Famous Last Words: Web ‘Stoopidity’ …

OK, I am addicted to buying stuff over the Internet. It’s easy and convenient as hell. For example, we have an ancient dog that requires prescription low-residue food by Iams. The stuff is sold only through veterinarians and not at pet stores. No problem, PetFoodDirect.com has a prescription from my vet. I can go online and order a 60-day supply literally in two minutes and it’s on my doorstep three days later.

How eBirdseed.com Lost a Customer
We have a small patio behind our 1817 Center City Philadelphia row house. In the cold months, I put up a bird feeder and stock it with sunflower hearts. This is not gourmet fare, but it gives wild birds nourishment and serves as MTV for the ancient dog. The advantage of sunflower hearts: they’re hulled, so there are no shells and pods to turn the ground into a disgusting mooshy mess for the rats.

For years, my purveyor has been eBirdseed.com. As with PetFoodDirect.com, the ordering process takes two minutes and the shipment is at my door in three or four days. I give a cursory look at the price and shipping charges. If the costs look reasonable, I buy. (I won’t spend two hours comparison-shopping in order to save $2.98.)

Gearing up for winter, I went to eBirdseed.com to order a supply of seed and got the following message:

We currently do not have sunflower hearts and chips in stock.
We will update the site as soon as they become available. Quality sunflower hearts are hard to come by … for anyone in the birdseed industry.

I Googled “Sunflower Hearts.” At the top of the list was—you guessed it—Amazon.com. I found 50 pounds of sunflower hearts in stock and ordered them with the One-Click function. The huge box arrived on my doorstep three days later. The sender was a company I never heard of, ozbo. On the shipping document:

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • C. Thomas (Tom) Smith, III


    Great example of Amazon teaching others’ how it’s done. I recently had an experience with Costco online where they didn’t answer their phones after 9:00 EST. Amazon got the sale in less than five minutes.


    Happy holidays,


  • Ben Gay

    Denny –

    I’m 100% with you! While it used to take a little thought/effort to walk out of an physical establishment I’d already entered, mess with me on the web and I’m gone in a millisecond!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  • Will Ezell

    You keep giving me this opportunity to define marketing (but I won’t)!

    Another kick-ass dead-on-target blog Denny!

    You are the master!

  • tony the pitiful copywriter

    WHATEVER HAPPENED to the practice of checking in on your competitors? I can’t get anyone among our "young hipster set" to check out our competitors on-line, let alone willfully sign up for emails. People, this is how you LEARN to grow your business, to BORROW (steal) ideas that could work for you…and to see if what you’re doing makes sense to the other guy’s customers.

    Someone (anyone) at ebirdseed.dumb could google "sunflower seeds" before sending out that lame excuse for poor service. Everyone’s cred is up for grabs, no thanks to the internet — but if you learn to live with it, you can make it work for you, or in this case, against you.

  • Susan the Catalog Doctor

    Enjoyed your blog today on web stoopidity. In my experience, if the marketing people aren’t aggressivly sticking their nose in every corner of the business, the operational people will come up with these "it makes my life easy" types of policies. I was just following a client’s email string where the client wanted to extend the last-chance shipping deadlines, and staff came back with a dozen reasons that it couldn’t possibly be done. In the old days, he would have caved, but the new marketing head pushed back and got what he — and their customers — wanted.
    For the sparrows, finches, juncos and ducks who visit my condo deck, my go-to source is http://www.duncraft.com. I’ve never gone wrong dealing with them over the years. I checked for you and they do have sunflower hearts in stock, and 20% off. I also like dealing with family businesses like theirs.

  • Mark Simchock

    Obviously, no one deserves to be this frustrated.

    However, as a web savvy marketer who comes from a systems / IT / technical background, I’d like to take this opportunity to re-spin Denny’s thoughts just a bit. I appreciate his venting but I would prefer to channel that into more useful action oriented information for the rest of us.

    In short, put the just-add-water myths aside, the truth is that e-comm isn’t easy. And that those who make it look easy are very good at it *and* working very hard at it. Don’t be fooled by what you see on the surface. A best in class outfit is working relentlessly to create a friction-less experience.

    In addition, it’s worth mentioning that the more sophisticated and and back-end feature-rich (read: enhancements requested / dictated by marketing et al) an e-comm website becomes, the more that can go wrong. And sometimes it does. Certainly, a big dog (read: plenty of resources) like the NY Times doesn’t purposely jinx an order. I’m not making excuses for anyone here. I’m just trying to give some perspective to some request user make for functionality that might be heavy-handed and in turn glitch prone.

    Marketers should be very mindful that such systems are not perfect. Just like a guitar doesn’t stay in tune forever, there is always the possibility of unanticipated results. Marketers should plan for those when possible. For example, perhaps if the p.s. in the email from NYT said, "If you are experiencing problems with our website please click here or call." Obviously that’s not ideal but it’s at least something. The alternative of public execution (via customer verbal complaint) isn’t exactly ideal either, yes?