Smart email: If I stop buying, ask me why!

Ocardo Box

Two clever companies noticed I was doing something that was not making them money recently and emailed me to let me know they’d noticed. And then they tried selling me more stuff. As though I must have just got bored or forgot what I was doing when I was supposed to be spending money. As though it couldn’t have been a problem with their product or their processes.

Neither of them ever asked me why I stopped buying. Although I was eager to tell them both.

The first example was Three which I discussed in an earlier post and just this morning Ocardo emailed me saying they’d noticed I’ve not been buying their organic boxes lately. You can tell from their email (above) that they assume that I’ve just forgotten about this great service they’re offering and that a reminder and maybe a special offer will trigger my buying behaviour again.

They’re totally wrong of course. I stopped buying their product deliberately because I think it’s a rip off. They send me boring fruit and vegetables, ones that I don’t really use, and they charge a whole lot of money for it. I don’t buy their product because I can get better organic boxes elsewhere.

If I was running Ocardo (or, at least, in charge of sending out this email), I’d definitely be finding a way not just to remind people about my product, but also to initiate a conversation, a dialogue. Don’t assume I’m just a dumb user who forgot or got distracted… ask me.

If you’re smart enough to look for customer intelligence (who’s stopped buying what), then be smart enough to respect a customer’s intelligence. You’ll end up with a much more more clever company… and maybe even an organic box that I’d want to buy from you again.

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.

Can We Use Consumer Power to Make Good Design Count?


How do we make Good Design so important to companies that they ensure that it is a component part of the product or service they are taking to market?

Part of the fallout from World Usability Day was a question raised by Jared Spool – Is World Usability Day Harmful for Practitioners? Part of this question was the relationship between design and usability and the importance of promoting good design and not alienating the business who might engage us to help them create good design.

In a subsequent comment conversation I got to wondering, again, about what we can do to make good design more of a priority. How can we change business processes and product development cycles so that rather than design being an afterthought, the quest for good design moves up the food chain and becomes more of an imperative, a requirement than a potential differentiator.

Jared is concerned that the focus on usability (which in isolation from design, does tend to take an almost disciplinarian approach to how things work) has the potential to alienate companies who might otherwise be inspired to engage with good design practices.

I think he has a point… for a moment I’d forgotten that for some, usability DOES exist in isolation from design (where people specialise in finding things that are broken and rousing on the designers who designed it that way).

Jared says we should just keep doing good design work and that eventually, the balance will shift and good design methodologies will become part of the overall business process for more companies.

(how many times can I say ‘good design’ in one post?!)

But, and tell me if I’ve being overly optimistic and idealistic here…

I think that there might be other things that we can do to help turn the tide.

What if we spent less time talking to each other about how important good design is, and spent a bit of energy evangalising the power and importance of good design to the end user, the consumer, the man and woman on the street, the people who open their wallets to buy the goods and services designed by the companies who may or may not care about good design.

Can we help educate and inspire people who buy mobile phones and who catch trains and who buy their groceries online to expect good design, to DEMAND good design? And can we do this in way that likewise inspires businesses to see good design as an opportunity, rather than alientating them, shaming them, putting them in the corner like a bad student?

Can we harness consumer power to promote the benefits of good design? To make good design culturally entrenched? Just part of our every day life?

I reckon we can. Although I’m not quite sure just now.

What do you think? Is it worth working on a plan?

Image Credit: Don Norman, of course :)

I love
(now this is what I call innovative search)

Mary, my colleague who was in the room when Michael first sent me a link to can attest to how much I enjoyed playing with when I first saw it. And I’ve liked playing with it since then too! Within a short time from first hitting the site I had a few thousand dollars worth of shoes on my wishlist (I’m not telling how many of them I actually bought!). I’ve been looking at shoes online for a while now, and nothing else made me feel like a gal in a shoe shop as much as did.

You see, this is a site that *really* gives an online experience of what it’s like to try to find a pair of boots to buy that is anywhere near as rich as actually going to the shops and browsing (but without all the crowds and the hassle). In fact, it’s like being in the biggest and best organised shoe shop in the world. Your wish is their command.

I’ve been talking and thinking about the online shopping experience for ages now – talking (but strangely, not blogging yet!) about how the search and list style of presentation is so incredibly uninspiring, so empty, compared to the ‘toyshop’ type experience of real life shopping. In a real life shop, all the merchandise is arranged in a way that guides you into the experience, that moves you through the merchandise, that present similar types of merchandise together so that you can compare and contrast, and get a sense of what the current trends are.

Online shopping does none of this. Until, that is.

When I get to I have much more interesting paths into the merchandise than just choosing ‘boots’ or ‘casual’. Rather, I can get boots like Britney. That’s a much more exciting prospect. (Assuming, of course, that’s she’s not having a bad hair, track pants and ugg boots day!)

Then I get to see a whole stack of shoes that are kind of like Britney’s.

And then, I can tell to focus on a particular style of heel, and get me more shoes that have that kind of heel. Or I want that style, but can you find me some in red?

*sigh* It’s like having your own personal shoe shopper at your beck and call.

And as much as I adore the visual browsing (and I think it is browsing and not really searching), they then through in some fantastic faceted navigation, so that I can use a whole range of facets to further refine the range of shoes in view – from price range, to brand, to store, to heel style. So useful. So easy. Such a great way to finally find a few great pairs of boots.

(Sidebar: Can you see why all the boy bloggers have had so much trouble getting enthusiastic about For once, they don’t have the domain knowledge to see how excellent it is. They much preferred the more geeky facial recognition that Riya was working on before.)

(Oooh, and while I’m tangenting, I have to say how the look of and the celebrity connection reminded me a lot of a great design/fashion site in Australia called Miijo)


When I recently gave Ms Dewey a bit of a hard time, I got a few comments saying that I shouldn’t be criticising people who are trying to innovate. Well, here is an example of the kind of innovation I applaud. Here is a new way of approaching an old problem, of using technology innovatively, of taking a convention and making it better. And this innovation is good because it understands what the user is trying to do and it supports their experience and helps them achieve their tasks in a way that is better, more effective and more delightful than either the current online options OR the real life equivalent.

Go, have a play. Get yourself some Britney inspired boots. You’ll love it :)