Usability atrocities: waterstones.com

I use the Web 9 to 10 hours a day, for work and for pleasure and I get highly irked by crap websites. As catharsis, this post starts an occasional series in which I document usability atrocities.

The first culprit is Waterstone’s books. I went to their website to buy Lois Lowery’s “Gathering Blue” for my daughter. I usually use Amazon for buying books, CDs and the like but this book was out of stock so I tried another retailer and Waterstones said “Availability : Usually despatched within 7-10 days”.

First usability hurdle: I had to register before I could purchase. Why any site owner would put any hurdle in the way of someone wanting to give their money to them us beyond me. Jared Spool has a brilliant post on how removing the pre-purchase registration requirement increased a site’s annual revenues by $300 Million. Any ecommerce developer or marketeer who has not read this short article should be fired.

The second usability annoyance (after the three-part registration process that wanted phone number and date of birth!) was the email from Waterstone’s telling me the super-duper advantages of being a registered user (after my enforced registration) with no unsubscribe link or unsubscription mechanism documented.

The final usability annoyance was the email from Waterstone’s thirty minutes later telling me that my book was out of stock. Why didn’t they tell me that before I made the purchase?

I hate to see book companies go to the wall, but Waterstones have a deathwish.

16 Responses to “ Usability atrocities: waterstones.com ”

Comment by Adrian Higginbotham

why not take your daughter to a local National Trust site for her birthday instead – just look up what’s on near you at their site – see if you can get to grips with their random selection of event types, how you diced which of their regions you live, ina nd what if you leave near the boudaries of more than one area, and if you can ever find the same information twice. I doubt it. I give you a candidate for the next in the occasional series, nationaltrust.org.uk their site is pants – and no I haven’t just got a beef because their promotional EasterEggtrail.com (or was it …hunt) site is all inaccessible Flash and the swines never replied to my Email moaning about such – oh well maybe it is actually – but go on, disagree if you an – is their site any good? – see, told you so.

Comment by Bill Lees

Forgive my ignorance, but how does having to register with Waterstones in order to purchase online from them differ from having to register and log onto Amazon in order to purchase from them? Or doesn’t it?

Comment by bruce

Hi Bill

It’s equally evil on both sites. Difference is, I’m already registered on Amazon. (But why do they require registering for shopping anyway? Do you have to fill in a form before you’re allowed to pay at the checkout at Sainsbury’s?)

What is hugely evil is not telling you they’re out of stock until after they’ve taken credit card details and processed the order.

Comment by Ruth

Also, at Amazon, you can browse all you like without registering. It’s not until you’ve decided to buy something that the logging in/registering comes into play. Also, I’ve been hanging on for about 7 minutes just trying to get onto the Waterstones’ site. In the end I gave up & tried another link to them – which Google then told me appeared to be broken. Do they not know their own website address?
In mitigation, I’ve had to order a number of books from Waterstones, from my local store rather than the website & they were extremely helpful & efficient both in person & on the phone. I’m now off to try Amazon for the two books I wanted.

Comment by Drake

I agree: Waterstones has a death wish. Exactly the same thing happened to me. Ordered a book listed as available and was later sent an email saying it was out of stock. But this time they added that a special order had been placed with their suppliers. This sounded like it was actually in stock, only not in the stock pile they originally thought it was. If the purpose of sending me this email was to alert me to a possible delay, then it would have been a good idea to say so in this email. Only they didn’t. A week or so later, I received a new email to say it had been sent – meaning, it was now in a delivery system which could take up to five working days to arrive. The book arrived today: the wrong book, that is. I had ordered a hardback, they sent the paperback version. Telephoned customer services: no acknowledgement of any mistake having been made, no apology. The matter is now with Head Office, apparently. Only they can tell if the hardback book is actually available, even though both hardback and paperback versions are still listed as being available on website. What a company! If you have any choice in the matter, go somewhere else. Unfortunately, I didn’t: a kindly relative had sent me a Waterstones’ voucher for a present. Next time I will ask for a poke in the eye instead.

Comment by lewis

I have read all these posts, and hey – here’s an idea, why not try ringing your local branch? Are bookshops so terrible? try them for matching delivery times, and you get to speak to someone at the same time….

Comment by c davidson

Awful Company the quicker they go to the wall the better ! I am a very busy mother with a full time job 2 children and a home to run…I phoned waterstones this morning re a book my daughter needed for her GCSE course they told me they had the book at a cost of £ 4.50 amazon were cheaper but they said they had a 3 for 2 offer I drove the 22 miles to the store in my lunch hour only to be told rudely that the offer had finished. I asked to speak with the manager he said the same and was unapologetic…I rang head office they said they would phone the manager and that he should honour the transaction… but he wouldnt can you believe it.

Comment by Brian Atkinson

I placed an order with Waterstones which failed to arrive. I phoned the helpline and was advised to cancel and then re-order. I did and both orders arrived. After several emails, telephone calls and letters about my refund I told Waterstones to keep the £20.74 and I returned my card. This last letter was sent last week and I have received no reply.
Can I be the only one this has happened to, and can a company treat customers this way and hope to remain in business?

Comment by p.thompson

I was given gift tokens, so ordered four books on line in at the start of August with Waterstones. Two of them were still not in stock by October so I cancelled the order. Having got credit I just ordered three more books including such scarcities as QI and Stephen Hawkins. Guess what? All three are out of stock. This company has serious stocking issues.

Comment by John Lindley

Just gone on the Waterstones site to find out why the order I placed on Christmas day hadn’t arrived and discovered it had been cancelled, apparently due to them being unable to take payment. This came as something of a surprise given that no one else had had a problem and I had received no emails from them. Now I’ve got to wait two days for them to credit the voucher back to my account. In the mean time I’ve gone and ordered the extra books I wanted from Amazon for even less.

Comment by Andy More

Received a Gift Card. Placed an order. Amended the order. Discovered that ££s had disappeared from the Card into the hinterland of Waterstones website. Complained. After some weeks had the full amount restored. Found that the (high value) book I wanted was now no longer in stock. Asked customer services for even a token compensation for time spent and frustration caused. Yes, you can guess the response! Breathtakingly poor service for these days of companies really making efforts to keep customers. Decided to use the gift card quickly before they go bust!

(And thank you Bruce for this spleen-venting opportunity)

Comment by Peter Broom

Seriously, use the shops themselves. The website is clearly pants, but the staff in the shops (at least in my experience) are generally lovely and highly knowledgable – unusual in these days of the McRetail job. Better yet, use your local independent bookshop, if you have one (and it’s good – to be fair, some of these can be dusty bastions of ‘this-isn’t-a-library-y’know’ recusancy).

Also guys, Amazon are not a nice company to patronise! See this report from The Times: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/retailing/article5337770.ece , and that’s without going into their hyperagressive business model that is squeezing publishers to the point that they are unwiling to publish anything that isn’t a sure-fire winner. Unhappy with the state of the book industry? If you love books, you will be in a few years – and whilst Amazon will have to shoulder a lot of the blame, we need to look at our own addiction to unsustainably low prices and willingness to sacrifice traditional service and the wellbeing of our fellow human beings for the sake of a few pence. In short – buy better, buy less.

Rant over. Sorry.

Comment by Robert Lewis

I received a waterstones Gift Card at Xmas. Ordered two books on May 10th only to learn over six weeks later after numerous e-mails that both orders had been cancelled by them. In the last week I have twice e-mailed Waterstones requesting a cash refund and today I had a long conversation with a customer service supervisor who informed me that Waterstone does not have a policy that supports cash refunds.

Apparently, having ticked the (accept terms and conditions box) I have no option other than to spend the money with Waterstones although there is nothing I want from them. Can anyone tell me whether this is legal?

There appears to be a lot of people waiting for orders from this company which seems a simple way of making money from the interest acrued while people are kept waiting for items that are advertised but not in stock!!

Comment by Jon Bradshaw

Well said Peter Broom! (Comment #13)

As an ex-Waterstones employee (Manager, no less!), I can totally sympathise with the gripes registered here. The website was rubbish from the day it was instated and would appear to be so to this day. The stores however do try very hard to be customer-focused and the staff are indeed generally knowledgable and lovely. That doesn’t excuse the truly awful service some of you have received from the ‘Wetrocks’ website. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with Peter, get into a store, any store, preferably your local independent retailer, for anything, not just books. Put the soul back into shopping and ‘don’t haggle over the price of a golden egg’

Comment by F. Meek

Folks, just paid a visit to the Glasgow branch in Sauchiehall Street, Scottish History is now on the second floor. One small case and that’s it! I asked the assistant where were the rest, “that’s it I’m afraid, central buying!” so whilst there are piles of stuff on English kings, gathering dust, Glasgow’s only, as far as I can see, bookshop is a no go area for Scottish history, in Scotland’s biggest city!