Please Tell Me Who Will Transport My Online Order

When you order something online, wouldn’t it be great if you could tell which carrier will deliver your order? Let me tell you a quick anecdote why I wish that every online retailer would provide this information.

A crappy delivery of a premium product

On a frosty March evening in 2015, three boxes were delivered to our home. They contained a brand new laptop and some peripherals.

Although the order confirmation stated that a signature was required on delivery, the driver just dropped the boxes off on our front porch. We were both home at the time; the driver simply didn’t bother to ring our doorbell.

The tracking page for the order shows a

If I hadn’t checked the online tracker one more time that evening, the shipment would have sat outside in the freezing cold overnight. Or might even have been stolen.

The delivery was a day late, too. Unfortunately, the tracking page did not give any reason for the delay beyond stating “REDELIVER ON NEXT BUSINESS DAY.”

Also, this carrier does not seem to consider Saturdays to be business days, as I found out via another shipment. The data in the screenshot below — December 4th, 2015 — was a Friday. Despite the “REDELIVER ON NEXT BUSINESS DAY” status, it still didn’t arrive on the 5th, but on the following Monday.

This tracking page is similar to the previous one, but it is for a different order. In this case, the shipment was due on December 4th, 2015, also

It’s not just me being excessively picky or demanding: The support forums at Amazon and Apple, who both use this carrier, are overflowing with complaints from customers who are extremely unhappy with this carrier.

All together now: “UX is all about setting expectations!”

It’s needless to say that I’d love to avoid having anything delivered by this company in the future. And I am more than willing to pay a premium to achieve this goal.

I do want to know with certainty, though, that I’m not paying extra and still have to deal with these people. Which is why I sincerely appreciate that, for example, the great folks at Adafruit make it very clear who they will entrust with getting your purchases to you.

Adafruit offers four shipping methods on their site: UPS ground, UPS 3 day select, UPS 2nd day air, and UPS next day air. It even displays a little UPS icon. Below the list of options, which also notes the respective shipping charges, it states that they do not offer Saturday delivery service for UPS.

They also do not offer Saturday delivery, but they very prominently state as much right in the appropriate context of the shipping options.

Apple, on the other hand, leaves you in the dark about which livery the truck will have that stops by your house to drop off your freshly ordered goodies.

Apple lists three shipping options, free 2-business day, next day, and next day before noon. They do not identify the carrier, though.

Let me have more trust in my options

I wonder why a premium brand like Apple would collaborate with a below-par discount service provider in the first place. If they do go that route, though, they should at least give me a premium delivery option that reliably selects a different carrier and, thus, results in a more enjoyable overall customer experience.

After all, who wants to be all excited with anticipation for two days, looking forward to a shiny new laptop, only to find that machine in the morning, frozen to death on the front porch.

Oh, sorry, I meant “excited with anticipation for three days,” because “REDELIVER ON NEXT BUSINESS DAY,” you know.

Downloading Speaker Slides from a Conference

Last month, my wife and I attended the O’Reilly Design Conference in San Francisco. The conference offered great keynotes and presentations, and the venue — Fort Mason Center — was spectacular.

O’Reilly has compiled a list of the event’s keynote videos and speaker slides. Some slide decks can be downloaded directly from that page, while others are hosted on Speaker Deck or SlideShare. The workflows for downloading the decks from the latter two sites create surprisingly different user experiences.

Speaker Deck: “Click. Done!”

On Speaker Deck, the prominent “Share” section contains a Download PDF button. Click that button, and the PDF file instantly opens in the browser, from where you can easily save it to your computer. Alternatively, you can right-click on the Download button and directly download the file via the context menu.

Clean, quick, easy. Nice!

SlideShare: “No account? Not signed-in? No PDF!”

SlideShare’s Download button is just as easy to find.

Click it, though, and instead of just starting the download, you see a dialog box about “Clippings.” At this point, I was just trying to download the file, so I chose to “[c]ontinue to [the] download.”

Clicking the link underneath the button does start the download — if, that is, you are signed into SlideShare. If you aren’t, you are requested to log into the site.

That, of course, also means that if you don’t yet have an account for SlideShare, you have to sign up for the site before being able to download any of the slide decks. At least the triggered download will start automatically once you’ve completed the login procedure.

Cumbersome by design

You can often hear designers and users complain about LinkedIn’s user interface, and it is LinkedIn that owns SlideShare. This simple download workflow is a good example for a less-than-stellar design decision.

Note how the clippings dialog box does not have a “Don’t ask me again” checkbox. And indeed: every time you decide to download a slide deck, that process will be interrupted by having to make the decision fore or against clippings. Every single time.

Worse yet, even if you adopt that feature by clicking Start clipping, and clipping a flew slides “just to be sure,” the dialog box will still appear whenever you click Download. In other words, even when the dialog box has done its duty, it will still come back time and again.

Who controls the content that you own?

This odd behavior aside, there’s a deeper, more philosophical issue to think about here.

Websites like SlideShare or Speaker Deck don’t own their users’ works, they just host them.

What does it say about a company, then, that they require you to have an account with them before you can access hosted content that, say, a conference speaker has made available? Why did Speaker Deck decide to make this process as painless as possible, while SlideShare uses it to attract new users? What would SlideShare lose by allowing a direct download without requiring visitors to log in?

And finally, does a conference speaker’s choice of provider reflect back on that speaker, because this download process might be perceived as being part of the overall presentation experience?

That said, from this conference attendee’s point of view, the most desirable option for this workflow actually is finding a direct download link to the PDF files right on the conference website. It doesn’t get much more efficient and convenient than that.

Ambiguity in Two-Factor Authentication Codes

Two-factor authentication is a great method for making logins more secure.1 Although this system is straightforward, I’ve occasionally made a pretty stupid error while using it. Thankfully, it’s an error that can be easily prevented with a simple fix.

Most of the websites, for which I have set up two-factor authentication, send authentication codes to my phone. For privacy reasons, I have configured my phone to notify me of incoming text messages; the notifications will not display the messages’ content, though. That way, if I leave the phone on my desk, someone who walks by can see that I received a message, but won’t be able to read what it’s about.

In addition to a number of app icons, a text message notification appears on an iPhone launch screen. The notification displays the sender's six-digit phone number. Instead of the message's contents, though, it only states

The numbers, from which the codes are sent, usually are six digits long. The authentication codes are six digits long, too. You can already guess where this is going.

If I don’t pay attention, I sometimes enter the phone number instead of the actual authentication code, because that’s what catches my eyes when I look at the notification. On one occasion, I was so distracted that I actually panicked about being locked out from one of my accounts. Until it dawned on me what I had done wrong.

It would be very easy to prevent this error. All it takes is a comparison of the entered code with the phone number. If the system finds a match between the user’s entry and a phone number, it would display a message to make the user aware of their mis-hap.

This simple fix would go a long way in keeping users’ heart rate and blood pressure within healthy limits.

  1. The concept behind two-factor authentication is simple: In addition to the usual username and password credentials, you need to provide additional authentication that is usually linked to another hardware device. E.g., when you log into a website with your username and password, the site texts a code to a mobile phone. To complete the login process, you then need to enter that code. This means that you can only log in if you have know the username and password and you have access to the phone that receives the codes. To learn more, read the Wikipedia article on two-factor authentication