Users to sites: ‘We’re outta here’

Internet users are leaving your Web site – forever.

You won’t read about the exodus in most travel trade publications. Nor will you hear about it at a conference or from a colleague.

But they’re leaving. In droves. Thousands of them.

An informal survey of Internet users suggests your customers are at their wits’ ends with your user-hostile pages. And they’re outta here.

Sites like the one TWA put up are the reason. The pages are still in their infancy, having been on the Web less than a month, but they’ve apparently got a lot of growing up to do.

“The site looks really hokey,” complains Hugh Vaughan Wallis, a Toronto software designer. “They need some proper Web site designers there.”

Wallis might be pleased to know that the St. Louis carrier did, in fact, hire some real designers, the New York firm of Einstein & Sandom, although that probably won’t convince him to return to the site.

Nonetheless, TWA spokesman John McDonald says the airline is “extremely happy” with the response it’s gotten from the project. “As far as airline Web sites go, we think it’s one of the best. ”

He might be right. But where did TWA go wrong with Wallis? Why are its pages “hokey”? Two thoughts. First, the carrier’s advertising agency selected the Web site designer. Second, TWA’s senior vice president of marketing signed off on the site and ultimately was responsible for it in the corporate food chain.

All together, now: A Web site is not an advertisement.

Time Inc. New Media’s Pathfinder empire is anther example, drawing the ire of Doug Thornburg, a Tacoma, WA, actor. “I got so frustrated with it I canceled it permanently from my bookmarks list,” he says. The Pathfinder travel section “offers surprisingly little in terms of content and has the most amazingly high graphic content (and slowest download times) I’ve ever seen.”

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Pathfinder planners Mary Hossfeld and Mac McKean took issue with the site’s alleged sluggishness. “Our largest graphic is 26K,” says McKean. But on a 9,600 baud modem, that’s almost half a minute of download time when you consider advertising banners. Patherfind knows. “We are in the middle of a Pathfinder redesign” says Hossfeld. “Later this year, you’ll see a faster and more streamlined look. But we think we’ve done quite a good job so far.”

Even the quickest and most thoughtfully conceived Web site can’t escape a user’s wrath. Philadelphia writer JoAnn Greco tried – but failed – to use the Travelocity site to make reservations for an upcoming trip to Chicago.

“I tried repeatedly to find out what flights were available,” she says. “It would search for a very long time, and then it would say ‘I’m sorry, no airline serves that route. Please type in another route’. I tried abbreviating the city codes, guessing what the hell they wanted me to do, but nothing happened.”

Greco, who writes about the Internet from time to time, likes the content’s smart design and rich content. “But if it doesn’t work, what’s the point?”

Terry Jones, president of Travelocity partner Sabre Interactive, acknowledges some startup problems but insists they’re being fixed. “We’ve had a few hiccups, a few hardware bugs,” he admits. “But we understand that the customer will leave if the site doesn’t work. You have to be rock solid. It’s critical that the customer’s got the right answer.”

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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