My time is your money
Published 16:17, 13 April 09
I have just been through what must have been the slowest ever on-line purchase of my entire web-life, taking over an hour to buy tickets for an exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London. Although I persevered and completed the purchase, the excrutiatingly slow performance of this website firmly changed my mind about adding a donation or becoming a member.
It seemed like a normal, prudent bank holiday thing to do. The family and I had talked about the exhibit and agreed it would be a good thing to do and knew when we would go. With that simple decision made we were keen to go out swimming for the afternoon. I knew the exhibition was soon to close and that tickets would be in demand, so I said I'd just go online to confirm availability and pre-order the tickets. We'd be ready to go swimming in just a few minutes.
Google got me to the NHM site quickly and easily, and the home page seemed reassuringly well-organised. However, once I arrived it seemed like I was being dragged back to the days of dial-up speeds. Every single page transition took at least two minutes, just for the basics like navigation, let alone processing credit card details, which took much longer.
I don't know what the root cause of the incredibly poor site performance was, but the user experience was exacerbated by unnecessarily inefficient sequencing of pages. As I said, it took at least two minutes to get from one page to the next in the basic navigation stages, increasing to up to five minutes per page for those requiring database lookups.
The page sequence was:
- NHM Home page
- Darwin Exhibition page
- Exhibition Tickets
- Buy tickets on-line
- Select Date (by this time the family started walking out the door and told me to catch them up)
- Select Time
- Select Ticket Type & Quantity
- Shopping Basket subtotal
- Login / create new user account
- Enter Name, Telephone and Postcode
- Select Delivery Address (with helpful note: tickets are electronic and will not be posted)
- Support Us With an Additional Donation (by this point my philanthropy had left along with the wife and kids)
- Enter Credit Card details (I took extra care over this page, not wanting to repeat any of this awful experience through mistyping)
- Preamble About Verified by Visa
- Verified by Visa (being an external service, this was mercifully quick, as it always is)
- Become a member (this was an appealling thought when I started this process about an hour earlier, but was out of the question by now)
- 'Complete' (well, not quite: we'll send you an email, with a link to open another web page representing your ticket, which you must print out.)
As I was not at home doing this, what would normally be a straightforward process of printing of a page added some extra time while I negotiated access to a printer and other issues that I
I got down to the swimming pool in time to see my kids emerge wet-haired from the change rooms with looks of "What happened to you?" What happened to me, was that I suffered at the hands of website performance and usability, or more accurately, poor performance and poor usability. These are two of the qualities of websites that most consistently cause the greatest suffering for users, and yet are often the least tested aspects of software.