Saturday, July 25, 2009

the continuing saga of Larry the Lamb

In my continuing quest to procure a Larry the Lamb toy, I enlisted the help of Sara, my Swiss friend from grad school. First I went to the website where Larry is sold and tried to purchase him. Sara will be in Grasmere this coming week, and she agreed to let me ship the sheep to her hotel, after which she would mail him to me, for considerably less than £35. So I put the sheep in my virtual shopping basket, and gave Sara's name and the address of her hotel as the shipping information. So far so good.

Then I tried to put in my billing information. This did not go well. "Country" and "county" were both required, but the drop-down list of countries only included countries they ship to, and needless to say my U.S. county wasn't on their list either. However, they offered the option of paying via PayPal "without sharing your financial information." Great, I'll take that option, please. Unfortunately they still wanted my billing address and my phone number. I gave up and just checked the box to make the billing information the same as the shipping information. Incidentally, I did give them a phone number, but it's a U.S. cell phone number. I didn't give them a country code (because I don't know it) so good luck trying to contact me that way. I'm puzzled as to why their web page even accepted a phone number with a different number of digits than a U.K. number, since the shipping address is in England.

Next they sent me to PayPal's website to enter my username and password. I actually ended up using Glen's account, because I usually keep mine empty, and it would take at least three days to transfer money from my bank account to my PayPal account. Add that to the 3-4 days estimated shipping time, starting from Monday, and I was worried that Sara would leave before the sheep could get to Cumbria. Anyway, I put in Glen's username and password, and PayPal showed a shipping address ... which is our home address. It was entirely unclear whether PayPal thought that anything purchased through them needed to be shipped to that address, nor was it clear what exactly PayPal would need a shipping address for in the first place. I puzzled over this for a minute, then shrugged and clicked.

Another annoying aspect of the website functionality at the place that sells the sheep: it goes forward in the order process, but not backward. It helpfully walks you through four steps to place an order: 1) put items in your shopping cart; 2) log in/register; 3) enter shipping and billing information; 4) confirm. When I got to part four, I decided I wanted to change a line in the shipping information. There didn't seem to be any way to do that. There was the information for me to review, and there was a button at the bottom of the page that said "confirm," but there was no button that would let me go back to step three. Eventually I ended up clicking the "back" button on my browser so I could back up to the previous page. It's not a lot more work to do it that way, but how badly designed is your web page if users can only go forward but not back using the buttons you've provided? And what is the point of reviewing the information if you can't change it? Anyway, eventually I completed the order, in spite of their best efforts to prevent me from doing so.

Moments later an email appeared in my in box. "Thanks for your order, Sara!" it said. It showed the correct shipping address in Cumbria, so at this point all I can do is hope that they're competent enough to ship it correctly. After using their website, I'm not particularly sanguine about that.

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