In among my plans this year is building a garage and workshop for my Corvette so that I can work on it more easily and also continue to work on it year round, through our long (cold!) ‘off-season’. Although it is currently stored away with some good friends who are taking great care of it, the withdrawal factor has been pretty high and I’d rather not repeat the experience if possible.
As I do all the work on my car, one of the other items on my shopping list is a lift of some description. There are a large number of options out there and it’s quite hard to know what you’re getting, especially as prices seem to vary enormously; so it was quite interesting to see an article on lifts in one of the recent issues of Corvette Fever. In the article they made cautionary note of the quality of some of the lifts (including one of the few that seem to have local representatives here in Canada – DirectLift).
As my ZR-1 is just ever so slightly valuable to me, I felt that I should at the very least check out some of the more highly recommended suppliers and gain an understanding of the differences in quality and price – informed decision making generally being the better part of purchasing valour.
One of the lift suppliers given an ‘honourable mention’ was Backyard Buddy, and I have often seen their name mentioned with acclaim on the various web fora that I frequent. Thus inspired, I fired up my browser and quickly located their site.
The site provided me with a lot of information about their lifts and was greatly disparaging of lesser quality products. I’ve never been one to look for the cheapest option and firmly believe that quality is worth paying a higher price for; in fact I do it all the time on clothes, shoes, tools and more or less everything I buy.
Ahhh yes, and there’s the rub my friends. Although the site talks a great deal about online ordering, I see no prices listed. Even though I can add a lift to my shopping cart, no pricing appears. Even though I am invited to check out and hand over my credit card information – still no pricing appears. “Don’t forget that you can view automotive lift products with prices and even order securely online”, their contact page proclaims. Sadly the link to viewing these products with prices results in a “page not found” error; what’s more the contact form itself produces an error when I try to use it.
By now I’m somewhat irked. Yet another badly designed web site breaking basic design rules that have been known and well publicised for years – check out No. 10 on Jakob Nielsen’s Top 10. I persevere however and send an email to the contact email listed on the site; former experience tells me I’m not likely to get a response but what can I say, I’m just an eternal optimist. Here’s my email in full:
Somewhat to my surprise, I actually received a reply. Perhaps I thought, as I opened the email, they are more on the ball than the website suggested. The reply in full was:
I was somewhat amazed by the hostile tone in his reply. I can only imagine the results if I responded to clients this way and, working in the IT industry, believe me I deal with far more awkward customers than me on a daily basis. The response also contained a number of assumptions, the biggest being a complete refusal to accept that the site was at fault; so I felt I should respond and point out in more detail just what the problems were in relation to the site, the misconceptions and the tone of the response.
A reasonable response I would say – all clear and valid points. Imagine my greater surprise then when I received this:
I don’t have any ‘mad’ tools, but no doubt some of mine are of Chinese origin – sadly it’s virtually impossible to avoid these days, even when buying from well known companies. But again, look at the hostility here. I don’t pretend to be an expert on steel prices, but stock markets are pretty fluid and they seem to somehow manage to keep those up to date. Even if, for some reason, the pricing can’t be kept up to date then make that clear on the site; all it takes is a “due to the volatility of steel pricing we cannot maintain accurate prices on the web, please call for a quote”. That’s not great either, but at least you’re not giving me a site that pretends it will give me a price, that invites me to order online, that allows me to add the lift to the basket and that even allows me to check out and enter a credit card and still doesn’t let me know that pricing is not available online (and worse that the basket/checkout etc. isn’t even functional!).
The point he makes about how I would insist on paying the price listed on the Internet is certainly valid – I would expect to pay whatever was advertised. But is it really unreasonable to expect that the price displayed be valid? Or that if pricing isn’t available online, then this should be clearly stated and all reference to pricing, basket functionality etc. be removed/disabled?
And while on the issue of pricing, the accessories for the lifts – all made of steel presumably – are on the site. What about the volatility of pricing now?
The issue here is clearly that the company representatives are too lazy to keep the site pricing up to date and too lazy to properly remove the references on the web site. If I was running this company, I’d also have a big issue with someone in my sales team responding with such hostility to a potential customer, regardless of circumstances. Perhaps Backyard Buddy can learn something about courtesy and sales from the Chinese…
There is also an implicit assumption in his email that I should simply look at the website and then call for pricing. Surely the whole point of having a website is to communicate such information to customers? Why would I take the trouble to look on any site simply to be told “okay, now call us for the important information”. If that’s the way you’re thinking then perhaps you’re better off not having a website at all…
The last comment in the final email links recycling, quality, and Chinese tools; there really is no link here. As I said in my first response “As long as the quality of steel used is not changed…” in other words, if the grade of steel is the same then the source, recycled or not, makes no difference – it’s still the same grade of steel. Recycling is a good thing because it saves resources (though I can understand how someone from the USA might not understand that point 😉 ) and (usually) helps keep costs down. Keeping costs down, helping the environment, while delivering an equivalent product to the customer at a lower price, all sound like wins to me. Of course, if the quality has changed, then that’s a different story. But I don’t see how US steel is somehow intrinsically better than Chinese steel (or Russian or British or Mexican or Canadian…); if it meets the required grade then that’s pretty much the end of it.
I’m sure that Jason felt really proud of himself as he cocked up the last sentence, crowing about my Chinese tools. No doubt he really thought he put me in my place with that final insult.
I could go on; after all I was just a potential customer looking for basic information and also trying to avoid cheap goods of dubious quality, but here are three final points:
First, here are the screenshots showing the misleading pages on the site.
Second, I sent a similar email to another company, BendPack. They responded with professional courtesy, pointing out that they don’t sell direct and offering to provide me with the nearest dealer (which they did within ten minutes when I asked).
Third, perhaps Backyard Buddy ought to consider a name change. Backyard Bozo, maybe?