An Offer You Can’t Refuse

I’ve discovered a really exciting new business. It offers 100 percent conversion from prospect to buyer. Does anyone else want in on the deal? Not sure yet? What if I told you that the market is virtually universal, a true “mass market”? Our prospects include anyone who runs out of milk, juice, or bread. Can you think of any prospects? Let me explain the details…

We provide our customers a telephone number that rings to a driver’s beeper. The driver is guaranteed to pick customers up, be it raining, sleeting, or snowing. He’ll have umbrellas in hand and heat or air conditioning running in the car, and he’ll bring them right over to our store, all in under five minutes. Oh, wait. It gets better! The driver will even give them the cash to spend in the store. Skeptical? Don’t be. This is actually the premise for an e-commerce experiment Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering has been conducting for the last two years. Jared’s concern is that “the design of many sites is leaving lots of money on the table.”

Jared is discovering that even bringing people to your virtual door and giving them money — as in the example above — doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll buy.

Seventy Percent Fail to Buy

Volunteers for Jared’s research went through a rigorous selection process, which was aimed at making sure participants represent a cross-section of the Internet user population. Once selected, these folks were given money to spend on whatever products they wanted to buy. Then they started shopping. When I heard about this, I asked how I could get my share. I’d like to shop with someone else’s money. Wouldn’t you?

Well, maybe the results of the study will change your mind. On average, only 30 percent of purchases attempted could be completed. In other words, 70 out of 100 people who wanted to part with their cash couldn’t do so, even though they wanted to. Let me repeat the result: Only 30 out of 100 potential customers who went to a site to buy something could do so, even though they were given the cash to buy it.

Focused on the Wrong Priorities

“Companies are spending so much money driving new traffic, with search engine marketing, email marketing, and other marketing techniques, while they haven’t even begun to focus on making sure that the people who desire to purchase from them can. This is just another example of throwing good money after bad,” says Jared. Even scarier, one out of every five customers ends up never getting the products he thought he had purchased.

Focus on Information Architecture

Jared will be spending the next three years exploring the best practices in Web site categorization. The fundamental problem is how to get your users to the content/product they want. How do you get a user to that particular thing when you’ve got over a million pieces of content? “That’s the question we want to answer,” Jared explains.

Some of the patterns Jared has seen include:

  • There were no differences among demographics or among levels of user experience.

  • Users navigate by “pogo sticking,” or jumping back and forth between a list of items and the individual product pages.
  • Users could not correlate true download speeds with perception of speeds (it all has to do with how easily they could complete their tasks).
  • One of the predictors of impending doom is the numbers of clicks it takes from the home page to finding the products desired.

There were sites on which it took anywhere from 12 to 51 clicks to get from the home page to the cart. It doesn’t take much savvy, using a product like WebTrends, to analyze how many pages your average visitor sees before buying. Do so, and you may realize that you have a serious problem (of course, the page count will still be a rough estimate when you consider casual browsers’ addition to the mix).

Try It Yourself

Try to purchase one of those soft gel thingamajigs to support your wrist while using your mouse from an office supply site such as OfficeMax or Staples. You’ll soon see why people have difficulties navigating.

Jared’s team has researched sites across multiple industries, from apparel, pet supplies, CDs, and computer accessories to gadgets, software, movies, toys, and so on. The best categories were apparel and pet supplies, followed by CDs and videos. Still, the best performing site in the apparel category was able to collect an average of just $640 out of the $1,000 given. The worst was only able to collect an average of $73. His number one tip: Sit and watch people who really want to buy from you try to buy from you. My tip: Try the Mom Test — grab your mom and ask her to try buying something on your site; then learn from her experience.

Never forget that your potential customers are always one click away from goodbye!

P.S. Jared will be releasing a white paper when he concludes his research. Email him to ask for a copy.

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