Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/15/2000

Who’s REALLY Running Your Store?
No, there hasn’t been a boardroom coup (at least not that I know of). But who’s calling the shots on the look, feel, content and process of your website? Or, put another way: would you allow your designers and programmers to run your business? Of course the right answer is “no”, but if they’re calling the shots as to what happens on your site, then the real - and scary - answer is “yes”. 

Designers and programmers want to push at the leading edge of the technology and the interface. It’s only natural. They eat and breathe web stuff, demanding even smarter scripting and more advanced languages than we already have. "We get it, we've got it, we're ready to move on," they chortle. But your customers AREN’T ready to move on. Heck, they haven’t even gotten there yet.

If your goal is to slow your prospects’ downloads, complicate the shopping process, distract them from buying, and ultimately send them screaming in frustration to your competition, then high-tech glitz is just the ticket. But if you want to increase sales, then, to twist the cliché, just don’t do it! found this out the hard way. They burned through $135 million in just a year and then went bankrupt because their focus was not remotely on what their customers really wanted. Their focus was on what their go-to-the-edge-and-damn-the-bandwidth design team wanted to parade: a high-tech site design that was so slow to download, customers simply left - assuming their browsers didn't crash first.i They assumed what their customers wanted, and they assumed wrong. And don’t be misled, this isn’t about bandwidth, and more bandwidth would not have saved them - although their incredible blindness to modem reality certainly didn’t help.

What we have here is a Technology Gap between the developers and your customers. Zona Research estimated that U.S. e-tailers lost over $4.35 billion in 1998 due to unacceptably slow download speeds and resulting user bailouts alone.ii And the problem is getting worse, not better. The Marie Antionettes of tech and design, fluent in languages like XML and Cold Fusion, surrounded by 21-inch monitors and coddled by 800 MHz machines interconnected by DSL or T-1 lines, just don’t get the fact that the largest group of Mr. and Ms. Customer still surfs at speeds under 56K, is anxious about going online at all, and is still trying to figure out hyperlinks and menu bars.

On top of this, consider results from studies that prove people out there don't even want fancy graphics when they go shopping, nor do they care about background music, animations, or any other “entertainment.” What they do want is to find the information they need to make their purchase quickly, easily, and safely. Also, the rules of print design do not apply on a website. When shoppers read a printed page, their eyes gravitate toward the pictures. (Yeah, you knew that.) But on a site, your site, their eyes avoid the pictures and search for useful text.iii (Bet you didn’t know that!) And they certainly don't want to wait ages for those unnecessary images to download. Oh, and just how much does it help your shopper to tell them that in order to view your site they have to get a plug-in, wait for it to download, and install it? (Get a what? Do…what? And wait even longer? I’m OUTTA here!!)

You’d think with all this information out there, along with and lots of other sites like it having gone up in smoke, at least the BIG guys would get it. Uh-uh. I just read that Neiman Marcus ( is going to create an online shoe shop (complete with 360 degree views of the interior), entered "from a virtual street, which will be dark or light depending on what time the user logs on," where "shoes will gently rise from racks and pirouette when clicked on, at a speed determined by the user," the goal of which is to bring "a life-like shopping experience to dial-up modem users."iv

Huh? I guess their designers don’t read about what their sites are really supposed to do - or surf at human speeds. (And how did this monster get approved?) Imagine how long this is going to take to download. Oh, but if you’re real quiet you can hear, as shoppers storm the Bastille, the shrill voice of the designer, “Let them eat faster modems!” But slow or fast, if studies plainly show customers want quick, clear, useful information, why would anyone think a rotating shoe would make them more likely to buy? No one would who was listening to their customers or who understood selling, as opposed to technology or design or marketing.

Don't get me wrong. There's a place out there for adventurous design. Visionaries are tinkering with our future experience, and that's cool!! You want to see sites that "challenge the mind, enrich the soul and push existing web technology to its limits"?v Try,, or "These sites are not accessible to everybody, but they're not trying to be. Their purpose is to inspire a particular audience, and they succeed."

If you want to increase sales, you've got to think like your customers, see the entire process through their eyes, walk a mile in their shoes - or at least surf a mile with their mouse. Folks have known that for a long time (like, a couple thousand years!), and nothing about being online changes that, even if bored designers and programmers wish it could. So, since you can’t expect designers and programmers to be experts in sales, you have to be the one to call the shots, and “just say no” to design fantasies. Yes, you have to be the one to run your store.

i   "But More Online Shopping Sites Are On The Way." Evelyn Nussenbaum,, 5/31/00.
ii  "The Economic Impacts of Web Site Download Speeds." Zona Research with Keynote Systems.
iii "Give Them Words, Not Pictures." Nick Usborne, Clickz Network, 6/5/00.
iv Nussenbaum,, 5/31/00.
v  "HTMHell: Where Have All The Designers Gone?" Jeffrey Zeldman, Adobe Web Columns. Mr. Zeldman draws a vivid picture of the tension between designer, client and consumer


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Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/15/2000

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