Neither the Time Nor the Place

Frankly, the best way to sum up the secret of e-business success is to say it’s all about relevance. Everything on your Web site must feed into your task-oriented prospects’ need for relevance. Everything. Forget this and chances are your prospects will indeed take an action — such as leaving your site and leaping to your competitor’s instead.

Are you ready to shop with me? Let’s think “clothing.” And to keep it simple, we’ll visit no more than three stores. If we went to a brick-and-mortar clothing store, we’d usually want to try on the clothes. If they didn’t fit, we wouldn’t be buying them, right? Fit is important. It’s a genuine source of concern. That’s why real-world clothing stores have fitting rooms on otherwise valuable floor space. Real-world clothiers certainly know you need to be happy — delighted, even — with your purchase or you won’t be back, except to get a refund.

But who ever heard of an online fitting room (other than a handful of stores that have implemented My Virtual Model)? So when you buy clothing at a Web site, you enjoy knowing if the item arrives and doesn’t fit, returns, refunds, and exchanges are easy. You want to know this when you are about to click the “Add to Cart” button, because if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of buying clothes online for fear of potential misfits, then this is where you’d want that concern addressed. In other words, this is the point where you’ll either feel confident enough to “add to cart” or back off and likely be a lost sale.

We call this the “point of action.” It’s the point when your prospect is ready to take an action — any action — and you need to address the basic, essential concerns relevant to that action right then and there. This applies to any user experience with any type of commercial Web site. It’s a dead simple tactic, and it works!

First Stop: Lands’ End

This direct-marketing giant has figured out how to do lots of things right. Today it wants to build me a customized pair of chinos and promises I’ll love the fit. So I go for the custom-fit chinos.

I land on the product page and read the benefits: just a few minutes to fill in measurements, discussion of the product qualities, shipping information… it’ll even store my measurements for future purchases. I see a “More information below” link, so I click. Not a word in the copy tells me about exchanges or refunds if the item doesn’t fit. But there is a link to talk to a live person if I have a question. I don’t feel the need to talk to someone, so I’ll pass on that. I would just like to see a few reassuring words.

I decide to order a pair even without the reassurance, which sends me next through a series of secure pages. Before I log on to my account, I find its generally ubiquitous “Guaranteed, Period. If you’re not satisfied with any item, return it at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price.” A tad late, but I feel a bit better anyway. The guarantee is in pretty much the right spot, just a little late.

Just a few months ago Lands’ End did this differently, using up a lot of my trust and energy to get those chinos in my shopping cart, giving me this reassurance in the wrong space and at the wrong time. I guess those smart marketers finally figured out buying would be easier for the customer if he got some reassurance earlier in the game — and they are right.

Next Stop: L.L.Bean

L.L.Bean is another well-known direct marketing giant. I land on the home page — no general “shop with confidence” message. But as I scrutinize the left navigation bar, I see a link to a guarantee. Nice, but, again, that’s not what I’m looking for at this moment. It isn’t what most folks are looking for when they hit the home page — unless they’re shopping for the store with the best guarantee. Most folks may not yet know if they are going to buy anything. So this guarantee is in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

I see a shirt I like. I click through to the product page. No assurance at the point where I’m going to add this shirt to my shopping bag. I add it anyway. No confidence statement on the shopping bag page. Hmmm.

If I didn’t know this company by its reputation, I would now have severe doubts about exactly what the return policy is. Just when the company is about to get me to take the action it wants — that is, to buy the shirt — it’s created an immediate objection in my mind toward doing so.

This cannot be the company’s intent because L.L.Bean has a total-confidence guarantee. If you find it, you’ll see:

Our products are guaranteed to give 100 percent satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We will replace it, refund your purchase price or credit your credit card. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.

Heck, that’s what I wanted to know! It’s a great policy, but you’ve got to disengage from the shopping process to read it or know L.L.Bean. So once again, even though the policy is right, it’s in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Third Stop: Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer is also a well-known direct marketing giant. I hit the home page. Just like L.L.Bean, no overall “shop with confidence” message is visible. This time I focus my laser-like purchasing rifle on a cotton sweater. When I get to the product page, there are no points-of-action reassurances. Continuing, as at the other stores, I bravely add it anyway. There is a hint of reassurance on the shopping cart page (“Easy Returns” is not emphasized). I decide to check out.

Now, Eddie Bauer does, in fact, have an excellent return policy (unchanged since 1920). Here’s an example of how a reassuring message can be hidden and lose its effectiveness.

Final Destination: Increased Conversion Rates

Are you providing those critical little reassurances exactly where folks need to see them, or are you leaving money on the table? You can’t bank on all your prospects’ knowing your reputation. It’s not enough to have your policies “just somewhere” on your Web site. Folks want confidence, but they don’t want to have to work for it. Your prospects don’t want to think or work hard to buy from you, so do it for them.

Simple, relevant words put in the most relevant places answer the needs of most folks and make a difference in your conversion rate. I’ve seen it work so many times. Let me know how it works for you.

Meet Bryan at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

Related reading