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I am an Amazon.com shopper, and I am stupid.

A couple weeks ago I participated in a focus group for the Intel website (more on that in another post), in return for which I received a $75 gift certificate to Amazon.com. Hurrah! I went onto the site and shopped: books, a couple new French presses, an electric tea kettle. I spent something like $78, which meant only $3 out of pocket.

Except that I went through the whole purchasing process and forgot to enter the coupon code.

As I was getting ready to go back to work after making the purchase, I began closing extra browser tabs, including the tab that displayed the email with the gift certificate coupon code in 72 point font.

I had a little hissy fit, beat myself up for five minutes or so, and then decided to see what could be done about this. By this point I already had an order confirmation email in my inbox, and I opened it to look for a help link.

Lo and behold, at the bottom of the email was a short paragraph that began: "Where can I get help with reviewing or changing my orders?"

Hallelujah! I followed the link, and no more than 3 clicks I'd found a page that let me add the coupon code. In under 2 minutes I'd applied the coupon, reduced my billed amount to $3, and received a confirmation of the change.

It was beautiful.

One of the consequences of Amazon planning for me to do stupid things is that, in the long run, I don't feel so stupid. That latitude for error is crucial. And my confidence in the company doubled -- not only did they allow for my making an error, they also knew where and how to highlight the links that would let me quickly find the way to fix the mistake.

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Comment by Karen Bachmann on August 16, 2008 at 12:29pm
Great story, Beth. So many companies only design for the purchase and forget that the follow-up and customer service are part of the total user experience. It's not enough to know those activities are important, but companies actually need to design them as part of the whole. It's great to read a success story.

I have a couple of recent stories about companies who failed to do this so well that I will share soon.
Comment by Jang on November 5, 2008 at 4:11am
I knew Amazon was good, but not that good. Wonderful. I guess some designers at the Dutch postage service should have had this experience, too. They did not, I can assure you:

The postage service offers a website where you can enter a change of address and tick all kinds of boxes to notify banks, insurances, magazines etc. to automatically notify them of your new address. The service is quite extensive, with literally 100s of options to check and fill out the details (account numbers and such). For many of these, you have to go and find the forms with the requested details (not everyone is so well organized).

The service is very convenient, but the website design is not: There is only one way through the site and it does not use cookies or anything else to allow you to interrupt your work and return to it later. You get the confirmation code all the way at the end when all details are filled in and payment has succeeded.

It took me a good half hour to fill in all the details and a couple of times the connection was lost. Guess what? I had to start all over because the dummie designers did not give me a session ID first, so that I could return to the unfinished session later. I gave up and resorted to the old-fashioned mail-in form - which takes much more time and effort to process, of course.

In this case, the omission was not in designing for MY mistakes but in designing for failure of any of the components between their server and my computer - and there are a lot of links that can fail along that virtual road.

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