May 2, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retail sites fall down as volume builds toward Mothers Day, TeaLeaf reports

75% of retail web sites selling flowers, chocolates, cards and gifts--typical Mother’s Day gifts--had errors that prevented a consumer from completing a purchase in the latest survey of a sample of retail web sites from TeaLeaf Technologies.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

75% of retail web sites selling flowers, chocolates, cards and gifts--typical Mother’s Day gifts--had errors that prevented a consumer from completing a purchase in the latest survey of a sample of retail web sites from TeaLeaf Technologies Inc. “Our experience was typical of a consumer’s experience at these sites,” says Tim Smith, director of marketing for TeaLeaf, a vendor of technology that manages the integrity of web site applications.

Errors included such problems as returning blank pages, clicking to a partner’s site and then being unable to return to the originating site and inability to choose a delivery date for a flower purchase. In fact, in the case of the flowers, the researcher was not presented with any delivery information at all.

The errors that TeaLeaf detected are all errors that usual web site monitoring would not spot, Smith says, because the errors are not the typical errors, such as the infamous “404 Page Not Found” message, that are easy to detect. In the case of the flowers, TeaLeaf called the retailer, whom Smith would not identify, and learned that the delivery problem was associated only with the product that the researcher had chosen. “If she had picked daisies instead of roses, the error probably would not have appeared,” Smith says.

In another instance, the researcher clicked on a link to send a card with a gift and then was unable to click back to retail site.

TeaLeaf’s research included the top two sites in each of the four categories-- flowers, chocolates, cards and gifts. TeaLeaf’s researcher spent no more than 15 minutes at each, so if an error didn’t occur in 15 minutes, the site was deemed error-free. The error rate is consistent not only with previous TeaLeaf studies but also with experiences in other industries. TeaLeaf just completed a study of government sites, for instance, and found errors at 68% of those sites.

“The study underscores an epidemic of inaccuracy,” Smith says. “The fact that these retailers are measuring their application performance on page load times is simply outdated. What am I supposed to say to my mother, ‘I’m sorry your gift didn’t arrive, Mom, but at least the web page loaded quickly?.’”

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