Bumps in the Sales Road, Part 2

This is the second in a series about snags customers hit that prevent them from giving you their money. We spend megadollars on marketing, and often it works. Qualified prospects, armed with credit cards, arrive on your home page ready to spend. Too often, however, bumps appear along the way that prevent them from purchasing. Bumps may drive them to your competitor.

Last time, I discussed incomplete (or nonexistent) product information and difficulties in obtaining purchase assistance. Today, resolving those problems.

Problem Resolution

Like purchase assistance, problem resolution often involves reaching into the customer service department, but with a big difference. Purchase assistance is critical to winning a customer and closing the sale. With problem resolution, you already landed the customer. If you want to keep the customer, this one’s a biggie.

Would you believe one site I transacted with provides a toll-free number for easy purchase assistance but requires I dial a regular number (and wait on hold!) to report a problem with the product? The return process ended up taking an hour of my time (not including the line at the post office) over the course of several days.

Amazon.com, on the other hand, did a great job when a gift left in the rain was ruined. Return instructions on the site were clear, the process was easy. UPS arrived the next day to pick up the ruined package. A replacement arrived shortly thereafter. I never had to pick up the phone. It all took less than two minutes of time, total.

Customer acquisition is a battleground that gets lots of attention. Wins and losses are tallied daily, if not hourly.

Problem resolution is not, but it’s a battleground nonetheless. Perhaps it’s even the more important one, considering the money spent to acquire the customer and the fact they’re yours to lose at this delicate moment.

Even if customer service is a completely separate department with little or no marketing interaction, make it your business to get involved with the problem-resolution process. Every communication with a customer, positive or negative, is a marketing opportunity. You’ll improve the return on your marketing dollars.

Shipping Costs

It should be common knowledge potential customers want to understand shipping costs before they place orders. So why do some sites hide them until the very last minute? Brilliant marketing doesn’t include waiting until customers almost complete the checkout process to spring additional costs in the hope they’ll shrug it off and hit the buy button.

My shopping spree produced a wide range of shipping-cost results. Many sites prominently display the link to shipping costs throughout the process. At these sites, users can either determine (or at least estimate) shipping costs before they purchase.

It’s disappointing to encounter sites whose only mention of shipping costs is a blurb that says something like, “Shipping costs will be provided once your total order is complete.” Suspicious customers may leave your site, assuming costs must be high if you won’t disclose them up front. I find myself wary of this, even though often it isn’t true.

Luckily for marketers, it’s easy to fix. Tweak the site so shipping charges are clearly displayed and easy to find. If you can’t provide exact costs, explain the determining factors. Are costs based on weight, dollar amount, or geography? What’s the cost difference between standard and expedited delivery? If you’re guilty of this stumbling block, fix it. Now.

Product Availability

Quite a few sites wait until checkout is almost complete to inform you an item is out of stock. Wearing my consumer hat, I find this disrespectful of my time. Do these savvy marketers wait until the last minute in hope the customer will have invested too much time in the purchase to back out? As with shipping costs, some customers will proceed with the transaction to avoid starting over somewhere else. Not me.

As a marketer, I understand there are legitimate reasons why product availability may not be easy to determine early in the purchase process. Perhaps your back-end inventory system doesn’t work that way. Think your customers care? They don’t.

Winners make product availability a seamless part of the purchase process early on. Some specify on the product page if it’s out of stock. As a customer and a marketer, I like Lands’ End‘s method. If a customer chooses an item that’s out of stock, a page appears that includes every pertinent option a customer could need: estimated in-stock date; an option to backorder the item; and an option to remove it from the cart. And, Lands’ End suggests in-stock alternate items.

Does your site make product availability easy to determine or wait until checkout to disappoint the customer? If you wait until the last minute, investigate why. (Remember, customers don’t care why.) You may save a few sales by getting customers to the very last step before springing the bad news. But how many sales, current and future, do you lose? Consumers are as busy as marketers. Respect their time as well as their dollars if you want loyalty.

There are more obstacles to discuss — some easy to fix. Stay tuned for part three.

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