thetrainline.com Usability Problems | October 2, 2006
About 6 months ago I was doing some CSS training in the north of England and wanted to buy a return train ticket. I tried to book tickets using thetrainline.com but it was such a nightmare I swore never to use them again. Sadly I didn’t learn from my mistakes and 6 months later I’m back at their site desperate to part with my money and being thwarted at every turn.
Finding train times is the easy bit. You put in your dates, location and ideal times and get back a table of results. The time dropdown allows you to specify departure and arrival times in blocks of 15 minutes. Rather annoyingly if you only specify the hour and not the minutes you get an error message. It would be much easier if the “00” minutes option was preselected to avoid this unnecessary error, but it’s a minor annoyance.
However this is where things start to go wrong. At the bottom of the page is a button marked “Check Availability and Prices”. You would naturally think that pressing this button would take you to a page showing availability and prices. After all this is the promise the website is making, and this is exactly the information I’m after at this stage in the buying cycle.
Sadly clicking on this link takes you to a page with a log-in or register prompt. Now this is really frustrating on two levels. First off the website has lied to me and not honoured their promise to show me availability and prices. Secondly they are forcing me to register for a site that I may never use, before they have given me enough information for me to make an informed decision about whether I want to register or not. This is the web equivalent of forcing me to sign up for a store card before knowing how much the store costs or if they have any stock.
Still I really wanted to buy these tickets so I struggled on. I filled in a couple of pages of information about myself, my company etc. One rather odd thing here was the “can we spam you with marketing rubbish and offer” section. The marketing rubbish option was check box you had to uncheck, whereas the offers were un-selected yes/no radio buttons. Not sure why the two different types of element for pretty much the same question, but again I let that go.
I then got to a page with a section that asked me to fill in my office address if it wasn’t the same as my business address I filled in on the previous page. I filled in the rest of the form on this page and then clicked submit. The page bought back a required field error message on the phone number of the office address that was supposed to be optional. I filled it in with the same info as before, hit submit but got back to the same error. I tried removing the spaces and trying a different phone number but whatever I did I couldn’t progress through the process. The page would just hang for 30 seconds and then deposit me back at the same point. I tried clicking the back button, but it didn’t take me anywhere so tried to start the registration process again.
This time my log-in details were pre-filled so I though perhaps my registration may have succeeded without me knowing. Sadly this was just the browser being helpful so I hit register. Strangely, rather than being presented with 3 pages of stuff to fill in I was presented with a single page asking for a name, email address and password. I imagine the data from my previous registration attempt was stored as a cookie which was nice, but it through me off a little bit. Still after 30 minutes and my second attempt at registering I was finally able to see the train availability and costs.
Was this worth the effort. In all honestly the answer is no. By forcing me to register and then the registration not working, it left me feeling very negative about the trainline.com and mistrustful of their services.
Posted at October 2, 2006 3:07 PM