Still Falling Short in E(xceptional)-tail?

When it comes to online shopping, consumer confidence is increasing. More folks are turning to the Internet for their shopping needs – this holiday season alone, online spending was up 25% over the last holiday season (according to one statistic I ran across). That’s cheery news for all of us. But don’t whoop it up too much just yet. Truth is, the mere presence of more traffic isn’t going to net you higher conversion rates.

Formulating how to interact with the nameless and faceless hordes isn’t an easy task, but that’s where your solution lies. And it’s the reason why you want to construct the persuasion architecture of your site based on personas and their buying-path scenarios.

By sharing with you Danielle’s online shopping experiences based on her participation in our 2004 Online Retail Study for Customer-Focused Excellence, I tried to make those visitors in the trenches more real to you. Now, suppose I offer you some insight, collected from the same survey, on the etail shopping experiences of two experienced conversion rate specialists? Think the “real guys” have substantially different online buying experiences? Then think again!

Holly Buchanan is our VP for Client Services. She’s been around the block many times with both B2C and B2B clients and can spot conversion obstacles a mile away. So what really bugs her enough to make her bail?

Can your customers resist you?

Could you spend quality time, have an in-depth experience with 22 e-commerce websites and walk away without buying a thing? Despite my promise to myself I was not going to buy anything on line – and with websites on my list that included hunting and fishing and battery sites – I knew I had a good chance. Despite my best efforts, I still came away with a pair of hiking shorts and a high tech headset for my cell phone. But the truly amazing thing was – that’s all I came away with. There were at least 15 websites that had merchandise I was drooling over, but there were so many problems in the process, I found myself able to resist.

Are your customers able to resist you? What are you doing that’s turning them off? Here’s my list of the top 4 things that made me say “I’d really like to have that, but, nope – not going to buy it.”

#1 - Error messages that don’t tell you what the error was.

I filled out a lengthy form with 15 fields, making sure all the required fields had information in them. Yet every time I hit the submit button, I was got a message in red at the top of the refreshed form saying, “there is an error in your form.” But they didn’t tell me what the error was. I tried changing all sorts of stuff and kept re-submitting, but I could not figure it out. After 4 tries, I finally discovered the problem was putting hyphens in my phone number. How hard are you making it for your customers to give you the information you want?

# 2 – The company name on your bill is different than the company you thought you were doing business with.

I received my monthly credit card statement – had my pre-subscribed Valium handy – and read through the charges. There was a charge from a company I’d never heard of – we’ll call them My purchase was made, I thought, from When I saw, I thought it was an unauthorized charge. It wasn’t until I did more investigating I realized what the charge was for. It left me feeling deceived and uneasy. Who was this Why weren’t they upfront with me?

#3 – Mediocre to bad copy.

One of the criteria on which sites were judged was “exceptional copy” – you got bonus points if your copy was really good. Not one of the sites I reviewed got a checkmark.

In most cases, the copy on a site was barely passable. There were product features instead of benefits, technical jargon, and overall uninspired copy that did little to truly excite me about the product. Think copy can’t help sell products? Check out

Amazing Grade Shampoo, Bath & Shower Gel

How you climb up the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain. And, so it is with life, which for many of us becomes one gigantic test followed by one gigantic lesson. In the end, it all comes down to one word. Grace. It’s how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light.

Amazing Grace shampoo, bath, and shower gel is our best selling, uniquely feminine, moisturizing shower gel for gracious bodies. Because it is formulated with nourishing milk proteins, it calms even the most sensitive skin and nourishes the driest hair. Clean skin and hair never smelled so delicious.

Compare that to what their competition and most other sites have to say:

Bath & Body Oils

Pure Natural Oils Blended with Essential Oil Scents. Soothing for all skin types. These oils can be used in the shower or after your shower for all day fresh and supple skin that is softly scented.

Which website do you think sells more bath and beauty products?

#4 – If you ask for something, you better really need it.

The only thing worse than asking for lots of superfluous information, is requiring it. There were websites where I was required to set up an account, required to give my mother’s maiden name, required to give two phone numbers, and my personal favorite – required to give a nickname. Get serious – a nickname? Required? What do I put in there? “Sparky”? “Poopsie Whoopsie”? “Hunkaburninlove”? (Ok – I do have a nickname referring to a certain rodent I resembled after putting on 25 pounds in college – but am I really going to share that with a website?) If you don’t absolutely have to have it for you to get my money and me to get my purchase, don’t ask for it.

While I’m going to be looking good in my new hiking shorts and high tech cellular headset, there are at least 13 other websites that might have gotten my business. But I was able to resist. Are your customers able to resist your website?

*  *  * 

Anthony Garcia is our Senior Persuasion Architect and author of our blog A Day in the Life of a Persuasion Architect. When I asked him to write up his experiences for me, he decided to turn my question around and focus on what worked for him.

Why I Spent 10 times more online in 2004 vs 2003

It’s been 6 long years.

It was summer 1998, and firing up my shiny new Pentium clone I dialed up, logged on and completed my very first online shopping transaction. I bought a dashboard cover for my new car, only $49.99 plus shipping. I remember thinking to myself that the future has certainly arrived. I was shopping online, I was coooooool!

So all I had to do was wait for the coveted parcel to arrive at my door.

And wait I did. In fact, I’m still waiting for that package to arrive.

That first transaction was a nightmare. I spent what felt like hours clicking through the site looking for a number to call and inquire as to the status of my order. Finally, I found an email address. Several times I emailed my questions and concerns into the online black hole. Soon my emails were returned undeliverable.

A couple weeks later, the site went offline. I’m sure little remnants of it’s digital remains lingered on in my web history file. But the site was gone, with it went my online shopping confidence.

Over the past six years it took everything in me to engage in any activity that required entering my credit card number on a website. I managed to shore up enough confidence to buy some things on Amazon. I have even used the company card to buy airline tickets online on many occasions. But when it came to spending my own hard earned money online, I admit I have been a big ole scaredy cat.

I’ve always enjoyed shopping online, but actually buying anything evokes memories of that $49.99 plus shipping lost.

Then came 2004, the year of the breakthrough

So what happened this year? Well, many sites have finally figured out how to win my confidence. Many sites have finally allowed me to shop my way. The result, this year my online spending has increased ten-fold. Granted most sites I visit still don’t come close, but I must applaud sites that have done the hard work to get things right.

So let me offer some tangible elements that pushed me over the edge this year, just in case you might want to implement them on your site. If you do, you might see a few more of my dollars thrown your way. And I can’t imagine I am alone. – Bravo Dell! Dell does a lot of things right, deeply detailed descriptions of their computers is one of those things. But the thing I love the most is the ability to save my shopping cart and come back later. It shows me that Dell understands a guy like me, a guy who needs time to think it over. – Amazon has been about the only site that has had my confidence for the last couple of years. What triggered more spending for me this year was the ability to prioritize my wish list. This neat little feature has made it easy for me to prioritize, sort and purchase the gaggle of books I want. Remember, I’m a guy who likes to think it over, so this helps me organize and better justify my purchases. – The product photos on this site are breathtaking. How many times have you been at the jewelry counter pointing to a specific small box in a jewelry case packed with small boxes. Eventually, after trying to pull out about 13 wrong items, the nice lady at the counter finally hands you the box you wanted. Bottom line, it’s easier for me to browse jewelry on RedEnvelope than in a store. The images here make me feel like I am actually holding and looking at the product.  More sites should let me see their products like this.

EBGames – Everybody in my family loves video games. And while there is nothing particularly jump up and down impressive about this site, the incredible selection of used and unused games at a nice price won me over first. But what really encouraged me to pull out my credit card was the point of purchase encouragement I received. There is was, in plain shameless sight, an actual banner on the right hand column that read in big chubby letters: “In Store Return Now Available.” You usually have to hunt for any mention of the dreaded word ‘return’ on most sites, those sites don’t get my money. But this Christmas EBGames got a nice percentage of my Christmas budget. So simple, yet so ignored by etailers at large.

Ok so there they are, just a few of the things that enticed me to fork over more cash online in the last 365 days. I know, I know, some sites have been doing similar things for years, but it was this year that many customer focused etail sites as a collective whole have knocked a big chunk of my fear of shopping online by the wayside.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, everything I ordered online this year actually arrived.

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You may have a relatively straightforward B2C sales process. Or you may have a complicated, many-tiered B2B process that actually involves multiple “sales.” Either way, the persuasion principles that encourage your site visitors to convert are fundamentally the same: build trust, provide reassurance, answer the questions they are asking and anticipate the ones they will ask.

Your goal in 2005? Think the way your visitors – specialists and neophytes alike – think, so you can sell the way they buy! Kaching!!

And Happy New Year!

Volume 103: 1/1/05

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