Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shopping Online at JCPenney Could Be Easier

Ok I'm that guy who breaks things.  I'll admit it.   I've got more than 15 years experience in Project Management, more than 25 years experience in Software Development.  I've done decades of this stuff, including Quality Assurance and Change Control.

Basically if you think of a software development shop, I've done it.  Including User Experience and Search Engine Optimization, I've got a very broad background.

I had a position where I was hired as a Software Project Manager.  They used my Network Admin (My direct report) as a fill in at in Information Booth that I ended up Specifying, Procuring, and Deploying a brand spanking new Server using Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server while babysitting a vendor based in Sydney Australia.

Not only was the vendor upside down, but he was shocked when I told him that I managed to get his e-commerce software working within a Virtual Machine using a copy of Windows Server 2008 running on a cast-off desktop computer sitting in a stock room "down the hall".

The vendor's software was Everest E-Commerce software which is used in many large scale "shopping carts".  I managed to get this "heap of code" working despite the admission of the support person down in Oz saying that he couldn't believe that it could be installed by an "end user" let alone within a copy of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.

Yes, it worked.
Yes, it worked well in a very strange environment.
Yes, I'm kind of pleased with that.

So when I go hit a website to shop, I have a very good idea of how things should work.

Today I had a "coupon code" for JCPenney.  Oooh Discounts!  No worries, I have some polo shirts that are comfortable but embarrasingly old.  I keep them because I like how they fit, not how they look and I realize they should be used to wax the car...

We all have a few.

I went to the web site and begun to order. The product was a shirt, it came in five sizes, it came in around 10 or so colors.

There were a stack of pull downs to the right of the picture.  You select your shirt (Solid Pique), You select your size (Large, I'm a tall dude), and you select your color (Started with something called Bayview).  Click add to shopping cart.

Woo hoo, one shirt ordered.  It greyed the window, placed one of those light boxes with what you just did and gave the option for you to go back and order more.

Ok, I had a coupon code to knock off $10 bucks if you order 6 so I was going to order six.  I needed them and it gave me an excuse to wax my car with those old shirts...

Problem 1.

That picture had a color selection strip below.  Hover over the color and it would light box a small square of the color.  Oooh.  Click on it, and the shirt changed to the color you wanted.  Ok, so far so good.  The problem was that it didn't update the pulldown for the selection you wanted.   This may be by design, I concede that you may not always want that selection pulldown to be changed, but I would do so.  Makes it faster for that person sitting out in their living room with the feet up on the coffee table to order what you're selling and not to close the window in confusion.

Problem 2.

Now that I've found the color that will adorn my 48 inch chest, and realized that the pulldown does not match the sample, I've corrected that in the pulldown.  Click Order.  The screen repaints.  I'm confused, I said I really did want this in Oatmeal, why are you not telling me that I have another shirt in my shopping cart.  Scratching my head, I scroll downwards and see a red stripe saying this item is out of stock.

If it's out of stock, why present it on the web page?   It's like saying we have this but you don't and you never will but isn't it a pretty shirt?

While the first problem I could say isn't really a problem, this one is.

However, had I been designing the product I would have flagged this as an error for correction in the next release - Change the Error Message to a different color, and do not show selections that are out of stock.

The latter is obviously more important.   It should not have taken me 15 minutes to get the order completed on a high speed network link.

Ok, admittedly, I got what I wanted, it wasn't a Terrible Experience.  This was one of those things like "ok, son, (pat on head) we'll get it right later, now go finish your homework" kind of experiences.

Besides, I really do like JCPenney.  I'm generally able to find what I am looking for both in the store and online.  It just hit me that (patting the kid on the head) it's almost there.

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