Online Retailers Fail at Every Possible Thing


If you’re like most Americans, you did more holiday shopping online than ever before last month. There’s no denying that it’s more convenient than schlepping to multiple stores to compare prices and find the perfect gift. You don’t have to deal with crowded malls. And it’s even, on the whole, better for the environment.

The retailers benefitting sure don’t make it easy, though.

Amazon Fails at Search

The great thing about Amazon is its vast selection. The terrible thing about Amazon is its vast selection.

It truly is possible to purchase just about any product through Amazon. That makes wading through all the stuff you don’t want a real chore. Unless you have an exact model number or are content to buy whatever’s advertised to you, it’s almost impossible to be certain you’re finding the item that best suits your needs – whether that’s lowest possible price, feature set, or whatever.

Amazon’s search feature is designed much more for pushing product than delivering accurate results. While it contains elements of guided navigation – that is, pre-configured filters for narrowing down your choices – those elements often rely on inconsistent or confusing data.

The first choice is always the hardest.


Apparently robot versions of prehistoric pack predators and infants go together. Noted.

Before you can sort your results, you need to select a department. Amazon thinks that you want Toys & Games, since it’s at the top of the list and there are a couple refinements you can make off to the left, but it’s not giving you any other clues. Number of results in each category? Nah, that’s just confusing, even if we’re (maybe?) sorting the list by that instead of something arcane and useless like the alphabet.

Not that narrowing down to a different department actually helps.


If the words “Robosapien Companion” doesn’t conjure a disturbing image in your mind of our collective hellish technological sex life in 50 years, you are luckier than me.

Which prices are we even comparing here? Just Amazon-sold items, or third-party sellers too? New or used? Printed or downloadable? Even “the first price for each listing” doesn’t work. It’s been this way for years.

TigerDirect Fails at Shipping

To be clear, I’ve always received everything I’ve ordered from TigerDirect, and fairly promptly, too. The company accomplishes this, apparently, by pre-boxing all their products and sending them out without a single care given for efficient shipping.


Princess Ruby Fluffytail gets a wonderful, awful idea.

That’s a single order of eight items in six boxes, all from the same warehouse if the return address is to be believed. One box did have three items in it – a wireless computer mouse and two flat software titles. That UPS box in the middle, by the way, says right on it not to use it for Ground service, which of course is how it was sent.

As an exercise in curiosity and Tetris skill reinforcement, I re-packed every purchase in the largest box of the bunch. The two biggest items were a bit snug the only way they fit together, but one slightly larger box or maybe two boxes would have left plenty of room for cushioning material.


It was a very dino-mechanical Christmas.

Sears Fails at Copywriting, Programming, Graphic Design, Interface Design, Basic Math, and Points


Beg pardon. Of course I mean “pijnts”.

This post would have gone up weeks ago if not for the challenge of describing just how convoluted and awful the Sears situation has become. In some ways I feel bad for Sears – it’s an old, venerable company struggling to compete in the Internet age. It has made some effort to lean on its respected brand names and vast brick & mortar operation while expanding into online retailing.

But Sears went full derp with its “Shop Your Way” umbrella program. It’s your basic rewards system, giving you points when you shop that you can redeem later. And they also give you “Surprise Points” for no reason sometimes, which usually expire quickly and can only be used in a certain department, and only if you spend all your actual earned points first. And sometimes there are bonus points, which you get back above and beyond the one-point-per-10-cents-spent normally earned, and expire sort of soonish, but don’t get earned at all if you use previous points for your purchase, usually.

It’s all a bit convoluted. Also, it was clearly implemented by drunken koalas with buckets on their heads.

  • Points totals are frequently inaccurate. Sometimes it’s because a recent purchase hasn’t made its way fully through the system; sometimes the website is still showing the total from the last time you were logged in, even though your session has expired and you have to sign in again (twice, because that doesn’t work properly either); sometimes points spent on a canceled transaction aren’t refunded for weeks.
  • The checkout process shows differing calculations at different stages, and even on different parts of the same page. Sometimes it’s as simple as an errant conjunction, saying, “You have $10.24 (10,240) in points to use on this order and will earn $10.52 (10,524) in points to use later” (emphasis mine). In truth, using those points you have could disqualify you from earning some or all of those points to use later.
  • Coupons (usually) treat points as other coupons, rather than, say, gift card balances. That means you’re sorta kinda forbidden from using points with coupons that exclude the use of other coupons in the same order. Unless the shopping cart lets you get away with it.
  • The final order summary has an extra even more summarized summary as a sidebar on the right side of the page. Your available points and to-be-earned points are shown again, with colorful meaningless bar graphs this time, in the sidebar. The button to actually redeem your points, though, is small and all the way on the left.

Why do I still shop at these places? Well, I’m a sucker for a deal. Even if it’s something I don’t need. Still, they’re not often my first choices unless they’re offering something extremely cheap or even free after rebate or gifted points.


Beg pardon. Of course I mean “pints”.

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