19 June 2008

I hate shopping

CatalogsAt least, I hate shopping for my lab. It's taken up most of my time for the last several days. And it's a pain, for two reasons.

One is that the purchasing is complex. When I personally want something from most internet based businesses, I give them a credit card or just click on PayPal, and away I go. Not with science shopping. Since it's the university, we have to go through a convoluted purchase order arrangement, which differs depending on how much money you want to spend (among other factors).

The second is that the websites of science suppliers are really disappointing in their ability to locate items. If you want pipette tips, suppliers have a huge range of them, and not many options to sort them. The clunk solution? To look through the well-organized -- but clunky -- print catalogs (pictured), which are faster to browse. Of course, the prices in those are out of date, so you have to find the item you want, type in the catalog number into the website to get the correct, current price. If the item hasn't been discontinued.

Even worse, it's nearly impossible compare items. You can't do anything like you can on many shopping websites to compare features of different products. So you have to look at each one individually, which takes a bloody long time for many common supplies. Let's say you type in "HCl," the chemical formula for hydrochloric acid. You get 2,794 hits from one supplier. Even if you just look at the best matches, you still have to wade through 40 separate entries, from different suppliers, different amounts, different purities, and so on.

And try to figure out how much shipping will cost you. You probably can't. One of the reasons I use one supplier in particular is that they don't charge for shipping, which means they get a lot of business from me because they have reduced the number of things I have to worry about in my order by one.

It's such a pain that it routinely goes on the bottom of my "to do" lists, which is not a good thing. So if you're running a scientific supply company, consider looking into what your customers do so that you can help them do it better on your website.

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