Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Order Purgatory

In placing a recent Amazon order, I discovered that they have taken yet another step to assure that they never miss a sale. As those of you who use Amazon know, once you start the order process, you lose your normal navigation on the top and left-side of the page. In fact, besides the back button on the browser, they prevent you from doing anything other than move forward in the process. Though as a user I find this a bit annoying, I have to respect their commitment to closing the sale.

This weekend, I stumbled on a new e-commerce feature that I've never encountered before, and I expect to become a common element of online stores. I filled my shopping cart, checked out, submitted my credit card, and received an onscreen confirmation. So far, a typical experience.

Later, however, I received an email which I fully expected to be my order confirmation. Instead, the email informed me that there was a problem processing my credit card. It requested that I logon to the site (providing a direct link to the order completion page) as soon as possible to correct the problem. Until I took that step, they wouldn't be able to proceed with my order.

Now, web developers have no doubt that Amazon knew my credit card failed immediately after I hit Submit. Every site that I have ever used, including the ones I'm responsible for, displays a simple error message in red that says, "We're sorry, a problem occurred while processing your order. Please verify your credit card information and try again."

Rather than settle for good enough, the first-rate staff at Amazon analyzed millions of transactions and discovered that a substantial number of orders end on that page. A person has decided to check-out, committed to placing an order, and is determined to give the company money, but is unable to do so. Why let them go? Amazon has removed yet another standard roadblock to completing a sale by accepting the order without valid payment, or in other words, placing it in order purgatory.

Can the customer still logon to cancel the order? Of course. But all of Amazon's verbiage gives the impression that the order is complete, but minor issue needs to be corrected before it can be shipped. Think of how many people receive a credit card error message, possibly try one more time, and then give up, thinking they will return at a later date. This solution captures those orders and greatly reduces the number that fall through the cracks, without creating any additional work for Amazon staff.

FYI, I was using a stored credit card on the Amazon site that had been cancelled recently following, ironically, credit card fraud.