I guess one of the purposes of a website is to act as an extension to a business, providing information and taking inquiries, without the need for immediate human intervention. If an e-commerce site sells tens of thousands of products, virtually unlimited number of online visitors can browse for items at the same time. If three or thirty of them find interesting pieces to buy, they can go into the virtual shopping cart and have their purchases processed concurrently. This is not the same in a conventional shop that makes people queue up if there is only one cashier available.
In short, a website — at least those operating as e-commerce websites — provides flexibility to business owners and brings benefits such as convenience to customers and reduced overhead costs. Of course, the website has to operate free from bugs and not interrupted by downtime to carry out its purpose.
So when I visited Hong Kong’s Dymocks site to look for a book, I was surprised to see the website does not have a search function the same way its Australian counterpart. If I want to proceed with my book search, I think I need to make an enquiry by filling up a form as shown below.
Do I want to proceed? Maybe not. For a few reasons:
1. If I want to find a book, I can just call the number of a particular shop. Filling up the form is approximately half the effort of going to the shop and ask the shopkeeper myself.
2. If I want to find a book, there are other alternatives I can do: a) go to a competitor website and perform book search (I did — and found the book).
If I make the enquiry by form, I don’t know when to expect the response; I don’t want to invest on uncertainty.
Needless to say, the user experience presented in the website reduces the likelihood of inquiries.
Make no mistake about it, but Dymocks Hong Kong explicitly tells everyone — although in a less prominent location — that it does not offer online shopping. For some reason, Dymocks may have thought books are best bought at shops and interaction with a store keeper is inevitable.
If the website doesn’t serve as an online marketplace for books, at least it could have acted as an online brochure. Too bad I don’t think it does. Worse, I think it’s even investing on offline resources to do tasks that could have been done on its website. At least I can find shop information if I decide to visit it myself.
The effort of getting my enquiry handled by a person makes the transaction a “personalized search” effort. But this is not the same personalized search I was previously talking about, this is definitely a literal translation of the term.