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I've just been trying to book train tickets via National Express' new booking site, and have experienced a number of major customer experience / usability issues.

National Express rail tickets

National Express recently won the battle to take over the East Coast Main Line from previous operator GNER and, while its booking procedure was cumbersome at times, National Express hasn't yet managed to improve on it.

There were a couple of problems with the new site:

  • Slow page load times
    The first problem was the slowness of the site - after selecting the details, times and dates of my journey, I spent almost a minute looking at this screen:

Ticket search

  • Shows unavailable journeys
    This was the most frustrating aspect, and something that National Express needs to deal with as quickly as possible.

    Having selected the trains I wanted, selected any additional options, and moving to the payments section, I was confronted by this:

Tcikets unavailable

The red text tells me that there are no tickets available for the times I have selected and asks me to select another journey. This happened four times, forcing me to start the process all over again.

We have mentioned this before with reference to online retail sites - if products / services are unavailable or out of stock then customers should not be allowed to even begin to make a purchase.

Allowing customers to select products only to be told at the checkout that they cannot buy them is a major source of frustration for customers, and potentially damaging to many cats.

Far better to manage expectations by telling them on the product page or, better still, don't show unavailable items at all.  

We know some of the people at National Express and while they are working hard on improving the site, frankly it can't come soon enough.

Related stories:
Majority of online shoppers experience transaction problems

Related research:
Online Retail User Experience Benchmarks

Graham Charlton

Published 14 January, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (32)

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Sam B

I'm an outsider to the e-commerce world. Is "potentially damaging to many cats" marketing jargon, or does it refer to a cat suddenly being thrown off one's lap in frustration?

If the latter then I would say more potentially damaging to the lap. Cats are legendary for their ability to land on their feet, and to inflict horrible damage to the offending human with their claws on the way out and down.

over 8 years ago

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Emma

I have read the comments regarding the National Express East Coast site. I think there is some confusion as the site definitely does not show services/products that are unavailable to book. The red warning message shows that there are no seats left to reserve on a particular service, however that doesn't stop anyone from still buying a ticket for that service. Train services often depart with reserved seats having nobody actually sitting on them. This is because those people with flexible tickets don't always turn up for the service they reserved a seat on, and trains don't have a check-in stage as airlines do. Therefore, it is possible for a seat not to be free to book in advance but it is possible to still book a ticket for that train.
This site is quite useful because it warns you in advance that a train service is going to be busy (via this message) and that I may not get a seat and may therefore have to stand, giving me the option of booking another service instead if I choose. Other rail sites don't advise this and I only find that information out when I board the train.

over 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Emma, that's not what I came across when using the site last week. After getting the red warning message I was unable to proceed with my purchase, which meant I had to search for different journeys. This happened to me on four separate occassions.

This is the message I saw in red on the site:

'There are no more seats available to reserve for your chosen ticket on the outward service. Please change your service or ticket selection and try again.'

over 8 years ago

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PPC Management

Poor usability seems to be evident in many journey related sites. For what I recall to get any kind of train times or ticket prices from the First Great Western website users need to register first. Luckily the same information is available on other websites which don't demand registration.

over 8 years ago

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Vikki

Hi,
I booked with National express last week and I was really impressed. It took a bit of getting used to after using the trainline for so long, but there were a lot more options, even letting me select a seat with a table! All instructions were clear and I've got to say it was an easy (and I might even go so far to say enjoyable... simply because nothing went wrong). Web User also gives this site 5* recently and I would have to agree.

over 8 years ago

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Bob

I completely agree with Vikki. THis new site is fabulous. National Express have done a great job. Having said that, I'm not sure if this is just a copy of the GNER site with a branding change. Far superior to The Trainline powered sites.

over 8 years ago

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Stevie

The National Express website is a complete carbon copy of what GNER offered in the week before it was taken over. Natioanl Express are just taking the glory for what GNER paid for as is the case with what a lot of National Expres are offering, although this website is superiror to Trainline.

over 8 years ago

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Dave

I, too, had problems with speed and availability on the Nat Express site last week. A far greater problem was that the site crashed me out on 5-6 occasions before completing the purchase. When I contacted web support their answer was that their site is wonderful and does far more than most sites. Any problem must be down to my computer and possible firewall causing their site problems even though my system works fine with every other website. I was forced to contact the call centre to buy my ticket which took an age and I was forced to pay £6 more than the website even though the fault was theirs.

Incidently the service on the train was awful too - no buffet open, the promised "service at seat" for 1st class meant I was thrown a bottle of water and told there was no food because they wanted to finish early. All in all a very poor replacement for GNER whom I always found to be very good.

over 8 years ago

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sam

Well all i can say is i would'nt even go there 1 it's not a very good service rude staff and dirty trains 2 tickets well over priced 3 it's some times cheaper to drive but i know time is'nt always on every one side 4 fly it can be alot cheper and guess what faster... let the trai take the strain what a joke!!!!!!

over 8 years ago

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T. Sellers

Having tried to register with the national Express web site all that happens as soon as I connect is a box saying 'unknown name'. Any body any idea what is going on? The internet desk for the site cannot offer any suggestions! So I can't get the 10% discount.

over 8 years ago

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T. Sellers

Having tried to register with the national Express web site all that happens as soon as I connect is a box saying 'unknown name'. Any body any idea what is going on? The internet desk for the site cannot offer any suggestions! So I can't get the 10% discount.

over 8 years ago

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Ian R

Echo the very poor usability on the National Express website. The following 'red' message does appear on a frequent basis when attempting to book advance tickets.

'There are no more seats available to reserve for your chosen ticket on the outward service. Please change your service or ticket selection and try again.'

NXEC web 'support' said that this is due to a (1 hr?) delay in the updating of the website. However the website does not offer an option of buying alternative advance tickets at the next fare level (more expensive) on the same service which will actually be available and the only option appears to be to buy by phone and not receive the benefit of the 10% online discount. Come on NXEC - normally when businesses have a problem with their website they honour any relevant online discounts. Why can't you? I was even told by the NXEC phone booking line that the online and phone booking behaved like different businesses - so much for one brand! Where's the customer service?

The problems with NXEC don't end at the point of booking. The level of service, particularly for First Class passengers has deteriorated terribly since NXEC have taken over the East Coast Mainline franchise from GNER.
For example the restaurant car keeps running out of food again and again... It's not that hard. Toilets that don't work. Coffee service that stops at Peterborough on a journey from London to Leeds. It's a disgrace.

about 8 years ago

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don moore

after many a happy journey with GNER , i had the miss fortune to experiance NXEC

quote frankly if pol pot, stalin, and mugabe were to be train crew if would be a more pleasurable event.

from being greeted with total in diference upon arrival and then informed we should not sit in our reserved seats, then told that there would be no food until darlington ( we were in edinburgh) and the 1st class at seat service was suspended.
if we sat elsewhere we could have coffee, after finding two other seats on the crowded train, the powerpoints did not work so the laptops died

£300 for return tickets so we could eat and work on the 4.5 hour journey
no work and 2 biscuits to show for it

bring back GNER !!!!!!

about 8 years ago

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julien

I too have had that problem with the text

'There are no more seats available to reserve for your chosen ticket on the outward service. Please change your service or ticket selection and try again'

for every single ticket in one day.

It is extremely frustrating and when I phoned them up, they told me that it takes the website a couple of hours to update itself. I had to go for the next price up. Basically they are saying that all the tickets are being sold in a few hours - seems slightly strange.

Anyway, when you can get them - edinburgh to london for under 20 pound return is an amazing price so hats off to them there. And I've never found the service that bad.

It's a shame really as bad service encourages people to fly, but the carbon emissions are over twice as bad. I'll stick to the train, and just hope they get better!!

almost 8 years ago

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Tim Dobson

I too had problems with the site - when viewing it with Internet Explorer 6, I found the Outward and Return journey panes were shifted to the left, so that part of the Outward pane was underneath the "Buy rail tickets" and "Show me" panes, thus making it impossible to see or click on some of the fare buttons!

over 7 years ago

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rob larner

i have also experienced many delays and problems on there web site so annoying.  i know GNER were not the greatest but they were 10x better than this shower of s...

ran out of drinks half way htrough the journey if only there were competitotrs to turn to ??

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

Well a year down the line and have had the exact same problems with a few extra, just for good measure.  The system doesn't seem to recognise any card but a credit card in Safari or Firefox, with the result that we had to search over and over again with each unsuccessful payment. Of course, we ended up with a ticket £70 more expensive than when we started. They can't have been working that hard to sort things out since January 2008. Now that is slow.

By the way, there is apparently an alternative operator if you're travelling to certain stations on the East Coast line, Grand Central. They don't cover my stop sadly, but the Evening Standard recommended them recently. Worth a punt I'd say.

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

..though according to Graham Grand Central Railway's useability is even worse. What's with these people?

over 7 years ago

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S MacKay

I think there has to be some sort of fault.I've encountered problems for over a week now when trying to book tickets.

First of all the website won't recognise my password, or my email address.

Then when I select my tickets, it tells me afterwords that there's a problem and the seats are no longer available.

Then, when I finally manage to select my tickets after  several attempts, it tells me my card is not vaild. Which it is.

So, I've got no idea what is going on, but although the website looks identical to the East Coast mainline to Scotland webite, it's obviously got major problems...

...and the telesales department are shut in the evenings.

Is this a way of forcing people to buy more expensive tickets on the day?

If this is how slowly problems are dealt with on the website, then it kind of worries me that they run a train service. I'm not impressed at all, although when you actually get to speak to a person in telesales they are very pleasant so don't have a go at them!...

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

They appear to be having big payment problems - for the last 5 days now they will not any of my cards (Visa, Maestro x 2) all of which are perfectly valid and have ben used on other sites successfully since. A call to customer services confirms they are having card processing problems, but they refuse to honour the web price giving customers the choice of either paying £11 more by phone or waiting for the website to be fixed... Nice one guys, they must be losing money hand over fist!

about 7 years ago

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Chinnybob

To the commenter above: I just had the same problem. Turned out to be because I was using an email address with a "+" in it (a salted gmail address.) This caused an error message that my card was rejected (several times, and with different cards.) After removing the "+" my transaction was accepted straight away.

about 7 years ago

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Paul

I've just been trying to book tickets -eventually successfully - online for NX East Anglia.

As a fairly regular user I was surprised to get a message telling me they couldn't deliver to my address - it's never been a problem in the past and it's exactly the same address I've always used.

I spoke to one of their web support team who explained it could be because my postcode had been "blacklisted because of fraudulent activity" - fortunately I was able to use an alternative address. My regular address was accepted by my credit card company.

Has anybody else experienced this?

about 7 years ago

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Neil Beveridge

I found problems with dynamic elements in the search area in firefox. The return date would not appear when return journey selected. Also the site went down halfway through a credit card authorisation. Fair enough it's 2am and it's maintenance o'clock but still it's inconvenient.

over 6 years ago

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Pete Jeremy

I have been trying to book coach tickets for the past 3 hours and i just cant get through because there is an error on the site. What is wrong with this? Is there some way to file a complaint?

over 6 years ago

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M Sam

I'm fed up trying to book again and again. I've been keep trying to book a ticket for the past 4 hours :( Keep getting Error code 2116 at the last step. It shows this error message after accepting payment information. I was looking for Error code 2116 in the National Express Website, but couldn't find any related information.

over 6 years ago

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Pete

Total farce of a website - every time I try to check a journey the sie crashes.  Same round at my mate's house!

All this time to fix it and nobody even cares!

almost 6 years ago

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Vie

Very frustrating website
I have tried making payment for over an hour, continually getting error messages. Finally we have an information notice! This is talking heck of a long time to resolve ...........

Latest information

Technical problems with our website
We are currently experiencing some technical problems with our payment system. We are working hard to fix this. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

over 5 years ago

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Vie

Very frustrating website
I have tried making payment for over an hour, continually getting error messages. Finally we have an information notice! This is talking heck of a long time to resolve ...........

Latest information

Technical problems with our website
We are currently experiencing some technical problems with our payment system. We are working hard to fix this. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

over 5 years ago

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Dave

Seems that National Express learns nothing. It repeats the same old problems over and over. The years go by and NE website is as terrible as ever.

For the last two days i've been trying to book a coach journey. I go through the whole process and then press the 'confirm' button to pay. It has gone a number of times to the home page! On one occasion i got as far as the verified by visa page. There it said that there was a fault on the National Express site.

I've been booking NE for years and find their site takes the prize for being the most frustrating website i've ever come accross.

over 4 years ago

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Clive Nicholas

The National Express website does not render any results when entering common journey times. i.e. does not function. This is from Port Talbot Library Service. Does the PC need particular software to be installed i.e Java latest version and/or Flash 11?. Regards. Clive Nicholas.

over 4 years ago

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rick

It probably is against th VISA/Mastercard contract that National Express takes your card details, and 3d secure details for a product or service they know to be out of stock.

As others mentioned, they take you through the entire payment stage just to tell you at the end that the journey is not available. I called them up and they told me it was the way their system works - it is not just a glitch as you would expect before trying again.. perhaps they are after extra revenue from their premium rate telephone numbers.

Total rubbish that you couuld onlt expect from a coach operator. Just another reason to rent a car or fly!

about 4 years ago

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rick

Others mentioned usability problems on the site. Apart from the booking system (if you call it that) being a total waste of time. If you do insist on using it, be sure to select your journeys by PRESSING ON THE PRICE as it is displayed for both outgoing and return journeys. Then the grey continue button will turn green and allow you to proceed (probably to utter disappointment). This site is a stupid bountiless riddle that will just wind you up and leave you really unimpressed to say it kindly.

about 4 years ago

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