The challenges of shopping online


Many older people are comfortable with the Internet. Those that aren’t are in for a tough time as the next few years go by, because everything is moving onto the net.

That would be peachy if those operating the websites had the first clue as to what they are doing. Many do not. The irony, if that’s the word (and I suspect it isn’t) is that the net operators are almost always younger people. They laugh at us oldsters, yet they are clueless boneheads. One day, I suppose, they’ll be clueless old boneheads.

Examples abound. I have a senior railcard, which gives a 30 percent discount on many train fares in the UK and Europe. The card is a Good Thing. When I bought it, almost three years ago, it cost £58 (about $100) for three years. On the very day the card arrived through the post, I took a train and saved £48 using the card. I saved probably 50 times the remaining £10 over the three years.

The card is about to expire. I received an e-mail offering to renew if I went online straight away. I did so and tried to register. No dice. The site didn’t like my password. I went to Password B, which is Password A plus a couple of easily memorised characters. Still no dice.

The only thing my railcard password can be used for – the only thing – is to buy a railcard. After that, it’s useless. So even if I had chosen PASSWORD as my password, it wouldn’t have made any difference to anyone in the world. No crooks are going to steal my wallet and then apply for a refund on my unused card. Nevertheless, I was told to come up with another, fantastically complicated password, or get lost. I’ll buy a new card at the railway station next time I go.

Other examples abound. The Land Registry’s website, fully automated, only operates Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. I kid you not. The Royal Festival Hall’s site can only handle one enquiry at a time; everyone else is sent to an electronic waiting room. The one time I tried it, I got fed up with waiting and travelled to the Hall to buy the tickets I wanted. When I got home with the tickets, some hours later, my cyber self was still in the waiting room.

How many times have you wrestled with ordering goods online, only to be told at the end of the process that the company doesn’t ship to your country? How often have you been told that an item you want to buy online is in stock, only to buy it and be told you’ll have to wait 12 weeks for delivery, because they don’t have any in stock? And so forth.

The Internet is new and it is, we are constantly told, the way forward. New tech plus old thinking, however, is a recipe for catastrophe. O brave new world that has such stupid people in it.

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