Monday, May 9, 2011

The worst commercial web site

The French train company SNCF has one of the worst web sites I have ever seen. I usually go to that site to try to buy a train ticket, but it is exceedingly difficult. The big thing that occupied much of the screen this weekend on their web site: the news that SNCF sponsors the Winter Olympic games in the Alps for 2018. That's typical of the kind of information with which SNCF clutters their front page: irrelevant for 99.99% of the people accessing that web page.

I spent about one hour trying unsuccessfully to buy a ticket to go to Chamonix from Paris in August, taking a night train on the way there and a TGV on the way back. I finally determined, through trial and error, that August must be too far off for the night train system (but not for the TGV system). I will now try to buy my ticket on the phone, assuming that customer help replies to my mail asking for a phone number that can be called from abroad. I run into that problem every summer. My solution, when I am in France, is usually to physically go to the nearest train station and ask an actual physical person to help me, after standing in line for half an hour.

How come airlines and travel agents planning air travel have such convenient, well-designed websites, yet years after year the SNCF website remains just as bad as ever? Maybe the web designers are secretly trying to torpedoe their online information and reservation systems, so as to preserve employment by forcing customers to interact with SNCF employees in the real physical world. There is money to be made by someone who would build a website on top of, navigating the sncf website in such a way that its intricacies are transparent for the end user!

Update: no response to my email (the website promised an answer within 2 days, and it's been 6 days.) Friends in France went to the train station to asked for a phone number to call from abroad, and gave me the response: a number that only leads to an error message when called from here. French online travel companies sell tickets for flying, renting cars, hotels, tourism, but no train tickets. With this kind of marketing, I foresee a bleak future for SNCF.


  1. I totally agree. I couldn't buy a ticket with their website. I had to hire a car instead.

    The whole SNCF webteam should be fired.

  2. Perhaps they HAVE been fired, and it's being run by the cleaners? It would explain a lot


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