The Benefit Of Sheer Obsession

Repeat traffic. Stickiness. Loyalty. We’re trying to have it all.

We’re buying banner ads out the wazoo, sinking our marketing budgets into 30-second stints on the Super Bowl, surveying, personalizing, keyword purchasing, search engine positioning, emailing, direct mailing .

All for one simple purpose. To get people to our site. Period.

I’ve found an alternative: Focus on obsession. It’s powerful medicine and ohhhhhh, baby, does it compel visitors to your site!

What do I mean?

Let me tell a story about a site we all know to explain why I think Obsession (with a capital O) is a commerce gold mine.

I’ve visited eBay before. I’ve even bid a few times, unsuccessfully, on various and sundry junque (the upscale version of junk). At first I didn’t even get how it worked. The whole proxy bidding thing took a while to sink in. Eventually, however, I got it. I thought, “Hey, this is really cool!” But, I had nothing I really had a hankering to buy, so I surfed away.

A few months later, I was dusting my daughter’s room, and her Disney Holiday Princess Snow White doll (third in a collectible series) caught my eye. And I suddenly remembered eBay. I turned to my daughter an said, “Hey Alex, wouldn’t it be nice to try and get the first and second dolls in this series so that you could collect the entire set?”

Remember now, I don’t currently collect Barbie dolls. In fact, I don’t currently collect anything. I don’t have time to take care of my bodily functions most of the time, let alone put time and energy into amassing a collection. I have no idea why some Barbie dolls are worth more than others, what to look for in a collectible Barbie, or why I would want to collect Barbies. No clue.

Yet today, a week after my first attempt at bidding on one specific Barbie on eBay, I have spent over $200 on four Barbies, $108.42 on books on Barbie collecting at Barnes and Noble, and have logged more hours on eBay than I have spent sleeping in the past week. Oh, and let’s not forget the $6.50 I spent on a single Spice Girls postage stamp from Russia (picked up while I waited for one of my auctions to close).

(I should also note that I still haven’t successfully won the Holiday Cinderella Barbie that I sought initially.)

What gravitational force could possibly cause a perfectly normal professional person with a life to suddenly become a screen refresh-obsessed Barbie fanatic with no life to speak of?

Obsession. Pure and simple obsession.

eBay is interested in getting people to come back to its site repeatedly to buy and sell stuff. The whole auction concept is inherently addictive, and naturally results in strong repeat visit tendencies, extremely long site visits, and, as a result, more transactions. To its credit, eBay has such a huge audience and broad user base that the sheer volume of stuff to obsess over is hard to resist.

So obsession proves to be great for eBay. And it’s exhilarating to get swept up in the whole thing.

Of course, Net addiction — which can take the form of auction addiction, chat addiction, porn addiction, ICQ addiction, or many other flavors — can become a serious problem. But within reason, it can also be an extremely effective marketing tool. It’s really about making your site valuable, rewarding and relevant to visitors, resulting in their loyal, frequent return visits.

How might we all apply some level of the obsession model in some form or another?

Let’s get back to eBay again. What really keeps people coming back is:

1. Variety and selection. eBay is continually fed hundreds of thousands of pieces of merchandise, available to buyers at prices they control, with a vast selection in most cases. The key words here are bargain, user control, and vast selection. Apply the eBay concept to your own site by providing and promoting frequent refreshes and a great and varied selection.

2. Excitement. The kill of the hunt on eBay is hard to beat. The excitement of watching your bid in the hopper during those last few minutes does offer some real thrill, especially when you actually win the item. Doesn’t even compare with your traditional shopping card purchase. How can you generate excitement on your site? Incorporate some interactive tools in the purchasing process, like the Dell Configurator or the Lands’ End Virtual Dressing Room.

3. Community. Unlike many online retail stores, eBay allows people to “see” each other, so users never have a sense of being the only one in the store. eBay’s chat rooms, message boards, and buyer and seller feedback bring the ‘real people’ aspect home. Even small things — like collecting email names and addresses and sending periodic notes to your customer base — can help them feel involved in your store. If your site is focused on a product niche, consider whether community-related services (like message boards or scheduled expert chats) can help build community.

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