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Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 at 9:24 am

3 Ways to Lose an Online Sale

By Brendan Regan
August 11th, 2009

I’m not gonna lie…what you’re about to read was inspired by a real-life online shopping experience.  I won’t mention the guilty site, but I’ll say they sell clothing and jewelry to young urbanites.

As I relate the following three eCommerce mishaps, be thinking about whether you can eradicate all of them from your business by the time the “Holiday Rush” hits. ALL are preventable, if you start today and take one item at a time.

sale.comLet’s start at the “precipitating event;” the spark that lit my desire to shop online…

1. An email with a promo code arrived.  w00t!  They paid attention to past purchases, and sent me a great promotion: 10% off a brand I’ve purchased before, and free shipping if the order exceeds a certain amount.

How They’re Losing Sales: Despite not mentioning an expiration date for the promo code, it was expired by the time I reached checkout.  I’m notoriously slow for opening emails from online retailers, but I bet I’m not alone.  Creating a sense of urgency with an expiration date is fine, but remember that shoppers sometimes go weeks without going through their personal email accounts to read your promo codes.

And now it’s Customer Service‘s turn…

2. When the promo code came up as expired, I was understandably disappointed.  I’d just spent a fair amount of my weekend building up enough value in my shopping cart to qualify for the free shipping (Yes, I’m cheap.)  My credit card was out of my wallet.  So, I clicked the live chat in the cart to see if they’d extend the promo code, or give me an equivalent one.

How They’re Losing Sales: The live chat agent, while polite and earnest, was not able to do anything to help me (be a cheapskate).  They weren’t empowered by their employer to get creative and save me from abandoning my cart.  They suggested I call the “real” Customer Service during regular M-F business hours.  So my guess is that the live chat is being outsourced, which is fine, but if they aren’t empowered to save sales, they’re probably not giving good ROI.

Now stepping up to the plate, Technology

3. I came back the next day with the intention of calling the retailer and trying to get them to extend the promo code or give me the equivalent deal.  So, I returned to the site and clicked “My Cart” to review what I’d put in there, and have it on-screen when I called.

How They’re Losing Sales: They didn’t save my cart! So many sites are saving cart items via cookie that I assumed my items would be there the following day or week.  So now I’m definitely not going to re-build my cart AND call them to try and negotiate the promo code.  I’m going to just repress the whole memory…maybe I’ll even forget the retailer’s brand in the process!

These 3 blunders may seem unconnected from a business perspective, but from a buyer perspective, they were all part of a persuasion scenario that broke down and turned a VERY motivated shopper into a lost sale.

I do like the site, and hope they can address these issues and stay in business.  But they and others will have a very painful holiday sales season if they don’t treat the disparate parts as a unified buying experience that must be nearly flawless to be profitable.

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Comments (40)

  1. Ouch! That’s irritating.

    Not only does this lead to lost sales, it also damages the brand. You’d need to be a very loyal customer to go back and purchase from that store in the future.

  2. ..or you get a “special, limited time offer” in the snail mail which directs you to the web site for more info. Then the info is absolutely buried on the site.

  3. Great article! I’m happy to say we do a pretty good job on all three. Our promo codes rarely expire in less than a week (usually 2-3 weeks), our CSRs are empowered to save a sale, and our cart sticks around for ages.

    Thanks and good stuff!

  4. Totally annoying, I agree. I’ve had similar experiences.

    Another big problem is FINALLY getting through the checkout and find out, after my order is placed, that the item is out of stock.

  5. What’s the point of having a customer service if they can’t do anything? That’s the main reason Nordstroms customer service is so good…they empower their employees with the ability to actually help their customers. You’re right, even customer service online needs that same quality.

  6. You’ve cited 3 important DON’Ts in a business. I actually agree with you. Like you, I seldom check my email, so I’ll be assuming that the promo period already expired.

  7. Thank you !!! yes those are all top-of-the-line BLUNDERS! May I …

    Blunder #4 Not providing a secure site for me to conduct my business… meaning the Green Url bar which denotes use of Extended Validation SSL. And yes I review the certificate for authentication.

    Blunder #5.. Tell me before I purchase that my items are not available. That outfit I just bought cant’ arrive partially in July and then after October.

    Let’s get savvy and secure when we shop!

  8. Hello Brendan,
    Just wondering, but could the retailer have run out of inventory and that is why the item was no longer in your cart. They should have relayed that message of course, but could that have been the case?

  9. Unfortunately, none of these issues are unusual. I had an even worse experience with live chat where the person couldn’t “do” anything. I think in many cases live chat is not thought through and put in place intending only to help people navigate or complete the checkout process.

  10. Thank you !!! yes those are all top-of-the-line BLUNDERS!

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  12. Well there are always some mistakes to be done. From that point of view I understand why you say that they lose clients. Totally truth. But from their point of view it was not so obvious that their own promotions will turn out to be something taking customers from them instead of bringing more. Sometimes it is just not fair that we try to do one thing and it becomes opposite.

  13. Great 3 ways are defined to Lose an Online Sale.You are sharing useful information to with readers, the readers will get advantage from this.

  14. @ Keith: no, i had half a dozen items in the cart, so unlikely that ALL of them were out of stock one day later! :)

  15. Creating a sense of urgency has always been the key.Its like a textbook clause.Besides yes if Live chat agent in that case is definitely giving a good Return on Investment.But that will not hurt the company so much as his service definitely outsource(Cheap).and yes they definitely should have saved your cart.Every reputed online retailer does it.

  16. [EDIT]Live chat agent is definitely not giving a good ROI.

  17. Oh dear. Looks like they weren’t too keen on your business. As someone else pointed out, what’s the point of a live chat facility if they can’t actually help you?

    My only small concern is that, by extending their offer to you after it expired, they would be kind of training you NOT to take their future offers quite as seriously. After all, you’ll know that all you need to do is hop over to customer service and they’ll give you the discount.

    Still, I’d have probably given the discount, purely for the fact that you bothered to phone and ask for it :)

    Paul Hancox / copySnips

  18. How about this from a very well known and reputable vitamin supplier:

    1) Receive a printed catalog with a promo code.

    2) Order online and then enter the code.

    3) The code is rejected again & again,

    4) When calling customer service – you are informed the code is only valid for PHONE IN orders!

    5) Scratch your head at their obvious insanity – and order by phone.

    Yes – this happened to me & my wife more than once.

  19. Or, you receive a catalog in snail mail, but, when you go to the website, there is no info re the mailing, and sometimes the products are not even on the site. And…the cust svc rep knows nothing about it.

  20. These are good points all… Would you have called a tollfree number if there was on online chat?

    What was the free shipping trigger? We had ours set at $33 for the longest time (Our stuff is light and very inexpensive oddities and novelties) – Just raised it to $39 because of increased postage costs. I wonder if maybe a $5 coupon wouldn’t pull better than free shipping.

  21. … If there was NO online chat, I meant- sorry

  22. Promo codes can really reduce your sales. Many people just google promo codes so once they get posted on the net everyone can find them. Not just a few select customers.

  23. You should tell the whole story to their “training department” (hopefully they have one), it is valuable material for everybody that trains companies / their employers etc. Seriously, do it, they might use it and even give you a nice bonus / promo code in exchange, at least this is how I would react, SY

  24. Thanks for the great article.
    You have told us 3 ways which are gonna lose the sale.
    Definitely it is useful.
    All we need to do is trying to avoid it.

  25. Where can I read more about sales mistakes?

  26. I think comments are broken?

  27. Interesting stuff, saw a similar article in Wired Magazine.

  28. Totally agree with your points. Personally, I think online shopping has got a lot better, but I only use a few retailers. If I ever encounter an error, or complication I close the browser imediately and move on, never to return…

  29. That was a very informative read, thanks.

  30. Ouch! That is not good. I send out coupons all the time, I will definitely take the time frame into consideration. I was always assuming that the email was read that day.

  31. Thanks for this great articles…..

  32. Great 3 ways are defined to Lose an Online Sale.

  33. Saving a shopping cart is a must in todays internet world. Great tips

  34. Great Article, I totally Agree, 3 Ways to Lose an Online Sale.

  35. I am optimizing a site right now that is eCommerce and I’ll definitely take this into consideration. Thanks for the post.

  36. Another big problem is FINALLY getting through the checkout and find out, after my order is placed, that the item is out of stock.

  37. While I do think it’s lame that they failed to mention an expiration date in the e-mail, that was probably a tactic intended to get you to the point where your cart was full and you were ready to just go through with the sale anyway. You have to remember that most people, even in this economy, aren’t as stubborn as you. When they are already at the point where they’re just one click away from making the purchase, I think chances are most people will just go ahead and do it anyway, since they’re already pretty much committed to buying the items at that point.

  38. Great article, thanks – Keep up the good work.

  39. You’ve got a point Brendan, I will keep this in mind not to disappoint my customers to what I think would generate more sales.
    I’m planning to open a shoes online.

  40. [...] GrokDotCom by FutureNow – 3 Ways to Lose an Online Sale [...]

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