Practical Ecommerce

10 Surprising Mistakes on Large Ecommerce Sites

Most people start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving Day. I am no different. I also started the shopping ritual before Thanksgiving Day this past year. I prefer shopping online and in the process also get to study different retail sites.

This year I documented all the glitches I observed on different ecommerce sites. It became quite a long list in a short period of time. Some issues were obvious, some not that obvious, and some were funny.

I have now sifted through the list. In this post, I will share 10 surprising mistakes on large retail sites that could have been easily avoided, especially given the larger budgets for these sites.

10 Surprising Mistakes on Large Ecommerce Sites

Target.com: Site down. Target is one of the most visited sites. It surprised me to see this “please check back soon” message when I visited the site.

Target displayed this "please check back soon" message during the holiday shopping season.

Target displayed this “please check back soon” message during the holiday shopping season.

A company with the budget of Target should be able to figure out how to keep the site up, even during maintenance. Target probably loses more money by having the site unavailable for a few minutes versus spending to keep it up 24/7.

Overstock.com: Old banner. Overstock surprised me by showing this Christmas banner six days after Christmas. The banner says “-6 days” — negative six days — until Christmas.

Overstock.com displayed this Christmas banner six days after Christmas. The text, in yellow, says "-6 days" (negative six days) until Christmas.

Overstock.com displayed this Christmas banner six days after Christmas. The text, in yellow, says “-6 days” (negative six days) until Christmas.

Amazon.com: Bad recommendations. I wish the product recommendation engine at Amazon were fixed. I added a $300 mixer to my cart and Amazon recommended that I buy more mixers, based on what other shoppers have purchased.

After adding a $300 mixer to my cart, Amazon recommended that I buy another one.

After adding a $300 mixer to my cart, Amazon recommended that I buy another one.

A shopper who is buying a $300 mixer would not likely buy another one.

OneKingsLane.com: Broken zoom. One Kings Lane is a high-end, high-traffic site that contains a curated selection of home furnishing items. This rug, below, has a zoom feature that makes sense, given the detailed pattern. But, unfortunately, the zoom did not work. Clicking on the buttons did nothing.

This oriental rug at One Kings Lane has a zoom feature that did not work.

This oriental rug at One Kings Lane has a zoom feature that did not work.

I thought this could be a browser issue so I also tried on Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. The results were the same: The zoom did not work.

Etsy.com: Too many reviews. A product that I was interested in on Etsy had many reviews — 4,758 to be precise. Unfortunately, there was no way to search through the reviews. Would any shopper read 4,758 reviews?

Would any shopper read 4,758 reviews for a single product on Etsy?

Would any shopper read 4,758 reviews for a single product on Etsy?

It might have been better to not even show all of these reviews if there was no way to search or categorize them.

ToysRUs.com: Missing clearance filter. Shoppers like clearance sales. The most important filter for a clearance section is to show the best products with the highest discounts. Toys”R”Us has the “Top Rated” filter for sorting its products. But it does not have “Discount Percentage” filter. This would be a good addition, to improve sales for its clearance section.

Toys"R"Us has the "Top Rated" filter for sorting its clearance products. But it does not have "Discount Percentage" filter, which would have been a good addition.

Toys”R”Us has the “Top Rated” filter for sorting its clearance products. But it does not have “Discount Percentage” filter, which would have been a good addition.

BestBuy.com: Bad link. Best Buy recently introduced a price match guarantee. The details of this new promotion appear in the image below.

Best Buy carefully explains its price match guarantee in this paragraph. But the paragraph contains a link to the list of online retailers that are part of this price match. This link did not work.

Best Buy carefully explains its price match guarantee in this paragraph. But the paragraph contains a link to the list of online retailers that are part of this price match. This link did not work.

Towards the end of this image is a link to see the list of online retailers that are part of this price match guarantee. This link did not work. It took the user back to the main price match guarantee page.

This is a small but is a significant issue, as most shoppers would like to know the list of designated retailers and check prices on those sites before asking Best Buy for a price match.

Yoox.com: Unnecessary option. Yoox sells clothing from European designers. While shopping there, I liked a shirt and saw that it had an option to select a color, even though the shirt was offered in only one color. This is not a major issue. But, ideally, Yoox would have changed the message on the page to say that the shirt is offered only in black, instead of saying “You have selected black.”

Ideally, Yoox would have changed the message on the page to say that the shirt is offered only in black, instead of saying "You have selected black."

Ideally, Yoox would have changed the message on the page to say that the shirt is offered only in black, instead of saying “You have selected black.”

Walmart.com. Incorrect search filter. Walmart.com displayed gender filters — “Boys,” “Girls,” “Unisex,” “Women” — on the left side of search results. I wondered what would happen if I selected a product where gender was irrelevant, like milk.

At Walmart.com's search results, the gender filter remained after selecting milk, which is presumably gender-neutral.

At Walmart.com’s search results, the gender filter remained after selecting milk, which is presumably gender neutral.

To my surprise, the gender filter remained when I selected milk. The other surprise was that the search results displayed out-of-stock items, like this milk product. If Walmart already knows the item is out of stock, why does it not filter it out of the search results? Or Walmart can give an option to buy the item later at the same price, like a rain check in the physical store.

Staples.com: Unavailable live chat. While shopping for a printer on Staples.com, I had a question. Staples displays the blue live chat button on the right side of the page (as seen in the image below). So, I clicked on it and I received the message that read, “We hope you enjoy the rest of your shopping experience.”

Staples displayed the blue live chat button on the right side of the page. Clicking on the button produced the message that read, "We hope you enjoy the rest of your shopping experience," a frustrating result.

Staples displayed the blue live chat button on the right side of the page. Clicking on the button produced the message that read, “We hope you enjoy the rest of your shopping experience,” a frustrating result.

Firstly, if live chat is unavailable, Staples should have removed the button. The message in the window is irritating. A shopper that has just tried chatting live unsuccessfully will probably not “enjoy” the rest of the shopping experience.

Moreover, the box does not state that the chat is unavailable. Only the URL at the top has the words “chat closed.”

Gagan Mehra
Gagan Mehra
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Comments ( 10 )

  1. Stacy January 7, 2016 Reply

    These are really great examples (that are also kind of humorous). It just makes me laugh when such large companies make mistakes like any of these.

    Nordstrom could be added to this list as well. On Black Friday, they let people buy items online and WEEKS later informed them that the items they bought were sold out and that they would be refunding their money. This was all after customers had purchased their items, got a order confirmation number and were waiting weeks for their items to ship. It was so frustrating and unprofessional in my opinion. A company as big as Nordstrom should not have issues with inventory management, especially on one of the biggest shopping days of the year!

    Thanks again for the article and I will be sharing!

  2. Gagan Mehra January 7, 2016 Reply

    Wow Stacy, thanks for sharing that Nordstrom story.

  3. Elizabeth Hollingsworth January 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Gagan, I found your comment about Etsy interesting. I normally find it lists reviews about ALL of the vendor’s products – and those reviews can’t be sorted which IS an issue when I just want to read about the product I’m interested in buying.
    If there was one Etsy product with a lot of reviews I would read the most recent 20 or so and that will be enough to make me to decide whether to buy it or not.

  4. Gagan Mehra January 9, 2016 Reply

    Thanks Elizabeth. I think even 20 product reviews are a lot to go through. I find the Amazon way of doing this great.

    Have a rating for each review and allow the user to filter based on this rating. Also, support search to look for specific terms. And there are several platforms available to support these so Etsy does not have to build this functionality in house.

  5. Kelly January 11, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing Gagan. It seems like the link from Best Buy was not only broken, but was considered generic in terms of web accessibility and the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Seems like Best Buy has some work to do!

  6. Gaga Mehra January 11, 2016 Reply

    Great point, Kelly. I did not even look at accessibility . I am sure we will find several other issues if an accessibility audit is done on these sites.

    I just hope that they are reading this and will proactively fix it.

  7. Pamela Hazelton January 12, 2016 Reply

    Great examples. During holiday shopping, I found several “test” products on Kohls.com – real products that were being tested with internal comments and zero pricing.

  8. Gagan Mehra January 12, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Pamela. This shows Kohl’s does not have another setup similar to their production setup to test these products, perhaps. Could be because of cost cutting as a lot of factors go into setting up a replica of the Production environment but could be some other reason(s).

  9. Daryl January 13, 2016 Reply

    Great article. I wonder what it would be like where there was a institute or org that collected these types of errors and glitches from these presumably large E-Comm shops.

    I am sure this information would be of immense help in eliminating and pointing out the more “irritating” aspects of online shopping.

    I myself have a low tolerance and it does not matter how much or how badly I want something if a site has a glitch such as the types you have displayed I will not hesitate to remove my finances from that site.

    Additionally, I see so many job openings for Programming Unicorns those people who know each and every aaspect of E-Comm and can perform every single thing required. Well that’s OK but based on the article they can’t be everywhere at all times and they cannot prevent the types of errors that will lead to loss of revenue due to frustrated shoppers.

    This article shows that not only do they need help in day to day execution but, apparently, the mgmt portion of this problem would also need attention. If you don’t, it might mean losing thousands & thousands of dollars due to abandoned carts, but then, being big, means it’s not really a problem, is it? The question is whose job is it to care??

  10. Gagan Mehra January 13, 2016 Reply

    Thanks Daryl. You raise great points. If the retailers know that they will lose revenue and customers because of such issues, they will probably pay much more attention.

    Unfortunately, there are companies that audit sites for issues but no single agency does it all. But most of these issues can be caught if the retailers test every link before publishing a page.

    I would like to think that the holiday season being busier than usual, they get a bit lax and hence these issues. Thanks

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