Customer service: Keep it simple, please

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I did something last night that I have never done before: I bought a swimsuit online.

I'd been contemplating getting a new suit for a while, but the situation became urgent when I agreed to go to the beach with my boyfriend's extended family for Labor Day weekend. I realized that if I was going to avoid mortifying Grandma (a Catholic Sister, seriously), I might want to look into a modest one-piece suit.

I went online, thinking it would be the easiest and fastest way, and I was surprised to find, on a pretty well-known catalog site, a few trouble-spots that were really a turn-off. These details may seem minor, but when you're working with people like me, who generally abhor Internet shopping, it really helps to keep these basics in mind:

1.) I want to buy a product, not a person. A majority of the swimwear sites I looked at featured buxom models gallivanting in the suits -- which is fine. What's not fine is that they didn't feature in-depth shots of the suits on their own (front, back, close-up). It's nice to see that the products are wearable, and that people seem to have an awesome time with them, but I really need to see the nitty-gritty too, like: Is it cut in a way that will fit me (not of the buxom model variety)? and Does it have weird details that are covered up by a model's arm?

2.) I need to know my information is safe. Most sites are great at this, asking for that special code on the back of your credit card, displaying messages about security, etc. But, again, on this big catalog site, there was nothing. I simply keyed in my billing address and my credit card info, and the transaction was done before I knew what hit me. A little scary.

3.) Be as clear as possible when communicating to shoppers. I received an e-mail confirmation with an "Order Number," and was told I could track my purchase on the site. I clicked the link, and it asked for my "Customer Number" -- which is not the same as my order number, and which I can't seem to find anywhere. This problem is almost certainly a case of user error, but, all the same, I feel like it could have been avoided if some extra steps had been taken by the vendor.

So I'm stuck, waiting on a suit that I am not able to track, that may not come on time and may not look at all like I thought, and I'm worrying that my credit card information is going to end up in the wrong hands.

To DMNews readers who shop online, I'm curious: Is this something that happens often? How can online retailers improve the experience?

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