Volume 98: 9/15/04

The Grok's Biggest Gripes

Things are buzzing around here. It's time for our annual Online Retail Study for Customer Focused Excellence. We've got our Excel sheets prepared, and we're motivated to buy. We find something that trips our trigger (within budget, the accountant chimes in), we can purchase it. Of course, I would get assigned stores like golfballs.com (the balls are about the right size, but the clubs?) and gloss.com (you ever try to find an eye shadow that compliments a green complexion?).

It's exciting. It's got everybody happy. It's even morale-building (except that the VP for Client Services won't swap me for gloss.com). And it's amazing what this little exercise reveals about the state of buying online. You'll have an opportunity to hear from others about their shopping experiences in upcoming issues. And, naturally, we hope you take the time to read the forthcoming results.

[Obligatory Disclaimer: my comments in this article do not constitute official conclusions from our survey. I just need to vent about some shopping issues (not necessarily survey-related) that I encountered along the way.]

Pencils at the ready?

It's clear to me that too many folks are leaving too many dollars on the table. More often than not, it's over the stupidest little thing. Such as...

Requiring Registration

It's handy when a site can save most or all of my customer information, so that when I return again, I don't need to retype as much. And I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday, so I know parting with this information means I'm giving my tacit agreement to participate in whatever marketing strategies they come up with, particularly of the email variety. I'm sort of cool with that (although I'd prefer they let me opt-in).

What I'm totally not cool with, and what routinely sends me to another business (any other business) is the practice of requiring me to register before I can initiate or complete a purchase. I don't care if you are simply asking for my email address up front or want everything down to my shoe size. You don't get value from me until I get some value from you, and at the start of a first time purchase, I still feel a bit cagey when it comes to parting with my personal information. Delight me and I'm far more inclined to be generous.

For most businesses, there's no justifiable reason to require an email address or registration or "membership" before letting me into the checkout process. Tell me you are asking for this so you can later help me track my order (or other forms of explanatory folderol) and I start suspecting your intentions are less than honorable.

Don't make me register first! Let me make the purchase first. Let me decide whether I like the way you do business. Let me decide when we have a relationship I feel like sustaining.

If you really are gung-ho about first-time registrations, then get me happily through the checkout process, confirm that everything has gone swimmingly and then give me the option to let you store my information. When you make a purchase contingent on registration, you send too many of your visitors to your competitors.

Capturing Information Before the Purchase is Complete

This follows closely on the heels of requiring registration. Let's say you've grudgingly parted with your email address and wandered warily into the heart of checkout, whereupon you decide, for whatever reason, you really don't have to have that stuff after all. You perform the equivalent of walking out of the store, leaving your shopping cart in an aisle. You're done with this experience and aren't planning on coming back for more. However. They've captured your email address (without warning you that you are opting into an email list - they said they needed your email up front for tracking purposes).

The next time you go to check your email, you find a welcoming letter from the business you abandoned, along with some promotional offers. "Welcome!" What? I bail and they welcome me. Did these pushy twits miss the lecture on Basic Courtesy?

Folks out there really do get the distinction between considerate and devious intentions. Don't make it any harder on yourself! This practice leaves a really bad taste in my mouth - kinda like Martian cough syrup - and makes me doubly disinterested in ever returning.

Disparity in Shipping Charges

I'm living on the east coast these days. Will someone please explain to me why a business in Oregon can ship me an item next-day service for about $13, and a business in a neighboring state can ship me the same item, also next-day service, using the same parcel carrier, for about $41? How do you spell "profit center"? Jaded me, I spell it s-h-i-p-p-i-n-g-c-o-s-t-s.

If there's one thing everyone gets, it's that customers want to know how much delivery will tack on to the purchase price. And lots of ebusinesses provide a summary of their shipping options and charges. This is good!

What is not good is using shipping and handling as the place where you make up for product price. We've said it so many times before: value on the internet is rarely about price. Luring folks in with competitive product prices, then gouging them for shipping and handling is pretty slimy.

You could hope they simply don't catch on to the ruse. Or you could get real about what shipping and handling really runs you. It's not about cheaper shipping costs, actually. It's about integrity. That Oregon business is going to get my return custom, not because they come in cheaper on shipping and handling, but because I feel they are conducting business reasonably and responsibly.

That business in my neighboring state? If they think they're fooling me, then I've got the last laugh. Cause they're toast.

Continue Shopping Option

A "Continue Shopping" button is an exceptionally good tactic for keeping your visitors engaged with your active window (particularly if you insist on making them stare at their shopping cart after they've selected an item). Any time you require folks to use their browser buttons for navigation, you risk them leaving. So, providing an option to "keep shopping" helps.

The trouble is, I never really know where this "keep shopping" option is going to take me. Sometimes it takes me right back to the product page I was on. Sometimes it takes me back to the category page for the product I was on. And sometimes it takes me back to the home page (this is the most frequently employed option).

I almost never want to go back to the home page once I've meandered into a site. If I'm considering adding another item to my cart, the home page usually takes me too far back in the qualification process. Imagine you're shopping in a grocery store for milk. You put the milk in your cart, stare at your cart to make sure it's actually there, then decide you're going to get a few more things. Except the store lifts you from the dairy department and plunks you back at the entrance. Joy!

The best application of a "keep shopping" tactic I saw offered me three active-window navigational choices: Keep Shopping on the Home Page; Keep Shopping in the same Category; Keep Shopping from Your Most Recent Page (this is particularly important if you incorporate cross-sell strategies on your product pages).

Point of Action

Lots of ebusinesses have privacy policies and return procedures and secure sites and allow you to place an order by phone if you don't want to use your computer. These are things folks find reassuring, particularly when these assurances appear exactly at the point folks are most concerned about the matter. We call this "Point of Action." When you're just about to start entering your personal information and credit card numbers, you wonder if the information is safe. Right at this point (not back there on the product page), you need to see a blurb about secure servers and third-party verifications. Oddly enough, a confident statement satisfies most folks. "We Value Your Privacy." "All Transactions are Safe and Secure." "To Place Your Order Over the Telephone, Call ..."

When you are considering adding an item to your shopping cart, you are wondering what happens if it isn't what you wanted. "You Can Always Remove the Item Later." "Hassle-Free Returns." "No Purchase is Ever Final!" "Questions? Call ..."

Link these assurance statements to a policy, and you've got some seriously reassured visitors.

The problem is, you really have to be on something of a leisure cruise to find these assurances on most sites. They are buried as policy links in the fine print at the bitter bottom of the scroll down screen. The product guarantees appear on the home page, but nary a mention of them later. You get into the thick of checkout, didn't happen to notice if these dudes were registered with a third-party verification service, but don't see the reassuring logo anywhere close to that credit card entry field.

Many ebusinesses offer the option to phone in your order, but you'd never know it. Once it took me seven clicks to find a toll-free ordering number (worded with very pleasant customer-service speak). Seven clicks? This hardly qualifies as customer-focused!

Yes, there truly are some folks who will search high and low for this information. Does that mean it's sufficient to include it somewhere, anywhere, on the site? No way! Put the appropriate reassurances at the appropriate Point of Action. It's an incredibly simply tactic for boosting your conversion rates!

It's Not Just Me

"What an incestuous crowd you guys are," someone recently grumped to me. Studies could substantiate every one of my claims, and yet still folks would look at me with some skepticism. "You're trained to see these problems."

Yep. I'm trained to evaluate conversion practices. But I'm also a shopper, just like you and everyone else out there. I took my own informal survey, and here's how my fellow compatriots reacted to my biggest gripes:

  • Requiring Registration: 80% find it irritating

  • Capturing Personal Information: 100% find it irritating

  • Disparity in Shipping Charges: 80% find it irritating

  • Where-o-where Continue Shopping Button: 100% find it irritating

  • Where-o-where Point of Action Assurances: 100% find it irritating

For trained folks "in the know," these are pretty appalling percentages, wouldn't you say? So just think how irritated Joe and Josephine Consumer are. And you're wondering why average conversion rates look so shabby?

Come See us

Are you an upper-level marketer, VP-ish or Director-ish? Then MarketingSherpa's new Business-to-Business Lead Generation Summit is just for you. Join Bryan and Jeffrey (Day 2, Session 3) to learn about "Converting Search Traffic to High Quality Leads." If you can't make the summit in October in DC, then shoot for the same summit in November in San Francisco!

Volume 98: 9/15/04

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