A Very Slick Experience

Me in my racing suit. That’s not the Stig on the left, it’s me in my Karting suit. And there’s a lesson behind that.

If you’re the lucky recipient of my weekly newsletter you’ll know that I’ve been a lifelong motor-racing fan.

Apart from avidly following Formula 1, I drove racing Go Karts for a while until I broke my ankle in an accident nearly 10 years ago.

Then, earlier this year, I returned to the track. Being a little larger now than I was 10 years ago I struggled to get into my old karting suit, so I ordered a new one.

And therein lies a tale of two extremes.

The first place I ordered from had a reasonable range of equipment but their website was poorly organised and completely dysfunctional.

After I’d negotiated the product selection process and got everything into my shopping cart I tried to checkout – and got taken straight back to the home page.

No sale.

I scoured the site, eventually found a link to a ‘contact us’ page and fired off an email.

I got a reply from someone named Steve who, at first, seemed quite helpful.

I explained what had happened and asked how I could complete the transaction. All the goods were sitting in my shopping cart so all I needed was to find my way to a page where I could enter my payment details.

He was completely unable to help and suggested I email my order.

So I did, and received an email confirming receipt of my order in return.

After a couple of weeks nothing had happened, so I emailed Steve again, giving him my confirmation number.

I got a reply that this was a confirmation number, not an order number, and I had to pay in order to process the transaction.

As patiently as I could, I repeated that I had tried several times to pay but each time got taken back to the home page.

As he was in the ‘International Sales’ department perhaps he could help me complete this transaction, I ventured.

After expressing astonishment that I couldn’t pay via the website he offered to take my credit card details over the phone. I called the number he gave me and gave them to him.

I got another confirmation email, this time with an order number and confirmation of the items I’d ordered. Progress at last.

Also in the confirmation letter was a link through which I could check the progress of my order.

I clicked the link and saw that my suit was currently out of stock (it would have been nice if they’d said that on the site before I ordered it).  Delivery from the supplier was expected about 2 weeks ahead, with delivery to me being after that.

With little option but to wait, I did so. Two weeks later my suit had still not arrived and was now expected about a month ahead. It would be shipped immediately they received it, they promised.

A month later, and with my suit still undelivered, I cancelled the entire order.

This week I placed an order for exactly the same items with another company (also based in the UK).

This time the user experience on the site was somewhat different.

The product range was not as extensive, but they had what I needed, in the size I needed, so I ordered.

The site design was intuitive and, when I went to checkout, I was given the option of paying and leaving without opening an account or, of course, of going through the account opening process.

What a pleasure – I chose the option to pay and go.

This process was reasonable. No one has yet appreciated that Hong Kong doesn’t have post (or zip) codes and we don’t have states or provinces.

So I always have to put nonsense characters into those fields which are inevitably required – you’d think people would have tumbled to that one by now 🙁

That aside, the shopping cart journey was pretty painless and I received a confirmation email within a couple of hours.

I also received a very friendly email from one of the sales staff confirming my shipping costs – Hong Kong doesn’t figure in those regular schedules either!

So, on Tuesday evening this week I confirmed acceptance of the shipping charges with the UK company. And on Friday (yes – 3 days later) I received my goods – in Hong Kong.

I was blown away.

Not only will I get all my future stuff from them (and probably open an account after all!) but I’ll trumpet their service far and wide.

So, if you’re looking for motor sports equipment you can do no better that Merlin Motorsports. They’re superb.

And what’s the lesson..?

As always: pay attention to the details.

Make your site simple and intuitive, make sure the links all work properly and have the courtesy to either remove ‘out of stock’ items from your display pages or let customers know they’re out of stock.

Go through the process of buying one of your products yourself and see what happens – understand what you’re putting your customers through.

As I’ve said before – it’s not rocket science..!


Martin Malden

What do you think?