Truth And Dare: APS

Maintaining a good relationship with your customers has never been more important than in the digital age. But this story is about online retailing at its worst.

Let’s go back to the beginning.


Where do you turn when you need buy something? Most people turn to companies they have done business with in the past. They had a good experience the first time around, and they expect things to follow suit in the future.

That’s true for me, too. I recently needed to make an investment in a new computer back-up system. When it came to making the purchase decision, I went with a trusted vendor. I’ve always had good experiences with buying through APS. In the past, I have bought from its printed catalogs and through its advertisements in trade publications.

I didn’t have a printed catalog with me when I was doing my research, so I logged onto the web site to check out offerings online at

What happened? Well, some say that the web will replace print but not if APS has anything to do it. People don’t like change, they like consistency — along with quality at a fair price.

The first page was excruciatingly slow-loading. First, the page looked quite different from its print based catalogs. It seemed as if the designer decided to spend a couple minutes on redesigning the web site before he left for the weekend. And, he never came back.

But, before he checked out, he cursed the site with poor proportion, horrible font selection, and a generally bad design.

Navigation confused me. There’s a large left-hand area with pictures and a few navigation items. There’s a navigation bar to the right of the left picture area. There are no visual clues of where to go first.

I had my mind set on a tape drive, so I clicked on the “tape backup” link. I got there, but the navigation to the other product categories disappeared. I realized that if I wanted to navigate within the catalog categories, I would have to go back to the home page to make a different section. Navigation and information design was not a priority for this designer.

I then decided to consider one of the new CDR rewritable drives for sale. I selected one of the professional models, and was salivating as I clicked the order button to place my order online. But – DOH! — the server was down, and I could not complete the order.

So I picked up the old trusty telephone and ventured to place my order with a human. I am glad I had eaten before I picked up the phone, because I was on hold for quite a while. I felt like I was slowly wasting away while on hold, in fact. Eventually, I got through to a salesperson who must have been on his first day, because he couldn’t answer many of my questions.

But at last. I placed the order. And in fact, it arrived the next day.

But more bad news was ahead: From this point forward, it got increasingly worse. Many times, I felt as though zombies had taken over the entire company.

I will spare you all the gory details. But the upshot was this: I had many problems with the drive, and the customer support and technical support staff were unwilling to fix my problems. It took a rude letter addressed to the customer service department to address my problem.

After all the hubbub and hand waving, APS finally agreed to replace the drive, which it promised by the next day.

Meanwhile… the drive appeared a week later.

Finally, I received a glimmer of hope that I would be able to back-up all my data, which had been languishing. I pulled it out of the box and plugged everything in, booted the computer, and got ready to rock. But that plan was shattered as soon as I pushed the CD eject button on the drive. The drive did not function.

I called APS immediately, and I am still waiting for them to return my phone call.

Truth And Dare:

What happened to the great service that I received in the past? The way your company handles the customer sales cycle greatly affects the way it is perceived by your customers. Even if you have made many good impressions on customers in the past, customer service is an ongoing program. You are only as good as you are today.

Although past experiences build customer loyalty, it only takes one bad impression to sour that relationship. This is true of retail web sites, especially, that have offline counterparts. The web is becoming a preferred channel for purchasing computer products. But ecommerce sites need to support the user experience, not hinder it.

All of the things I experienced with APS: The long wait to speak to a sales representative and then a tech support person, the service runaround. Whatever happened to the customer always being right?

APS is renowned for its fair prices and good quality. I have bought from APS before, from its nicely designed and well-organized print advertisements.

The APS web site is quite a departure from this. But customers like consistency. The online version of an offline business must make its site consistent and on par with the quality offered through traditional media campaigns.

The APS information design needs better organization, design, and navigation.

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