Return to: GROK Dot Com 3/01/2001

A GROK Case Study: 

Hey there boys and girls! I've been promising to come to a website near you - maybe even yours - and give it the once-over with all five of my eyeballs and all eight of my senses. Time to start keeping that promise. Once a month, I'll bring you some concrete insight into concrete issues from the real virtual world. Just the stuff you've been asking for.

You and I both know we could dissect most sites to death, which might be useful but would take forever. So when I take on a website in each of these studies, I’ll focus on one primary feature, something that will illustrate an important principle everyone can use.

So welcome to, a case study that will offer you a before-and-after look at how to improve the selling process.

Overview of The Company began e-business operations in 1997 as a reseller of magazine subscriptions, both B2B and B2C. They offer over 1,000 national titles (some in languages other than English) at savings up to 85% off retail subscription prices. With the motto "We subscribe to outstanding customer service," MagMall offers several great benefits: a family-friendly (aka non-"adult") inventory, great pricing, huge selection, highly personalized service and some very nice technology for managing a family of over 3000 affiliates.

MagMall was concerned about both their professional online look and the overall organization of their website and shopping process. With a very weak return on their investments (low site penetration, high shopping cart abandonment, low conversion rate, low renewal rate), MagMall needed to make more effective use of their marketing dollars.

Grok-Identified Primary Issues

  • Usability: The site had some regrettable color choices, a proliferation of confusing elements and general disorganization to overcome. (link to original home page)
  • Navigation: It's a rare site that can't improve how it helps folks get from here to there.
  • Sales: A site should never ignore the 5-step process of sales. (To refresh your memory, read my Five Simple Steps to LOTS More Online Sales.)

Paying Attention to the 5-Step Sales Process

PROSPECT: Present the goods your potential customer is looking for right up front. These should be the first thing they see. Notice the link dead-center on the new home page, <>: "What Magazines Are You Looking for Today?" Notice the link column: "May We Suggest." Each of these added tremendously to the ultimate conversion rate.

RAPPORT: Clean up your design, make content scannable and clear, get the important information up front, remove excess, distracting (or just plain ugly!) color, value compelling text over graphics and make the site load fast (on my system, the core information appears in under 6 seconds and the entire site is done in 10)! Compare this home page to the original to see how Future Now, Inc. did this for MagMall. Check out the improvements: white background, the tabbed categories at the top, big type, clustering of related information, phone number prominently displayed, the vast simplification of color scheme and a more "tasteful," professional appearance.

Each element is important in itself, but when you set about to develop rapport with your prospects, all these elements combine to present the character of your business. They all say a lot about your trustworthiness and how enjoyable it is going to be to do business with you - all of which encourages your prospect to penetrate further into the sales process. You further enhance your rapport if you make sure these elements are consistent through the site.

QUALIFY and PRESENT: This is the back and forth between seller and buyer that is at the heart of sales. You offer, your customer refines, you offer again. Obviously, if your customer can find what he or she wants quickly and easily (here's where your navigation and information architecture - hopefully designed the way your customers think and shop - make a huge difference), sales go up.

Click on that front-and-center presenting strategy, "What Magazines Are You Looking for Today?" Immediately, you go to a page that helps the customer qualify her needs. She has a search option. She has a whole list of categories to choose from. Or, further down on the page, she can examine bundled sales options.

From experience, MagMall learned that the bulk of their sales comes from just a few magazines. Therefore, the “May We Suggest” section was added to include these top sellers. Now click on a choice from the "May We Suggest" list. In under six seconds, you arrive at a product page that describes the magazine in detail, shows a picture, shows bundle options, and suggests related magazines (cross-selling). Pricing and savings are right there. The format for every product is consistent.

CLOSE: GTC (Get the Cash). That's the mantra, so make it easy. MagMall offers all the options and displays them prominently on product pages.

Online ordering: MagMall makes this a simple process (we are working now to streamline this even further for them) and they guide you through it with ease. Navigation through this section is straightforward and help-assisted. Also, you always know where you are in the process and what you are being asked to do. When you arrive in checkout, you are presented with a page that lists your shopping cart contents and offers payment options (checkout page). The system walks you through setting up an account, which on later visits eliminates many of the checkout steps. The form you are required to fill out is not invasive, but asks only pertinent information and allows you the option of declining future e-mail from the business. The information you enter is displayed through the rest of checkout, and you can edit it at any time.

You choose from among five methods of online payment (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover/Novus or Beenz), then review and finally confirm your order. You may also fax your order, phone in your order, or mail your order, in which case you also have the option to pay by check. Your order is confirmed both by email and also on a page that you can print out as a receipt.

Assurances. When the customer is getting closer to the purchase, MagMall relocates the important Point of Action information (see my article) right where it has the most impact on the customer: privacy, guarantees, a description of what's in the shopping cart. When the customer needs to see the assurance, it becomes more prominent. On the first page of checkout, they are greeted with big red letters proclaiming, "Ordering Online Is Private, Safe and Easy -- Guaranteed!" As another example, the "100% Guarantee" announcement moves higher on the screen as the buyer gets closer to the close.

A truly comforting assurance any business can offer is the positive experience of other customers. Throughout their site, MagMall offers testimonials praising various aspects of products and services - and what prospective subscriber doesn't value knowing there are folks out there who are happy with MagMall?

This is great example of implementing a lot of the stuff I've been yammering about for months. Does it work? You tell me: since these changes have been implemented, MagMall has seen its conversion ratio climb from 1.21% to 4.97%. Their closing rate QUADRUPLED!! Best of all, from MagMall's point of view, these numbers are still going up, their revenues are going up, their average order size is going up, and at the same time their marketing expenses are going down.

Will it work for you? Do Martians come from Outer Space?

See you next month, same Grok-time, same Grok-channel, for a whole new Case Study that will help you make more money from your online business.

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