The Devil’s in the Details

As you can imagine, I do a lot of my shopping online. Hey, might as well, eh? So when I started to experience a recurrent problem, I got to wondering, “What gives?”

You see, I was getting a surprising number of order rejections, some of which were nicely phrased, some of which were a little less circumspect about accusing me of error. Most of them suggested I return to the site, carefully place my order all over again, and carefully fill out the various shopping cart information forms.

Guess how thrilled I was at the thought of having to go through this process a second time. Guess what I didn’t do. Guess who lost a customer.

And for what? Ah, therein is the tale.

The culprit, in my case, was technology. I got this brand new mouse with a wheelie thing in the center, so now I can actually scroll down Web pages without fussing with the rightmost scroll bar (yes, I am admittedly slow to adopt new technologies … probably at about the same pace as John Q. Publick).

Scrolling wheelies are totally cool. Everyone should have one. Everyone very soon will have one, given that new developments usually make old ones obsolete.

Wheelie mice can benefit your persuasive process. You know how I always tell you to keep your visitor focused on the active window, and how any distraction that draws your visitor away from that area is an encouragement to leave? Well, when your visitor doesn’t have to fuss with a scroll bar on the screen, she’s much more likely to a) scroll down to see your below-the-fold content and b) stay with you. Cool!


You know those option boxes, especially in the checkout process, that require you to select your answer from a list? They get used a lot for state, province or country information. And dates. Like your credit card expiration date.

An indecent number of order rejections later, I have realized that when you select an option in one of those boxes, you must actually click outside the box (anywhere on the screen will do) to lock in your selection. If you scoot on down to fill in the next piece of information, without clicking your wheelie mouse to start navigating the page, your mouse continues to scroll through the option list. The source of my problem? The last piece of information you usually have to supply during checkout, before hitting the submit button, is your credit card expiration.

So, trying to scroll toward the submit button, you have actually changed your credit card expiry from 2004 to 2009, before you realize the wheelie isn’t scrolling the page. Furrowing your brow, focused on the fact the wheel isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing – and completely unaware you’ve entered a new expiry – you click your mouse (the technological equivalent of kicking your car’s tires), thereby locking in your new selection – and continue with the process.

You submit the order (many allow you to reconfirm shipping and billing information, but few bother with a confirmation of credit card information), print out your invoice and set it aside against unforeseeable glitches in delivery.

The next thing you know, you’ve got one of those emails that I got (hopefully a nice one). “Your credit card was declined.”

Shoot, I think, I could buy a freaking car on my credit line. What’s the matter?

Mea culpa. No two ways about it, I messed up. I really did enter the wrong information and didn’t even know it. And, yes, I felt stupid. But, no, the problem isn’t mine, it’s still yours. Because I probably won’t be back. So here’s how you can help plug one of those leaks in your conversion bucket:

  • Never accuse the customer of being wrong, even when it is abundantly clear your customer is an idiot.
  • Never ask the customer to return to your Web site and go through the whole process again. Nine times out of ten, he won’t.
  • Instead, if you have to send a decline, phrase it soothingly and offer a real customer service number so a human can resolve the problem on the existing order. If it was submitted, you have a record of it. And everyone asks for phone numbers in checkout, presumably so they can contact you if there are difficulties with the order. Think about it. Which alternative do you think is more likely to persuade your customer: an extremely polite customer service rep calls you to confirm information or an impersonal letter lands in your email and tells you to go back and place your order?
  • Employ opportunities for confirmation, and provide edit options within your checkout process.
  • Reconsider using option boxes that can be affected by wheelie mice.
  • Encourage manual entry of critical information (of course this introduces a different opportunity for human error – see above about the phone number).
  • Devise a tactic that encourages your customer to lock in an entry field. Even a totally fake “click here to lock the selection” would work.
  • We’re not talking people who bailed on the home page or even from the shopping cart. These are completed orders, guys and gals … “Roger, Houston, conversion mission successful.” If this is happening to me, it’s happening to others as well. So find a way around the problem, because I know you don’t want to lose folks to a wheelie mouse!

    click here for a printable version of this entire article

    Advanced Copywriting for you?

    You’ve heard me say it often enough, “Speak to the dog in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog.” Meat matters to the dog. That’s what gets the dog so excited he can’t wait to get his teeth into that meat.

    For this contest, we’re asking you to write sales copy to promote that splendid book Persuasive Online Copywriting (yours truly on the cover, no less). But don’t write just any old copy. Write copy that will do the same thing that meat does for the dog. Identify the critical message, in language folks will find appealing, that gets them excited about sinking their teeth into this book.

    You may submit as many entries as you like up until the deadline, November 17, 2003. Send them to We’ll fly the winner from anywhere in the 48 states to New York City, expenses paid, for a day of in-depth copywriting training at the offices of Future Now.

    From November 13 to November 15 we'll be hosting our intense 3 day Academy, the “Wizards of Web”. Make your reservations soon.

    If you can't make that event, make sure to get your copy of Persuasive Online Copywriting? Don't forget to enter in our copywriting contest. Have you checked out the other places to meet us on our latest event schedule?


    Go Beyond “It’s the Customer,” Grasshopper!

    When I first started writing this newsletter, we made a decision not to maintain a public online archive of my articles. Now, there are advantages and disadvantages to this (ain't that true for everything?). But one of the big advantages (okay, so maybe it's more of an ego boost) for me is that folks sometimes write and ask me to reprint an article they could really benefit from reading again.

    I'm tickled green to satisfy a request (thanks, Geoff!). "The Buying Process Leads to a Decision to Buy" originally ran on 10/15/02. But it's just as timely now!

    We’ve talked often enough about the five steps of the sales process; it’s a mandatory structural element in the persuasive architecture of your site.  But at the same time you’re “selling,” an activity you largely control, your visitors are “buying,” an activity they largely control.

    The trick to making your conversion rate soar is to construct your sales process so it is in tune with how folks decide to buy whatever you offer.

    So let’s look at some of the factors that make up the decision to buy.

    The Buying Decision Process

    Whenever folks make a buying decision, that decision represents the culmination of a process.  It may take place almost instantaneously or stretch out over a long period of time – but it’s a process, not an event.   

    No matter how long the process takes, the buying decision always begins when folks become aware of a need.  Once they have identified that need, they begin to search for and explore possible avenues for meeting it.  While gathering information, they refine and evaluate all the buying criteria that will affect the decision to purchase and narrow the field of choice to the “best few” alternatives.  Once they reach a decision and choose, they take action by making a purchase.  (Keep in mind those horrid shopping cart abandonment rates – making a decision to purchase is not the same thing as completing the purchase!)  The final step in the process involves a reevaluation of the decision and its results.

    To summarize, the steps of the buying decision process are:

    The Nature of the Buy

    The way folks make buying decisions depends on the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve and the complexity of each step in the decision process.  This will affect how you manage the sale.

    If their needs and the decision-making process are simple, all you need to do is make your visitors aware of you, build confidence, differentiate yourself, demonstrate value and guide them through a very simple shopping and buying process. This is why lower-end, branded products sell so well. Think of buying a book from

    If the needs and the decision-making process are highly complex, then you need to make people aware of you, build relationships, educate them (and perhaps many different individuals or teams within the same organization), show sensitivity to the different decision-makers, influencers and groups, and resolve conflicting needs, so you can custom-tailor your solutions and make the buying process as painless and positive as possible. Think of purchasing a multi-million dollar piece of equipment that needs five departments to sign off to close the deal.

    It also helps if you understand and incorporate how folks think about buying what you offer.  Are they going to compare similar models in different brands?  Are they looking for the range offered by one manufacturer?  Do they think of the purchase in terms of a hierarchy of benefits, with some more important than others?  Is the best way to showcase your product or service to compare it with someone else’s stuff?

    Propensity to Buy

    You get four types of traffic, and each group is primed with a different level of motivation and preparedness – the classic “propensity to buy.”  First, you’ve got the to-die-for perfect visitors; they are the ones who know exactly what they want and come to you looking for features, brands, and model numbers.

    Then you’ve got the visitors who sort of know what they want. These are folks who have identified a strongly felt need, but they’re still in the process of narrowing down their search criteria.

    Then there are the window shoppers, folks who aren't sure they want anything, but might buy if they saw something that interested them. They have no strongly felt need in mind, but one could be suggested to them.

    The fourth group aren't really prospects. They're lost or there by mistake. Be happy when they go away.

    You don’t know where your visitors are in the process when they land on your site, so you’ve got to plan for each possibility.  You’ve got to help the folks who know exactly what they want get to it quickly; make them jump through too many hoops and they’re gone.  You’ve got to help the ones still mulling it over by offering pertinent information where and when they are most likely to need it, as well as persuading them you’re the logical business choice.   You’ve got to be most engaging and appealing for the window shopper, and you’ve got to let the lost soul quickly figure out he doesn’t belong there.

    It also helps to consider that not all your visitors are prepared or even inclined to make a decision when they first visit your site – sometimes a successful conversion is the result of multiple visits.  So you’d like to give folks a reason to come back.

    Buying is an Emotional Decision

    Yeah, I’ve hounded you about this one, but it really is the piece that pulls it all together.  Folks rationalize the decision to buy based on facts, but they make the decision to buy based on feelings.  The single biggest motivator in buying is emotional response .  And that takes place on two levels.

    In part, it’s the emotional response that comes when folks imagine themselves enjoying the benefits of what you offer.  Put them in the driver’s seat, and they are that much closer to being able to see themselves making the decision to buy.

    Am I saying “Ditch the features?”  Absolutely not.  You should make your features available and present them as corollaries to benefits.  After all, some of your visitors, particularly analytic types who will pointedly look for this stuff, feel more comfortable emotionally with facts and specifications.

    And that brings me to the other aspect of emotional response.  Folks buy when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to believe that buying will make them feel good. Ignore this, and most of your visitors will bail out. Tap into it, and watch your conversion rate climb.  Because, at then end of the day, it’s not facts that convince customers to go with your company.  It's emotion.

    Package Buying with Selling

    The persuasive architecture of your entire site must recognize every step of the buying decision process. Each step feeds and leads to the others. Although the process ultimately is linear, there can be feedback loops within the process as folks reevaluate information. So, it's not unusual to address multiple steps on a single page.

    To successfully get your visitors to take action you must be able to see the world from their "buying" point of view.  So learn how to address and package the buying process within your selling process.  It will make a world of difference!

    click here for a printable version of this entire article


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