E-Commerce Wins

There are quite a few accomplishments I'm proud of. Today, I added a triumphant moment to my absolute top-twenty, will-brag-about-this-forever pile: I booked a tatkal ticket on the infamous Indian Railways site.

Source: Firstpost
To be fair, I rarely have an issue with them when it comes to regular tickets. Yes, their Captchas are a bit ridiculous, and they have to stop placing them on every single page. Yes, they occasionally log you out for no reason. But still, with normal tickets, it's an easy enough matter to get back in and book, because the number of seats available doesn't change drastically every 5 minutes.

Tatkal tickets, on the other hand, are only released at 10am on the day before the journey. So anyone with an emergency of any sort (such as when the Indian Railways decides to advance the time of your carefully pre-booked train by over six hours... without informing you) logs in and frantically tries to get train tickets for the following day. 

There are over 10,000 railway origin-destination pairs in India, so you'd think even this wouldn't be a problem, but it is. Despite the abundance of options, very few people want to get to, say, Rai Bareli, in a hurry. No, the majority want Chennai-Bangalore, Hyderabad-Mumbai, and so on. There are about 400 Tatkal tickets (max) for each of these combinations. There are 243 million internet users in India. You do the math. Supposedly, 40,000-45,000 Tatkal tickets are booked within an hour of their being released. 

My theory is that these tickets would get booked in the first ten minutes; it's just that the site adamantly refuses to allow it. At 10am on the dot, IRCTC gets overwhelmed by all the attention. It hangs, it jerks. It throws Captcha after Captcha after you. Every minute, on the minute, no matter what stage of the booking you're at, you will get automatically logged out. It's an exercise in patience.

I don't usually deal with tatkal anything, it sends my BP soaring. On the rare occasions when I do need a tatkal ticket, my parents have bought it for me the old-fashioned way - by 'queueing' up at the railway counter and fighting their way through a crowd that didn't get the memo that queues exist for a reason. But, as I said, the Indian Railways decided to arbitly re-schedule a train that starts at 6:30pm to 1:30pm, and not bother notifying people who'd booked themselves on said train. And I'm having a baby in 20-ish days, so my parents getting here before that is kind of imperative. So I offered to book tatkal tickets.

How hard can it be, right? I logged into the site at 9:35am (good call, because they claimed I read their Captcha wrong 3 times), and then refreshed the page every 2 minutes. FYI - it logs you out every 3 minutes if you let it get idle before 10/after 12. Also, FYI - it logs you out if you refresh the page/run a new search/do anything more than 25 times. And yes, you do have to prove you're a human being again, even if you're on the exact same browser. People have recommended logging in from different browsers so you're always logged in somewhere, but I can tell you this doesn't work - it just logs you out everywhere. People have also said Internet Explorer is the fastest when it comes to IRCTC, but uh, IE isn't the fastest when it comes to anything. Chrome worked just fine, while my IE was still booting up and asking if it could be my default browser (yes, sure, that's going to happen).

Anyway. 9:45am. The downstairs neighbour came over with a plumber to check for leaks because his... long story, and it was in Telugu, so I wasn't even really listening. I waved them out at 9:55am, ninja-like focus trained on my laptop. And realized that thanks to IRCTC's brain numbing refresh-and-repeat routine, I'd been lulled into leaving my debit card inside my wallet, rather than out. I whipped it out and typed in the numbers, as well as the ID proof details so I could easily copy-paste it.

And then, the moment of truth - 10am. IRCTC went bananas. It logged me out 5 times, 3 times at the payment confirmation stage, and had me enter passenger details 6 separate times. So my insane typing speed finally came in handy. About 3 minutes into the process, I started to despair, and thought, fleetingly, "They'll all be gone by now!" But each time I got back to the availability page, it continued to say 330 tickets were available. Which means nothing, by the way, because they probably just hadn't refreshed it yet. Still, it gave me the fortitude to press on. And finally, finally, six glorious minutes later, I'd booked three tickets. I feel like I deserve a sticker or something.

"Woah," A said. "I've never known anyone who managed to book a Tatkal ticket online before."

He wasn't even being sarcastic. There are agents who charge you to book these tickets online, and then tell you sheepishly that they all sold out too fast. I could share my top tips for getting in and out quickly etc, but the truth is, they'd be no good, because the rules keep changing. The point of this post is merely to record for posterity how useless e-com sites can sometimes be in 2014... here's hoping we'll be scoffing at this kind of thing a few years from now.

... Just for the record, IRCTC isn't the only site to earn my wrath. A certain swankily-advertising furniture portal called Pepperfry is so bad it's not funny. It took them four weeks to tell me the office table they'd confirmed for me wasn't in stock and wasn't ever going to be. It took them another two weeks to refund my money for the table, plus the chair which I clearly no longer needed. Three months later, they still haven't picked up the chair that came with the table, Yesterday, they called to see if I liked the table. I explained that I didn't have an opinion. They called an hour later to see if I liked the chair, at least.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

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