A (Very Average) Consumer's Guide to E-Commerce
I am not a serial shopper. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. It’s an event when I go outside of my zone to purchase something online, which makes me an incredibly average consumer. I’m so average, in fact, that I am almost exceptional in the eyes of e-commerce professionals. It’s important for you to get inside my head, so let’s begin there.
Easter is around the corner, and I have two sons for whom I like to buy gifts each year. They're a little too old to expect much from the Easter Bunny, but the Baseball Bunny still delivers shiny new accessories for their upcoming youth seasons. There is an overpriced, independently owned sports store in the town that I live, and two large retailers several miles away—none of which I’m ever in the mood to visit in person. There is nothing savvy or sophisticated about the following process, which I begin by browsing the websites of the two national chains.
I go to the first site because of the company's greater advertising presence, giving it the initial edge. I am instantly disappointed to find out that I am even more ordinary than I thought. Huge banner ads fly off my screen, alerting me of the biggest selection of youth baseball gear on the planet. After a moment's reflection, I’m actually flattered by the attention and I decide that there’s no reason to investigate the matter further. Finally, my curiosity takes over and before I proceed with National Retailer No. 1, I am compelled to find out if National Retailer No. 2 has a similar display.
Of course they do, but they will also provide free shipping on said baseball items if I spend a certain amount, and they include a cash incentive for spending an even higher amount. All this I gather from the first five seconds on the homepage, without making a single click. It insults my consumer intelligence a little bit for them to believe that I can be so easily swayed, but it turns out that I can. Sorry, No. 1, but now it’s National Retailer No. 2’s game to lose. Unless they stray from any of the guidelines below, there’s a very good chance I won’t be coming back to you. If they do, I will, and I’ll probably come back next Easter, too.
• Be professional looking at your worst, sleek and multi-functional at your best. An attractive website will get my business more than a boring-looking one, and an unprofessional, amateurish site will never get it. If you give up functionality for design, though, you’ve lost me. I’m simple, but I also have standards.
• Don’t pressure me, dammit! Don’t ask me for my information until I get to know you a little better. If you can keep my interest until time of purchase, there’s a good chance I’ll give you everything you need to continue a relationship. But if you start pestering me too soon for my e-mail address and ask me to take a survey, I’m moving on.
• No pushy salespeople, please. Those I can find at your stores, and I am avoiding them for a reason. I appreciate knowing that customer service is available when I need it by providing a phone number or e-mail address, but please don’t pop up in my face every time I change screens. If you do, I’ll have to bail out.
• Be smart about how you present the merchandise. Sharp images are a must, but please don’t make me jump through a lot of hoops to see them. Also, I like to see your least expensive and/or most popular items first, not your most expensive ones—I scare easily. The same goes for 28 display pages of batting gloves. I may be average, but I do have a life and I’d like to get back to it.
• Please ease my fears somewhere in the process. Let me know that you take your security and my privacy seriously, whether it’s with a seal of verification, a disclosure agreement, whatever. I need to have something to ease my mind.
• Don’t threaten me! A really convenient and seamless return policy is fantastic, but not a dealbreaker. Don’t draw attention to the fact that you will NOT make it convenient and seamless by posting threatening-sounding return policies.
• Make me feel superior. I love to think I’m getting a deal, no matter how transparent it looks or how real it actually is. The original sale price crossed out in favor of a new price—done more tastefully than tackily—gets me every time.
• Make me feel like part of the group, too. Testimonials also work for me if used in the same tasteful manner. User reviews are even more persuasive.
• Don’t string me along, please. Don’t make the checkout process a burden once I’ve found what I want, or tell me that my item is out of stock after I've spent 10 minutes selecting it. The sooner you can send me on my way or steer me in the right direction, the more likely I am to come back.
That's really all there is to it. Once I'm on your site, you'll have to offend me, ignore me, try to cheat me, scare me or insult me to get me off. If you can manage not to do those things there's a good chance I'll be back, after I brag about my purchase to all of my extraordinarily average consumer friends.