Surprise Me and Sell More

Last week I wrote about how buying stuff online is boring.

I got a lot of feedback on that.

Here’s a passage from one of the most interesting emails:

“When you visit most supermarkets, the design and concept is the same. There really isn’t much of a difference: the magazines are by the checkout counter, the warm beverages are in the front and the cold beverages are located in the rear. In spite of the distinctive print and radio media advertising, the product is still the same. The same goes for designer stores, clothing and many other products I can name. Isn’t if funny how people don’t complain about that.”

Interesting point.

While I was arguing that web sites share a numbing, vanilla blandness, here’s someone saying, “Hey, it’s the same offline. So what’s your point?”

Well, it really isn’t the same offline.

Yes, offline stores tend to be designed and laid out in very similar and familiar formats.

But real stores contain people. Assistants and checkout people. Guys and girls, big and small, tall and short, grumpy and happy.

And that changes everything.

Because while the interior design of a store may be the same as many others, and while the product selection may be very similar too, it’s the people you find behind the counters that make it different.

People provide the potential for the unexpected. People can surprise you. People make the shopping experience more personable and enjoyable.

So here’s something to try on your site.

Give your site a human voice. That voice could belong to you or to some of the people you work with.

As an example, let’s say I’m buying water bottles and some nutrition bars at a mountain biking site.

I think it would be neat to find a short note from one of the site employees, posted on the page, saying something like…

“Definitely the best water bottles! I dropped mine in a race last week and at least five other riders ran over it. No problemo! It’s still fine!”
Jason, Programmer

Or maybe a note from someone in shipping…

“It’s your lucky day! I’m putting a free spoke spanner in every order shipped between now and the end of the day.”
Susan, Shipping

Or something from you, the big boss person…

“Come back soon! You never know what our people here will be saying or giving away next time. Heck… even I don’t know what they’ll be coming up with next!”
Sam, The Boss

And that’s one of the keys. Being unexpected.

You don’t want to drive this kind of activity with that fancy profiling software. You want to drive it with your people. Give them a voice on the site. Give them some guidelines and some flexibility.

Surprise your visitors. Surprise yourself.

So when your customers are faced with the choice between your site and the competition, maybe they’ll come to yours because they look forward to being surprised.

They don’t know where in the site they’ll come across a comment or offer. And they may not be delighted every time.

But they’ll appreciate the unexpected.

And they won’t be bored.

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