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Monday, Feb. 15, 2010 at 9:32 am

We Converted Online, But Only Because It Was Free

By Whitney Wilding
February 15th, 2010

I was just recently married and moved to a new state not too long after the wedding.  Thankfully, rather than receiving gifts from friends and family, my husband and I received a slew of gift cards, the majority of which were to Target.com.  After moving in to a relatively bare apartment, we happily went to our local Target store in order to cash in.  Already familiar with the Target brand, and having a pretty good idea of their product line beforehand, we had a decent idea of what we wanted.  However, after discovering that the inventory inside the store is relatively low, we turned to their online presence.

I am disappointed to report that our online shopping experience at Target.com was, for the most part, a very frustrating experience. We already had in mind some of the things that we would like to purchase for our new apartment, but even being able to find these items from the home page proved to be a difficult task.  Essentially, we were late stage buyers ready to hand over our free dollars to Target provided that they could meet the product requirements that we were looking for.

Target-Furniture TabFor example, we knew we would like a bookshelf.  However, after going to the ‘Furniture’ tab at the top of the screen we didn’t find any options specifically for bookshelves. So, after scanning the page, we selected the ‘Storage and Organization’ option from the left navigation hoping to get some results.  What we found was an array of options totally unrelated to what we were looking for.

So…we tried again.  We went back to ‘Furniture’ and decided to search under ‘Home Office.’  Maybe this would give us what we were looking for. Finally, under a heading titled ‘Home Office Essentials’ on the left navigation we were able to find ‘Bookcases’ in small print.  After going to this link, we were given some more options to narrow down our search.  At this point, we had a pretty good idea of what sort of bookshelf we wanted according to size and probable color, so we went for the ‘Shop By Color’ option.

Target-Product PicsAnother difficulty we experienced was navigating through the product pages.  There were limited pictures for each product, making our decision a difficult one.  At this point, it was only because of our abundance of gift cards that we trudged on through this process, as finding and selecting our particular product in mind felt more like a battle then being guided toward what we had in mind.

Possibly the most frustrating part of this online shopping experience was our experience during checkout. Target only allows four gift cards to be used at checkout.  If not all of the cost is covered by the gift cards, they obviously require an additional form of payment.  The most concerning aspect in this process for us was that at no time during the checkout process were we told what was covered by our gift cards and what was being charged to our card. This lead us to complete check out and void the same transaction three times before we felt satisfied that Target was not charging our credit card the full amount of the purchase!  Their web analysts must be confused by that data!

This is just another example of a website failing to speak adequately to the late stage buyer ready to buy.  Rather than being able to easily navigate through the site in order to find a product we already had in mind, we had to actually dig for the product.  Target also failed to give us confidence in the product we were buying with more product images to ensure us of the actual quality of the product, not to mention our troubling experience during the checkout process.  If our Target bookshelf wasn’t essentially free for us newlyweds, we would have been tempted to avoid online shopping with Target altogether in exchange for a less time-consuming and more enjoyable experience with another company.

Now, the point of all this isn’t to beat up on Target or their Web Team; their struggle is our struggle: how to provide intuitive navigation and browsing pathways through a large catalog site and make converting easy and fun!

Editor’s Note: Whitney isn’t new to the FutureNow team, but she’s new to the blog with her inaugural (inblogural?) post.  Welcome, Whitney!

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Comments (61)

  1. I agree with you. I have been trying to find printer cartridges and you would think that would be easy, but I have yet to figure it out. What a pain!

  2. Hi Whitney, I feel your pain.. here in Australia we find these examples even more frequently. Target Australia doesn’t even offer online shopping for their products, the only thing you can buy online from Target here are…ironically….Gift Cards…

  3. That is so not only in the shop. Many malls save the building of the navigation of the work so that buyers can not find what he seeks. In Target, the mall is not only a problem of what to the user. This is deterring potential buyers spend their money there. Conclusion: Just another online search, finally, there are other people around us Advertise.

  4. First rule of business make sure the customer can find what they want. This applies to any business, if they can´t find anything they will never come back.. Target should really spend some time overseeing their web system to make it more userfriendly since it´s not “geeks” who uses the only shopping the most anymore.

  5. Thanks for sharing this article. We are learning from your experience and this has given us a heads-up on making each site a user-friendly site with easy navigation. Truly, a lot of sales are lost because of this kind of problem. Target really needs fixing…

  6. I have heard a lot of people complain about target. Why doesn’t target do something about it?

  7. They sure have a lot of room for imporvment, but I heard from affiliates registered with their aff program that they convert really well, in part becuase they offer a lot of discounts on select items.

  8. I think part of the reason so many websites have terrible stores or online shopping experiences is because they can. I mean, once they have the money and give you a plastic gift card, do they really care if you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily?

  9. Why is it so!? Because they dont listen to the customer!Simple as that i think. A big store like this and a sloppy website. Shame.

  10. Useful and interesting feedback. On some of our sites which we thought were working well, we recently did some direct user observation testing and discovered that what our developers and marketing people thought was ‘easy to use’ and ‘obvious’ was rather less obvious to our customers. And of course when it comes to things like successfully finding the produc they want on your site, the customer is quite definately always right.

  11. how can a big store like Target create a bad name….why don’t they look into customer needs?

  12. It’s interesting, because it seems that their lack of organizational clarity extends to their stores. I was recently there stocking up on home office supplies (recently self-employed!) and I had a terrible time finding anything. Looking to find surge protectors, I first assumed they would be near electronics. Actually, they can be found near the lightbulbs, in a completely different part of the store. They employ an army of people to help you find your way, but in my experience no one was able to help me with the actual items once they pointed me to an aisle. Compare that with a store like Home Depot or Best Buy, and it begins to seem that maybe the symptoms of a poorly designed website extend beyond the designers/web team.

  13. Great post and I wonder why there haven’t been a reaction from an Target employee yet. This tells us that they are not really into the internet. What I find most interesting about this article is that sometimes earning money can be so easy but companies just waste this chance. Maybe this would be nice job for FutureNow? Tell them what you have found.

  14. This is very Useful, interesting and knowlagble feedback. now our sites which we thought were working well, we recently did some direct user observation.
    so thanks for feedback

  15. Hi Whitney, I have always been a huge fan of Bryan and Jeff’s work. I first attended one of their persuasion architecture sessions in 2005 and have seen them at UIE, Adtech and other confs since. I noticed you said you were not attempting to bash Target but that was exactly what you did. Nothing wrong with that – it all sounded accurate. It is easy to get many more of those bad examples. It is too easy in fact, what makes a better story for us (UX & Expeirnce folks) is the “good or great example” – as I recall Bryan was always good at showing what was working and backed it up with some numbers. I remember the Leo Satcher (sP?) Diamond case study example he did in ’05… So I’ll ask – is deconstructing a poor experience as informative as show casing a successful solution? For sure they are harder to find !

  16. The most interesting thing about this is that I believe that Target.com is mostly provided by Amazon. You would think that with Amazon behind it, that Target would provide a better on-line shopping experience.

  17. With all the money behind Target.com I don’t see why the company is not hiring usability experts to analyze its web offerings. Do they not take on-line e-commerce seriously?

  18. Whitney

    I feel your pain. I’ve had three different experiences with Target online. These experiences have soured me on Target entirely. I don’t even go into their store any more. I went back to the stores of an Arkansas chain, ugh.

    My experiences began when my grandson was born. We purchased an item from them and were billed three times. We did receive three of the item, and had to return two of them for credit. We did get the credit but only after several months of effort. The item was a relatively large ticket item, for me, and not having the money available in my checking account was frustrating.

    The second time we tried to purchase an item online for my daughter-in-law. This was a relatively small item and Target wanted a mailing address. The town my son’s family is in does not have household delivery. Everyone has to use a mailbox. Target’s program said they could not use a mailbox number, so we provided a street address. The item was sent by US Mail asn was returned as undeliverable, remember no household delivery. The person at customer service, in some far eastern country, could only continue to repeat the address was incorrect and that we had to provide a different St. address. We were told it would not be mailed, but rather go UPS or FedEx (I forget which.) Guess who it was shipped by. Right. USPS. Same result. We asked the order be canceled and the money returned to our account. The order was canceled and the money never returned. This happened 2 yrs. ago. Calls were never satisfactorily answered. Lots of promises, no action. I don’t shop online, or in person, at Target any longer. I found the site hard to navigate and the unwillingness to actually try to solve the problems of a customer very troubling.

  19. I talk to a lot of patients about buying their dental products on-line to save money. Many of them report that Target.com is one of the hardest sites to navigate. I would hope that a company of this size would do a better job and take the on-line portion of its business seriously.

  20. Target should really spend some time overseeing their web system to make it more userfriendly since it´s not “geeks” who uses the only shopping the most anymore.

  21. Target is not the only major website that had poor shopping user experience. There are many other websites out there that exhibits the same problem you pointed you. I wonder by making tweaks to correct the problems, how much more business they would get?

  22. Besides the fact that I hate Target, I’ve found so many websites have the most terrible search features possible. They’d be so much better just adding a Google search on their site. But for some reason they seem to think they can do it better. Wrong! Get a decent search function, or make sure your products are all listed and easily accessible.

  23. I have experienced the exact same kind of disappointment when shopping at other major retailer websites.

    I saw a new office chair at Officemax that I really wanted to purchase. Even though I was already at the store, I didn’t want to buy it. I had a coupon for $30 if I bought it online. I also would have got free shipping.

    The problem was that I could not find the dang thing on their website.

    I have experienced other similar frustrating shopping experiences at Home Depot.

    It is enough to drive you nuts.

  24. Welcome to American corporations as we know them today. Answerable to no one, and frankly even if you wanted to reach most of them you can’t. Insulating yourself from the exact same customers you need to survive is the way it is now a days.

  25. Why target.com does not come and discuss the problem with the clients. We say the clients are king!!!

  26. There are loads of people setting up shopping sites but don’t have the best customer service. I work with a web designer and he keeps getting work to create online shops all the time and he says most of them fail within a year or never getting going. This is why i would stick with the bigger slightly more trusted sites like amazon and play

  27. Nice..
    Hope target.com realize their mistake.
    But they sure sell cheap product

  28. Target Should be interested in her clients needs.

  29. The problem was that I could not find the dang thing on their website.

  30. I found no real significant problems with Target website. There are major websites out there that have a far worse user experience. Having said that, certainly any improvements can help with conversion.

  31. Gift cards always convert well but I agree that Target’s customer service sucks.

  32. It is interesting to read about your online experience. One may learn how to improve the online experience of their customers by reading your complaints here.

  33. You know what the great thing about free stuff is? You can still make money off it if you place your products the right way. Create a great program, give it away, and still profit. Information and traffic are worth more than money sometimes.

  34. Target has the same problems that any other large corporation has. When you service millions of customers, a few will slip through the cracks. It’s just impossible to keep everybody happy…

  35. when the company grows too big it is difficult to micro-manage everything, although the company website is crucial in this case.

  36. You have to be able to identify that late stage buyer and meet their needs immediately!

  37. Truly, a lot of sales are lost because of this kind of problem.

  38. nice post. In Target, the mall is not only a problem of what to the user.

  39. I work with a web designer and he keeps getting work to create online shops all the time and he says most of them fail within a year or never getting going.

  40. [...] Source:We Converted Online, But Only Because It Was Free Share and Enjoy: [...]

  41. First rule of business make sure the customer can find what they want, else lot of sales will be lost I know this as I am doing lot of affiliate marketing and in the early days my earning were very low because I wasn’t sending the customer to the products that best matched his need.

  42. I guess moving from offline business to online business is more profitable in my own opinion.

  43. A great way to explain how the online conversion are better than offline conversion. With the same money, an online campaign will be more effective, in any business.

  44. This is very Useful, interesting and knowlagble feedback. now our sites which we thought were working well, we recently did some direct user observation.
    so thanks for feedback

  45. You have to be able to identify that late stage buyer and meet their needs immediately!

  46. #

    I know this as I am doing lot of affiliate marketing and in the early days my earning were very low because I wasn’t sending the customer to the products that best matched his need.

  47. although the company website is crucial in this case.

  48. Great post, very helpful, I have to say that if ones web site like this on of Target was so unhelpful to th client using it, why would this client come back, or even tell anyone else to use it. This can be very damaging to a business in the long run.

  49. You have to be able to identify that late stage buyer and meet their needs immediately!

  50. Gift cards always convert well but I agree that Target’s customer service sucks.

  51. I have heard a lot of people complain about target. Why doesn’t target do something about it?

  52. You know what the great thing about free stuff is? You can still make money off it if you place your products the right way. Create a great program, give it away, and still profit. Information and traffic are worth more than money sometimes.

  53. Why is it so!? Because they dont listen to the customer!Simple as that i think. A big store like this and a sloppy website. Shame.

  54. I too empathize. It is not only Target stores in Australia that does not sell product online, but this is a regular observation with many large stores across the globe. Their site has front and back and all the sophisticated SEO linking that a devoted IT can bring, yet it has not substance in the middle of the brochure. Nor does it sell its products on line. I would like to understand why this is so?

  55. For e-commerce site checkout part should be extremely user friendly, there is no compromise with the ease of use of this option.Ultimate all customer want a hassle free shopping experience.

  56. Navigation on ecommerce websites can be problematic. breadcrumb navigation can be a good solution. This way visitors can easily navigate throughout the website and they always know where they are!

  57. Sorry for you with Target and thank you very much as I will make my ecommerce better now!

  58. I agree, a simplistic approach is always best, as the end user needs easy navigation, and a Cat and mouse game then pursues as per the normal Ecommerce simple checkout, eg, one click checkout optiopns or with say google checkout for the Financial link up.

  59. Whitney – at first I thought you were refering to your title as: “we converted online but only because it was free” as not having any money since you got married. But then i realized it’s because you moved and obviously didn’t quite came to know the area – so you shopped online at getting some furniture for your new home . . .

    I hear what you’re saying about the messy online shops. I think there may be quite a lot of them when selling “physical” items.
    Then one wonders: Don’t they know that by just improving navigation on a commerce site where their customers need to shop – that they’ll have a bigger return at the end of the day??

  60. I agree on the picture thing, it’s is so important to see nice pictures from your products.
    I see it with my customers (I’m corporate photographer), with more pictures the conversion rate is better.

  61. The key is to listen to the customer and make a user friendly site.

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