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IP: Why Ecommerce Still Doesn't "Work"
From: Dave Farber <farber () cis upenn edu>
Date: Sat, 27 May 2000 10:39:51 -0400

From: jspira () basex com
Subject: IP: Why Ecommerce Still Doesn't "Work"
To: farber () cis upenn edu

Dave, I thought that IPers might be interested in my article, which was
published in the May 19, 2000 issue of VB:TechWatch.

/s/ Jonathan

Why Ecommerce Still Doesn't "Work"

It started off simple enough.  Early April, thoughts of a flowering garden.
So I looked through the Burpee catalogue and picked out what I wanted.
Then I noticed they had a Web site.  And it was a very good Web site, I
thought.  Almost all of the thousands of plants and flowers were shown and
ordering was fairly simple, given the complex number of SKUs present.

So I proceeded with the order.  April 9th, to be exact.  I thought the easy
part was entering the Bill To and Ship To details (which differed).  I
wasn't able to order several of the items in the catalogue, but placed my
order anyway, e-mailing customer service as a follow up.  Strangely enough,
Peg answered under Darlene's e-mail.  And to my query about my order, Sally
answered under Thomas' name.  But they did reply fairly quickly.  And I
received an e-mailed confirmation of my order shortly after clicking on

I started to wonder where my flower and fauna were.  So I e-mailed Peg, or
was it Darlene?  No reply.  I sent a follow up, marked Urgent (wondering if
their e-mail system would even display 'urgent').  No response.  So I
called.  Well, this company's customer service department is only open 9-5,
and I called when I thought of the problem, at 21.30.  So today (May 5) I
telephoned.  After getting busy signals for 10 minutes, and waiting in
queue for 20 minutes, I spoke with Nancy, who had just the sympathetic
nature to be in customer service.  Nancy checked on my order and told me a
good part of it had been shipped on May 3rd to my address; the rest would
be going out next Monday.  "And what address was that?," to which she
replied with my "Bill to" address.  Needless to say, she was shocked when
informed of the mistake, and even more taken aback when told that my "Bill
to" address had changed as of last Thursday and I of course couldn't be at
the old address to even redirect the shipment.

But why had the problem occurred.  Therein lies the reason for this essay.
Burpee's Web ordering system does not in any manner, shape or form,
communicate to their order system.  An incoming order is printed out, and
then keyed in by a mail order entry clerk.  And the entry clerk hadn't
noticed the differing "Ship to" address.

Well, at the very least, the items not yet shipped could be intercepted.
Not a chance.  "We have 16,000 orders at the nursery waiting to go out,"
Nancy helpfully advised.  "It would be like finding a needle in a

Maybe I'll just let my computer grow weeds instead.

Editor: Cassandra Mays.
Contributors: Samantha Fraser, Till Moepert, Charles Canning-Smith, Ellen
Pearlman, Greg Spira and Jonathan Spira.
Copyright 2000 The Basex Group, Inc.  All rights reserved.
All data, opinions, and projections are based on Basex' judgment at the
time of publication and are subject to change.

As a leading authority on new and emerging technologies, The Basex Group
provides clients with a wide range of services in the areas of management
consulting, analysis, IT advisory services, research and decision support.
Founded in 1983, The Basex Group's unique capabilities and resources help
companies make intelligent business decisions, while offering unparalleled
insight on how new and emerging technologies are impacting their business
strategies. For more information about The Basex Group, please visit

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