case studies · usability · user experience

A Sale Un-Made (snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at

Three Store

It’s been a a while since I’ve gotten all excited about a mobile phone. Since I’ve been in the UK I’ve been getting by with a rather old Razr (awful, awful interface design) and a pre-pay account from Vodafone (don’t even get me started on how impossible it is to do an online top up). When I heard about the Three X-Series, the idea of a fixed price to take the internet with me absolutely everywhere, and with Skype and Messenger and all the good stuff already pre-installed… it was too much for me to resist.

Aaahh. The familiar tingle of gadget lust. I do love it.

So a couple of weeks ago I gave Three my email address so they could email me when the service was on sale, and this morning they sent me an email saying I could buy one of their X-Series phones… and off I went, with haste, to their online store. Hoorah!

Ahh. But not so fast. This was by no means a simple experience… and it’s not over yet. How can buying stuff online still be so difficult? Shouldn’t we be good at this by now?

Well, we are… and we aren’t.

Choosing my handset and package was made comparatively simple due to the fact that there was only one handset available, and four reasonably well explained ‘packages’. Then, onto the shopping cart. Here’s where we hit the first snag.

Just as I was about to hit the green button and go through to the checkout I noticed that they were telling me the ‘Total Monthly Rental’ was about double what I’d been told throughout the sales process. Insert red flag waving wildly. Trigger desire to abandon the purchase process. But no… I neither hit the phones nor abandoned at this point, instead I thought I might try their ‘live chat’ service and see if they could help me out.

Does anyone else use these live chat services? I think they’re great, but then you go to a whole other aspect of interaction design that can’t be programmed quite so easily… real human beings. Service can be variable. I got lucky and chatted to Glen, who was reasonably speeding in helping me out and assured me that they’d only charge me the amount indicated throughout the sales process and not the either inaccurate or misleading amount shown in the Trolley.

Ok. I decided to take Glen at his word and moved onto the form.

At this stage I’m thinking that so far the process is going ok. I would rather not have been confused by the trolley page, but I was also quite inspired by how appropriate and helpful a live chat feature is in the online buying environment. I used to always think this was a bit of an annoying gimmick, but in this instance it was genuinely helpful.


And so, to the form. It was a pretty clean and simple form, and I really liked the Help section in the RHS column which updated with contextual help depending on what field I was completing. Neat, helpful, very nice.

Now I’m feeling impressed with Three. They’ve thought about this. They care about my experience of their website, of the purchase process. This is good.

And then I hit the next page…. they wanted my address.

No problem. I give them my current address.

But I’ve only been here months, not 3 years, so they ask for another address… and that’s where the trouble really kicks in. There’s no way I can give them a non-UK address. Their form requires a UK postcode. This is not good.

I fire up the live chat again. It’s Glen, again. I ask him for help.

He confirms that they can’t take my address online. He gives me a phone number. Apparently they *can* take my address details if I call them. Or go into a store.

And that’s when I abandon.

And I wonder why on earth it was designed that way. Perhaps there’s a good reason. Might have been nice if they could tell me that.

Did I call the call centre to buy my phone?


I’m going to go into town tomorrow and see if I can go get one from a store. (Given the stores in the vicinity of where I’ll be, Three are going to end up having to pay a commission for this sale now, as I won’t be going direct to them).

I really like ordering online because it’s convenient, and I don’t have to deal with people. And then, a day or so later, a little present arrives! It’s kind of like magic.

I’m not sure why, but ordering stuff on the phone does nothing for me. The only time I like to use the phone to buy stuff is when I’m getting Indian food delivered. Strangely… when I buy something online, I’m prepared to wait a day or so for my purchases to arrive. When I’m ordering on the phone, the same wait seems unacceptable.

Is this just a crazy weird quirk of mine or do other people get this too?

For me, if I have to go deal with a sales person, I’d rather do it in the flesh, and get the bonus of being able to have a play with the handset before I buy it, and the instant gratification of being able to take my phone home with me straight away.

So, that’s what I’m off to do tomorrow.

But…. before we completely signoff from the Store, a few minutes after I’d abandoned my quest to purchase, I received this email:

I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one of these kind of emails before, but I think it’s a great idea. It makes Three look smart, and it also creates the impression that they care whether I sign up with them or not.

I think they’re missing a great opportunity to get some golden feedback here though. They really should be asking *why* I didn’t end up making the purchase. I certainly would have told them my reason, and that would be a great way for them to better deal with this experience (and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been affected by it!), and it would give me an opportunity to vent. (That’s something that’s really missing from the online buying experience… look at the length of the blog post I’ve had to write to make up for it!)

So, in summary. Tried to buy a phone from Three online. Couldn’t. But don’t think I’m suggesting that means the Three online experience is dreadfully broken. It’s definitely not. In fact, they’re doing a whole bunch of stuff I really like. My experience is probably a bit of an edgecase example, and it’s a shame they’re not handling it better.

This experience has really made me think, though, about how two way communication can be powerful in this type of transaction. Both me being able to talk to Glen at points where I may otherwise have bailed, and also the missing opportunity for me to tell Three *why* I bailed.

It goes to show how easy it is for even a well designed experience to have flaws that impact confidence and trust and that can turn an easy sale into a sale un-made.

6 thoughts on “A Sale Un-Made (snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at

  1. I wonder how many people use the live chat? It does sound like 3 were lucky the gadget lust was so strong!

    I’d like to think this supports the case for getting personas to represent edge cases. The site needn’t necessarily be designed for persons recently moved to the UK but a little more could have been done to anticipate that scenario. Just a bit of text maybe. Nice and cheap! Apparently there are loads of you immigrant types – online purchasing might be missing a trick ;)

    So, after all that, have you got the phone and how goes using messenger on it?

  2. Yeah, I’d be interested to know what the usage on live chat is too. I can’t imagine that it’s particularly high…

    I remember when I first started seeing Live Chat around as a customer support tool I was too scared of it to use it. I wonder if that’s just me or if others have the same experience.

    Using Messenger on the phone is an interesting experience… I’m not sure it’s the killer app on this device, but it’s fun to have. I’ll write up some thoughts on it soon. Still trying to get everything set up and working for now!

  3. I know you pain Lisa!
    Having lived in the UK for a number years I know how frustrating it is to try and buy a mobile (on or offline) if you’re ‘fresh off the boat’. It really is awful.
    Regarding the live chat, I’ve used similar things quite a few times, but have never had such a good experience. Who is this Glenn fella? surely he’s a myth :)

  4. Buying the phone instore ended up being a very good move due to my recency in the UK. In order to over-ride the technology the gal who set up the phone for me simply lied to the computer. According to Three I’ve been living and working here for years. Another guy did exactly the same thing for my husband when we’d been here for a few weeks and he didn’t even have a job yet!

    aaah, just another example of users refusing to be thwarted by technology when there are sales targets at stake. I love it :)

    (3, if you’re reading this, don’t stress. I have every intention of paying your bills and the means to do so)

    Oh, and as for Glenn. I don’t think he’s a myth… (unless they constructed very average spelling into the script), but I did start to wonder if he was the only guy in charge of answering the live chat questions. I’d *love* to know what proportion of users on those pages actually use live chat support!

  5. omg! we had to beg, borrow and steal to try and get them to bend the rules in-store!
    I should have tried calling them on the phone…oh that’s right BT wouldn’t give me a landline either! :)
    I run the risk of sounding like some bum who was a drain on British society, but I did eventually get both a mobile and landline, household utilities and even a bank account. Those first few months were tough though.

Comments are closed.