Good Error Messages Are Hard to Come By

Here’s Overstock.com’s answer to the error message. Forget for a moment that they could have done something even more helpful, and focus on the content of the message. You gotta have a sense of humour when things go wrong.

They’re managing their reputation even in their error messages.

Overstock.com error message

10 replies on “Good Error Messages Are Hard to Come By”

  1. I like it. While I agree they could have been more helpful in their error messaging and maybe given some more options as far as an out (maybe they did and we just don’t see that here) you have to admit it takes the sting out of the error, make sure the user knows they didn’t do anything wrong and generally has a great tone to it.

  2. Whatever. It would be helpful if they told you why it broke. As a web surfer, that message is cute, and the branding is cool, but I have no idea whether I caused the problem or it was a failure in the link I just clicked or what. Even if it just returned an error code in the footer.

    I like it, but it could be cooler if it actually did something. ;-)

  3. I have to admit I don not know under what context the error message appeared. A friend of mine forwarded it to me because she thought the content of the message was cool. I’ll have to ask her to comment on the context, and if there were any other choices.

  4. I’m curious, how do you interpret this as good “reputation management?”

    It’s a nice look, and better than a default error page, but it strikes me as as an “oopsy, sorry ’bout that” kind of thing.

    I don’t get how what is otherwise a blush faced, cutesy excuse is good reputation management. Wouldn’t you agree that generally customers don’t want to hear “sorry ’bout that”, they want you to address the issue, minus the B.S.?

  5. I guess I wrote that because I see such craptacular error situations and over time it pulls up a negative image of the company in my mind.

    I also thought it was reputation management when I listened to my friend say she didn’t feel so bad about being errored out of what she was doing after reading the message.

    Every moment you communicate with your customers is an opportunity lost or won. Little things build up over time and are either positive or negative. It seems like they are trying to make this error situation as palatable as possible.

    An apology and/or a little humor can help with most every error you make.

  6. Perhaps your friend can elaborate on the circumstance that got her to that screen.

    I could see how that would be disarming if it were a circumstance where their server was down or something. However, on the other hand, I think it would be infuriating if that message came up after just placing an order, or submitting a credit card number.

    See my point?

  7. By popular demand I (otherwise known as “the friend”…with a sense of humor) will clarify the error was in response to a broken link. I was trying to look at the details of an overpriced – but beautiful – purse. Upon receiving the message I chuckled which I do not often do while shopping online let alone with error messages. I did not send this to Matthew as the “perfect” error. Now, what he didn’t post were the subsequent events, where I was routed back to my search results, later emailed when the link was fixed, and called by the CEO offering the names of first level techies that were sacrificed as a result.

    You’re right Mark, I would not have been amused if I received that message just after I placed an order. Ultimately though, user experience engineering alone doesn’t necessitate use/sales. The message evoked a positive reaction to which I excused their error, thus they were actually able to leverage a bad situation into a somewhat positive memory for a future customer.

  8. I love it.. In fact, I’m going to incorporate something similar for my site to replace the default 404.. Except then I’ll redirect my visitors to a search page to help them find what they were looking for. Great stuff!

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