An open letter to Middlesbrough Football Club Official Direct Store

After visiting the Middlesbrough Football Club site and MFC Official Direct shop (http://www.mfcofficialdirect.co.uk) today, I was left embarrassed as a Boro fan at the state of both web sites. Below are open letters which I hope representatives of both will see and respond to.

Dear MFC Official Direct

When seeing an advert for the 30% off sale and Boro replica kits for only £15 I was very happy and ran straight over to the store to get myself a replica home kit.

However the experience I had left me shocked, disappointed and embarrassed. Now let me say that I am a Boro fan and a front end developer (so I can understand when things aren’t perfect), but still feel the need to expose the pitfalls of this site in public.

My first issue was when I tried to update my delivery address, having moved jobs and so I couldn’t have the parcel delivered to my old place of work. However it appears I am not allowed to move companies, the company name could not be edited. ANYWHERE. Not on that form, not on my account page, not on mange addresses through my account page, nowhere. The company isn’t even called Gyro International anymore!

Following that annoyance, I thought “Fine, I’ll just add a new address. But then I couldn’t add a company name to go with that, and being in a shared building with many other companies and nowhere to add a company name and few form fields for address I thought I would have it delivered home.

Delivery details on MFC Official Direct Store

I thought that would be fine, but alas no. Following selection of delivery type in step 2 I was thrown to the confirm order page. Step 4. Hold on. That’s missed step 3, and I haven’t entered my payment details yet? But I’m on the last step? Oh well. I guess this really is a good shop! That was confirmed by a nice page telling my my order has been successfully placed! Excellent, I don’t have to pay it seems. Maybe now Mido is back he is funding a shirt giveaway to try and make someone love him!

Alas no, after a second or two I was delivered and Sage Pay (formerly Protx) payment page. Now this possibly isn’t MFC Official Direct’s fault, however it is still part of a flawed process. And anyone that spends £12.7m on Alfonso Alves must have some cash somewhere to invest in a seamless checkout process. Or at least one that allows the checkout page to be on brand, not hideous and at least not be included as step 5 of 4.

The hideous Sage Pay checkout screen.

So after all that and finally getting my payment details in, I notice that Sage Pay have thankfully printed my delivery address so I know its right:

Flat E
London

(They printed my postcode too, but that’s private!)

Now I know the postcode will probably mean that as a delivery address might just make it, and maybe the full address has been stored, but why print only part of the address. Thinking about it, there are quite a few flats in my area so Flat E, Putney might not make it. My address is a required 2 lines before the town and postcode so why not just show me the details so I don’t think you’ve lost half my address along the way. Same goes for invoice address. Just show it all or people (including myself) might not be confident you have managed to pass the correct delivery information and that we may never see our goods, many of which are quite expensive on the MFC Official Direct store.

Anyway, after this traumatic experience it’ll be a while before I use the MFC Official Direct store again, however I also have some gripes with the Middlesbrough Football Club website itself, so this probably isn’t the last you’ll hear from me. Thankfully however, at least the agency that built the site are linked to in the footer, so it can act as a reminder to never, ever recommend Black Magic Digital of Glasgow as a digital agency. They apparently missed out on the user experience chapter of every book they ever picked up.

Yours,

Matt Bee

Boro Fan and Front End Developer

Email marketing – a bit of a rant

As developers we hate it. But I have to admit it is an unnecessary evil in my (current) world as an agency web developer. Lets face it – it works.

So here it is, the blog on the dreaded subject of email marketing from a my point of view, why we hate it, how we can make it work, what people can do to make our lives easier and campaigns more efficient and effective.

Why don’t I like building emails?

This is simple. We love accessible, semantic, standards based code. We do not like going back to techniques used over 10 years ago. We have to use out of date layout techniques and the code is long winded, complicated and boring to produce. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could use the same HTML and CSS standards we use for web sites, but unfortunately it isn’t an option. Not if you want your campaigns to include the creative idea that you are so sure will work, at least. And this doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

If you haven’t seen the problems with Microsoft Outlook 2007 using Microsft Word to render emails, then the internet is full of disgruntled people. Actually, I’ll help you with that. Don’t get me started on Lotus Notes.

It isn’t our fault animated gifs don’t always work. Flash can’t be used. Hell, even background images don’t work. These points ARE NOT OUR FAULT. But it still provides a hot topic of discussion between designers/concept teams and us developers. Trust my judgement, look at how long I’ve been doing this, we do actually know what we are doing, although maybe you and your great idea are more important than everyone seeing it as intended. Or doesn’t that defy the point altogether.

There are hundreds of different software, webmail and operating system combinations for us to work to. If you want your campaign to work in even 80% of them. Please listen to my advice, not just try to replicate your print campaign in an email. They are completely different mediums.

What works?

Again, simple things.

Keep your text to standard web fonts. Don’t rely on background images. Don’t ask for Flash or an animation. Keep the layout simple. The fewer images the better. Yes we can code so things will degrade gracefully, but if the client views the email in their inbox (compared to the signed off HTML file they viewed in a browser) with missing design elements they liked, it won’t be your fault, it will be mine. So please just make the designs possible in all clients.

Unless of course you have stats showing 100% of your recipients use an email client that supports animated gifs or background images – but first of all that is unlikely to be available, let alone likely to ever happen!

Even so what people don’t seem to understand is that everything doesn’t have to happen in an email. We have awesome tools in jQuery, Flash, and even simple HTML/CSS that can impress and prompt customer action better than an email. So a well thought out simple email to get people to somewhere showcasing the creative concept and getting customers interacting will work better than trying to contain everything in someone’s inbox. I find that a simple concept to understand. Why can’t others!

In the words of Columbo…

Just one more thing, if I can get on with building sites because I don’t have complicated email discussions going back and forwards, I will be happier. Of course sites are what I love, so if emails could disappear completely I’d appreciate it.

Resources

Finally, here are some good email resources, not that you’ll probably read them anyway. All are from Campaign Monitor, because they are good.

Proud! Yet disappointed…

Hello magazine. That is the reason I have just felt a moment of pride for where I work and what I do. Yes I enjoy doing my work, love where I work and when the two combine and a website where I did all the front end and had some influence in the functionality and design (Griff, as normal, was awesome) is a great feeling. Although it would have been nice if it hadn’t taken me getting all the way back to Durham to mention possibly being in Hello magazine, only to find out my mother has a copy with a Gyro ad in it, and I didn’t even know for sure we were in! It was Hello for God’s sake. I have had emails saying we are on fecking petrol pump, so tell us properly when my work shall be in one of the best sellers!! Apart from that rant I am quite proud that a website I built the front end for has been featured in Hello magazine (even without sign off, eh Barnaby!!). I also asked for 4 weeks, not the 2 and a bit I got (with luck) so well done me on getting the job done anyway, God knows I don’t have time to go back and improve it! Unfortunately.

Other news includes that CodeIgnitor is awesome, still. TotSocks are gonna be big, hopefully.

Stephen Fry and Boris Johnson are my heroes and I wish I could be either of them!!

I have also found that Hot Shots: Part Deux has ruined any possible chance of me enjoying either Rambo 2 or 3 without giggling at the slightest hint of a Charlie Sheen joke. Or any other joke in that film, to be fair!!

And finally, in the top of Division 3 (Hackney and Leyton league) clash, Hospital Tavern (my current team) overcame the favourites for the league Highstone FC in a 3-2 victory. What a great result, and it must mean that we can go on to challenge for both the league and the last remaining cup. Although if being picked up on one error in that game means I get dropped for the quarter final cup game, I will be so disappointed, I’m not sure I could handle it!! Here’s to the slim chance of us winning the league!!

Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Today I went to the Technology for Marketing and Advertising show with little expectations, however I ended up in the Mobile Internet seminar. This is where I found that QR codes (which I had briefly investigated last week for a work pitch) are already usable and being used in the real world (although they are old news in Japan and China I hear – they are even on McDonalds wrappers there).

Example QR code.

The above is an example code – use it and I’ll know when you do because it is a text message to me, telling me how modest (awesome) I am. All automated.

The programmes I installed to test the QR codes on my Windows Mobile Orange SPV E650 (aka the HTC S710) were the i-nigma reader and the Quickmark reader both of which work really well if the QR is large enough (anything over an inch in print was fine – screen worked better but that defeats the object!).

The QR code can include all manner of information – popular uses I have seen include sending direct to mobile web pages, auto dialling phone numbers, short texts and even full sms messages with number and message! If you want your own QR codes you can create them for non-commercial use on the kaywa web site. hey also have an excellent reader on there, just one not compatible with my phone at time of writing.

So I will be pushing for these codes to be used more in my line of work and looking out for them and using them when I see them. Apparently current uses include on “Lost” posters, on the labels of England shirts and The Sun ran a piece on QR codes when they printed a code in the tabloid back in December.

Now I’m off to make QR code t-shirts – and you won’t know what they say unless you’re as cool as me and my phone!QR code