s no point getting giddy and excited about the potential from adopting Web 2.0 stuff…

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