Saturday, November 29, 2008

And today's winner of the Shitty Website Award is...


Congratulations, MTD Yard Machines.  Give them a big hand everybody! Come on down, MTD, you've earned yourself the patented Stonekettle Station hobnail boot kick in the nuts.

It takes a special kind of incompetence to design a webpage that is so singly useless, frustrating, and utterly without merit as BuyMTDonline, it really, really does.

Seriously, in this day and age of global competition through the online marketplace, how any company that is fronted by a poorly designed, and basically worthless website, manages to survive simply astounds me.

I broke the pull starter recoil assembly on my MTD snow thrower.  I gave it a yank, and the recoil spring snapped, and the cord hit bottom and broke.  I took the assembly off the engine and discovered that the spring housing is machine-pressed and basically cannot be repaired without a lot more effort and jury rigging than I'm willing to commit to the project. Note that this particular mechanical failure is not in any way unusual for a small gasoline engine. Yank on the cord enough times, and eventually the damned thing is going to fail.  It's a common replacement item, anybody who repairs lawn mowers and snow blowers and other such small-engine powered devices will tell you that.

Now, I use the snow thrower mostly to clear a path down to the kennel and to clear around the shop.  I use the big Polaris ATV to plow the drive, and when the plow berm gets too deep along the edge of the drive I use the snow thrower to fling it fifty feet back into the yard.  I can live without the the snow blower for a couple of days, and I didn't feel like running into town. So, I got the model number from the information plate on the back of the machine and came inside to order the part off the Internet. A couple of days, a week maybe, and UPS should deliver it - two bolts later and I'm back in business. Right? I mean it's the 21st Century, isn't it? We don't have the those personal jet belts or flying cars, but ordering stuff off of the Internet and having it delivered right to your doorstep in Alaska is almost as good.  I do it so often that I barely even think about it.  Seriously, it's a sixty mile trip into Anchorage, 120 miles round trip for those of you not good with the math, and at today's gas prices and the time lost it's just a whole lot cheaper and more convenient for me to order a lot of the things I need online. 

Which brings us back to the point of this rant, piss poor commercial websites, and specifically ones like BuyMTDonline. There's the usual jittery flash player adds for the latest products, wedged in among the glaring red frame that makes you feel like you're getting a sunburn or been dropped onto Mars. But on the left hand side there's a link labeled "Shop For Parts."  Click on "Find Your Part" and you get a page giving you three options, well, two really, the third one is supposed to help you with the first two.

Option 1: Illustrated Parts Look Up Tool. Enter the Part Number or Model. Simple enough, so I clicked on that.  Enter the model number. The "Part Look Up Tool" finds the correct machine. So far so good. The "Tool" gives me a menu tree with "Illustrated Parts List" and  "Attributes." Parts, that's what I need. I click to expand that and get a list of major assemblies one of which is "Engine and Pulley Assembly." Click. I get an exploded diagram of the engine - minus the pull starter recoil assembly. Hmmm. Check the other diagrams. Nothing. Check the "Attributes" option, nothing, it doesn't do anything useful at all. Well hell.

Now, I'm getting irritated. It's a common part, how come it's not on the diagram? Fine, let's try Option 2. Except, that you can't get there from here. You've got to go back to the main selection menu and start over. Urk! Idiots.

So, Option 2: Owner's Manual (No, I no longer have the original manual for the machine, it got lost long ago in one of the countless moves I've made since buying the machine in 1993).  The owner's manual contains a detailed exploded parts diagram as I recall. Great, I'll download that, get the part number and try option 1 again.  Option 2 gives me two data entry fields, model number and serial number. Serial number? Why for should I have to enter a serial number? I put in the model number and hit enter. No joy, serial number is required.  God DAMN it. Why? What conceivable reason could there be that I should have to enter the serial number of my specific machine? Do they print a custom manual for each and every machine? Back to the shop, up end the machine, look at the information plate. No serial number. There's a model number and a manufacture's number - but no serial number. I looked all over the machine, nothing. Back to the house, try manufacturer's number in the serial number field. MTD does not want. At this point I've reached the screaming and swearing stage of aggravation.

Try option 3, Locate your Model and Serial number. There's a helpful diagram of a standard MTD information plate on the back of all MTD machines - except it doesn't look like mine at all.  Back to the shop just to be sure. Nope, not the same. But just for good measure my information plate does say that it is an authentic, youbetcha, genuine MTD machine. And now I'm adding throwing of random items and kicking things to the screaming and swearing.

So, here we are. I can enter the model number under option 1, which finds the machine but doesn't link to the manual and doesn't list the part I need.  Supposedly I can use Option 1 to search for that part, if only I knew the part number. Which I could probably get from the manual, except Option 2 will not find the machine's manual, despite the fact that I know the machine exists in their database, and doesn't allow for searches without a specific serial number - which it will not recognize for my machine.  There are a dozen links for various things on the parts ordering page, and no matter how you click on them they all eventually bring you around to the same point - like the circular logic of stupid. 

There's a helpful 1-800-screw-you number, which you supposedly can call and get an actual MTD technician, except it being a 4-day weekend nobody is answering.


Now, I've found a dozen websites fronting small Mom & Pop operations scattered across this country and Canada that carry the part I need.  I've also found the part on eBay, again from a dozen different providers.   All of these sites provide easy access to the information I need, allow for 24/7 ordering, and about half (none of the eBay sites, of course) provide free or reduced shipping - to anywhere in the world.

And there you have it, mom and pop cottage shops are global entities.  A guy selling products out of his basement on eBay is an international operation.  All have professionally designed and easy to use websites.  So how come a major outfit like MTD Yard Machines doesn't?  And MTD is by no means the exception when it comes to crappy webpages and useless online store fronts.

American businesses continue to show a profound lack of understanding when it comes to customer service in the modern information age.

And it's costing them.

It's costing them in lost business, reduced efficiency, and aggravated customers.

Turns out I had to run into town after all (that's another post, involving giant artificial Christmas trees), so I swung by the WoodMizer Mill, where they also have an equipment repair shop.  They had the exact part I needed, slightly used, but hey, at least they had it. 

So, the snow blower is fixed and ready for the next big blizzard, which, if the forecast and the black clouds hanging over the Valley are any indication, will be soon.

And MTD? MTD can kiss my ass.


  1. I was trying to pay my phone bill a few days ago. Only hitch was that I recently lost my debit card (the one that's on file to pay that bill), and had to get it replaced. So, I tried to edit my profile and enter the new card number.

    No Joy.

    After 1/2 hour of trying I had to call them and get their IT guy on the phone, (25 minutes), and get him to make the change (another 10 minutes). Ah, the convenience of the Internet.

  2. Well, think of it this way. You didn't have to walk all the way over to the phone company's office. ;)

    Ahh, mom-n-pop small businesses. They'll be taking over the world just as soon as the megacongloms collapse with the economy. (And then the more successful ones will become the new round of megacongloms, probably. Oh well...)

  3. Ugh, I so hate websites like that. I often purchase parts for my old jeep CJ online, as the jeep stays in the west where I work and not at home in Kansas. It's often difficult to find 4x4 parts in the middle of no where, much easier to just ship them to my hotel. My personal favorites are the websites that doesn’t allow you to narrow down your searches, here, and your part is on one of these 43 pages, that only display 9 parts per page. On the other hand, I have to hand it to Summit Racing; you can narrow your search down by just about every conceivable parameter. As to a solution, I refer back to my explosives statement of a few days ago.

  4. pardon the automatic grammer corrections by Microsoft.


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