Shopus Interruptus

I recently got an itch to shop for toys. For real, in a real store. I found a great one, with fun, high-tech gadgets. I drove over, walked inside, grabbed a cart, and pushed it down the aisle. I saw something I liked, put it in the cart, and… BAM! I found myself and the cart in this little white room.

Excuse me? I looked for a door. Couldn’t find one. I got a little panicky. Suddenly, I heard a deep, spooky voice say, “You must stare into your cart for at least 10 seconds before we will let you continue shopping.” Trembling, I did. The voice said, “OK, you can leave now. If you can find your way out.”

It took a while. Finally, I found a tiny button labeled “continue shopping.” I pressed it. A secret door opened. Was I ever glad to get out of there!

Then I realized I was in a completely different part of the store. It felt like ages to find the spot where I started and to reorient. Still uneasy, I continued down the aisle, saw another fantastic toy, put it in the cart, and WHAMMO! I was back in that white room, staring at the darned cart. I did not want to hear that voice again. So I stared at the cart for a full 10 seconds (and a couple more, just to be sure), hunted for the button, got out of there, abandoned the cart, and got the heck out of that store.

A pretty scary story. But many of you have Web sites just like that store. Maybe some programmers or developers shop differently than the rest of us. Let’s blame them, as I’m unwilling to blame business people who should know better. Why else would they interrupt the Zen of shopping by forcing us, every time we select something, to a page with itemized shopping cart contents? Pick an item, and off you go to stare at that cart again. And again. Is the cart that important? It’s often a real pain to figure out how you’re supposed to get back to where you left off!

Isn’t a quick, simple confirmation better when we choose an item? Perhaps the sound of something landing in a cart, maybe a graphic of a full shopping cart. Let customers stay put, stay oriented, and do what they came there for: shop. Sure, I’d like the option to check my cart now and again, but how hard is that to provide? Should I buy more stuff or stare at that cart until I give up and shop somewhere else?

My next rant spares the real-world analogy. It’s just too frightening.

What gives with forcing shoppers to register before you let them check out? An absurd, insatiable hunger for data causes thousands of transactions to be abandoned daily. If I’m a registered user, you’ll know soon enough. I’ll submit the right information along with my order, shipping and billing info, and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — my credit card number.

Sure, the entire transaction might be easier (for whom?) if you had my profile available. You must respect a shopper’s right to be idiosyncratic, dim-witted, or just plain ornery. Your job is to find a technological way to finish the transaction (it’s not that hard). If I’m unregistered and have no customer profile, aren’t you better off getting that information during checkout?

Once you’ve confirmed the order is complete, request a password to set up a profile. Even if I don’t chose to create one, you can process my transaction without disrupting my buying experience.

Who set the priorities? What inspired someone to think registration is more valuable than a transaction (in some instances this is possible, but have you tested and evaluated)? Who runs those stores?

Do I sound upset? I am. Almost three years ago, I wrote about these issues. We’ve never failed to increase a client’s conversion rate by fixing these shopping cart issues. Years ago, more IT departments were in charge of Web sites. Supposedly, business people now call the shots.

Or do they? Let me know if you think business people are in control.

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