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November 04, 2006

Bad Website

My wife had her birthday recently and I decided to buy her a gift certificate from Forth & Towne. F&T is a spinoff from the Gap, which focuses on chic clothes for women over a certain age. I happened to read in the paper that they had just opened a store at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle. So I went to their website to get the phone number, to check if they sold gift certificates (in particular I wanted to make sure the cards they issued were snooty-looking Forth & Towne ones, not generic Gap ones).

First of all, they have one of those annoying Flash websites that takes forever to load and doesn't allow deep linking. But worse, they didn't have the phone number on the site. They did have a listing for the store, noting that it was scheduled to open on October 25 (this was about October 30 that I was looking). But no phone number. In fact, today they still have no phone number listed. And they supposedly opened another store at Alderwood Mall on November 1, but it's still shown as a future event, and also has no phone number. So how likely am I to actually plan a trip there based on what is on the website?

It's annoying because the most basic function of such a website would seem to be giving people the phone number and directions to a store. I mean if all you do is buy a Web domain for your store and put up a one-pager, basic HTML site, you will have your address and phone number, and probably a link to a map site to show your address. But amidst all the fluff on the site (and this site is extra-fluffy), they neglected this basic information.

In my case I really did want to go there, so I plowed ahead. I first tried superpages.net, but it couldn't find it. Then I went to the Gap website to get the phone number of the Gap store downtown, but when I called they didn't know the Forth & Towne number. They advised me to call 411. Which I did, and miraculously they had the number. Which (and I can't believe I'm even providing the free pub by telling you this, but it does complete the paragraph nicely) if you care, is 206 223-2704. And they did indeed have gift cards and they did indeed look like Bellagio hotel keys. And I did buy one and my wife was happy and she will one day transport herself to the plush confines of the store and spend far more than the value of the gift certificate. The system has routed around the problem and is operating normally.

As an aside, I find the name "Forth & Towne" amusing. I can only imagine how many hours of consultant time were billed to produce it. It is trying to appear upscale and swanky, with the "Forth" part alluding to "Fourth" which makes you think of "Saks Fifth Avenue". I guess they didn't want to use "Fourth" because it might imply an actual street name (the Seattle store is actually near Sixth & Olive, which doesn't sound too bad). But while doing this they managed to include the name of a programming language. What's next, Cobol & Country?

P.S. While doing research for that last part, I clicked on the directions link for the Seattle store on the F&T website. Somewhat mind-bogglingly, they botched that one too. The link you click on sends you to a Google map of 1500 4th Ave, which is near the Pacific Place mall, but not quite there (and far enough away that you wouldn't be able to see the mall from that spot). So they managed to get both the phone number and the address wrong! Impressive work.

Posted by AdamBa at November 4, 2006 09:32 AM

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What is scary about this is that not so many years (months?) ago, one would have just picked up the phone and dialed 411 in the first place.

Posted by: kip at November 4, 2006 02:23 PM

> First of all, they have one of those annoying
> Flash websites that takes forever to load . . .

By "forever", do you mean two seconds or so? I followed your link and started counting seconds; the initial content was visible in just over one second, the loading bar was finishing up at just over two seconds, then the loading stuff faded to the main site. I am currently using Firefox 2 on a low-end iMac, but I also tried it on my elderly Windows system with both Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7 and in all cases, the site was loaded and ready to use in just a few seconds and this is through standard cable Internet access.

Personally, I am not generally fond of all-Flash Web sites, but Flash content does not necessarily take a long time to load, so you might want to consider server or network issues rather than blaming the Flash content.

And in case you didn't know, Internet Explorer for Windows--including Internet Explorer 7--does not display self-preloading Flash content (that is, Flash content that includes a preloader in the same SWF) on HTML 4.01 Strict pages until *AFTER* the content has fully loaded, which makes the wait seem longer on such pages. I am not sure if that problem is the fault of IE or the Flash plug-in, but it only seems to manifest in IE.

Posted by: Brian Sexton at November 4, 2006 03:48 PM

On my machine it takes 5-8 seconds to load the pages, of which about 3-5 is spent in the "loading" animation. I don't doubt it's because of the speed of my link; but the fact remains that the downloading took a "long" time. Let's say that the time it takes to get to the "loading" part is equivalent to the speed it would take to just download a simple page (since it includes the images which presumably takes most of the time) and then the time spend "loading" is bringing down other Flash-inspired stuff. So it's at least twice as long due to being in Flash.

Sure we're talking about seconds here...but it's still annoying. And for what benefit? So they can animate the ampersand in Forth & Towne?

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at November 5, 2006 08:09 AM

I like Cobol & Country. What about Lisp & State? Let's register these names before they get stolen! :-)


Posted by: Jacques at November 5, 2006 11:32 AM

> On my machine it takes 5-8 seconds
> to load the pages . . .

I wonder if there might be any settings or applications on your system that are slowing things down for you. Now that I think of it, I recently reinstalled Windows XP Professional on my Windows system and I have installed only a few applications or so on that system since then, so there is not yet much on there to slow things down.

> And for what benefit? So they can animate
> the ampersand in Forth & Towne?

Perhaps because the Flash Player plug-in renders Flash content more reliably than Internet Explorer renders HTML/XHTML content with CSS styling or even PNGs with alpha settings (at least somewhat better in IE 7, but horrible in IE 6), so the site's developers can target one platform (Flash) instead of two (almost every graphical browser that is not Internet Explorer and Internet Explorer). Getting menus and such to look and work the same in Internet Explorer 6 as in all of the more standards-compliant browsers has been a nightmare and I have not yet gotten far enough into testing with Internet Explorer 7 to verify the extent of what has and has not been improved.

Aside from that wild design conjecture, though, did you notice that content is reloaded when you go from one section to another section you have already seen? I suppose it is possible that the developers are trying to be considerate about eating up system memory, but I would probably try to be considerate about speed and keep all of that content cached. I have done similar things for kiosks, but unlike with a kiosk, for which you may be able to load all or most of your media at once (excepting, of course, live data and updates)--when starting up, for example--it makes sense to load things that may not be needed only when they are actually needed in a Web-based Flash application to keep initial load time to a minimum. Reloading that stuff, however, seems wasteful of both time and bandwidth (unless it is likely to have changed, of course).

Posted by: Brian Sexton at November 5, 2006 12:29 PM