To Be or Not to Be Transparent?

How far are you willing to go to convert a sale?

Would you be willing to lie? Cheat? Steal?

I didn’t think so. Most of us wouldn’t.

How about just ever so slightly burying a fact — one that’s essential and potentially harmful to your sales — at the bottom of the page?

Now you judge.

My Little Tale

One day several weeks ago, I noticed my Apple MacBook Pro laptop battery was driving toward a slow and painful death. As so often happens with those of us who use a laptop for a primary machine, we can often just wear the poor thing down to its lithium ion bones.

I started to talk about it a bit around the office, and got a very good recommendation from a colleague. He had purchased a battery made by a third-party for his MacBook Pro and was pleased with it. The battery was less expensive than the brand name manufacturer’s replacement and boasted a 50 percent plus higher capacity.

So week before last I got the URL from John, and with credit card in hand I went to FastMac.com, easily found the exact battery I needed, added it to my cart, and quickly completed an order. I bought it without even reading the product description; John’s good experience was sufficient enough for me to plop down $99 “sight unseen.” I can’t imagine I’m the only person who does this on occasion.

As you may already know, in the universe of Apple users, word of mouth travels far and fast. So you might also not be surprised to hear the news that at the time I bought the battery, it was completely sold out.

That would have been a nice thing to know before I handed over my credit card number.

This is the part of the story where my blood begins to simmer a bit, so please excuse me if my column starts to teem with a bit of anger.

You see, I needed this battery before I hit the road next week. So on Monday, I returned to the site to check the status of my order. I was a bit irked to find that my order still had not been shipped and was marked as “in process.”

Where’s Waldo?

Then I went on a hunt to determine exactly what was going on. I wanted my battery and I wanted it yesterday. After a little bit of time and diligence, I finally discovered that this particular laptop battery was out of stock until May.

In all fairness, technically, that information was on the Web site when I made the purchase.

Click on this thumbnail image and see if you can find it.


Waldo was a little less elusive than this information.

Maybe it was easier for you to find it than me — even when I was intentionally looking for it. But I was never good at Waldo. Even if your visitors were award-winning Waldo hunters, you shouldn’t force them to scroll, squint, and break a sweat to find information important to their buying decision.

Additionally, I didn’t see this information anywhere in the checkout process.

Why did the team at FastMac.com place this information where they did? Did they think that simply placing it on the page means that people would actually read it? Do they have an actual technical challenge that somehow makes it difficult to place this information higher up on the page?

Maybe I’m jaded, but did they deliberately place it at the very bottom of the page to ensure better conversion? I have to ask, especially for a specialty e-commerce site like this with limited SKUs (define).

Here was my message to FastMac.com sales:

    I’d like to cancel my order #37959. When something is out of stock for as long as this is — you should let people know on the top of the page or near the add to cart button. I lost a week waiting to see what happened to my order and I had no idea the item was out of stock. I am extremely frustrated.

And here was FastMac’s response:

    Hi Bryan
    Thanks for contacting us.
    I am sorry for the inconvenience.
    I will inform our sales department regarding your experience and will make the necessary adjustments.
    I’ve also informed our accounting department and we cancelled your order.

    If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to send us an email

    Fastmac Customer Service

As of my writing, the page is exactly the same and they still haven’t followed my request to place the information near the “add to cart” button.

What Would You Have Done?

Am I overreacting? Am I the one to blame here? Should I have read the entire page before I hit “add to cart”?

What would your e-commerce site have done? Would you have been more transparent? How would you have responded to my contact form?

Was this a moral decision/situation? Where does a vendor’s obligation end and the customer’s responsibility begin?

How does your company handle decisions like this?

I’ll be happy to share what you share in my next column.

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