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Your Mother Was A Hamster, And Your Father Smelt Of Elderberries

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer Inter@ction Solutions



If you had a physical store'let's say you sell kitchen gadgets'would you decide it was in your best interest to pelt customers entering your doors with rotten vegetables and insults? (I borrowed the titular insult from Monty Python, but I'm sure you have a few good ones of your own.) Of course you wouldn't. It would hurt your business.

If, during the course of your first year in business, you discovered that of all the customers who entered your store and began shopping, 51 percent of them abandoned their carts in the aisles before checkout and left, would you regret those lost sales and take steps to figure out why so many people abandoned their purchases? Of course you would.

Would you ever deliberately build this kitchen gadget business by instituting policies in your store that prevented customers from picking up and examining objects, kept your workers in the dark about product specifications, tacked on unadvertised surcharges, and told your customers they were not allowed to ask any questions? Most customers, if they encountered a store like this, would think it was a bad joke, or that they had walked into the middle of filming for a new reality TV series called 'Extreme Merchandisers From Hell.'

But it's not a far-fetched scenario. Many business-to-consumer companies that sell via their Web sites not only engage in these practices regularly, but defend them as 'the norm.' They've deluded themselves into thinking that customers accept them. They are stuck in the mindset of eight years ago, when just having a Web site was 'cool enough' to please prospective customers.

Allurent (www.allurent.com), a company formed by the union of several e-commerce specialists, including Art Technology Group (ATG), calls itself 'the Rich Internet Applications for Commerce company.' The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently issued the results of a study on 2005 online holiday shopping. After polling 775 respondents about their holiday e-commerce shopping experiences, Allurent came to some conclusions that should make any company that sells via its Web site sit up and take notice. The key finding was that 'negative online shopping experiences pose serious danger to retailers' brands.' Sounds like a no-brainer, but the results indicate that most companies continue to make the same (frankly) stupid mistakes year after year.

The Allurent survey revealed the top ten reasons why customers were turned off from shopping on a particular site. They are, in order:

1. High Shipping Costs
2. Item Not In Stock
3. Problems At Checkout
4. Poor Navigation
5. Poor Browsing Capabilities
6. Not Enough Product Details
7. Pricing
8. Inadequate Service
9. Site Errors
10. Process Was Too Slow

Many companies can be excused by number 10 ' many people still don't understand that slow page loading could be their own fault. But the other nine? In the physical retail store world, these translate to errors such as hiding your most popular items in a poor shelving location, failing to advertise sales, hiring congenitally rude salespeople or salespeople who speak only Latvian, ensuring that the store permanently smells like boiled cabbage and is decorated like the interior of the average garage shed, and keeping the temperature inside either below 58 or above 92 degrees. Maybe as an extra nice touch, these stores could train their greeters to drop a parting comment to shoppers leaving the store. 'Nice shoes, lady. 1982 wants them back.' or 'Gee, sir, maybe that bad comb-over fools your grandmother, but nobody else is buying it.'

A store that operates like this would have a low rate of returning shoppers. Probably only 18 percent or less of consumers would return to the store after a bad experience. Does that seem low? (Let's say we take the cabbage smell and the insulting greeters out of the equation.) That's exactly how many people claim they would return to a Web site where they've experienced difficulties. The non-masochistic portion, 82 percent, say they're unlikely to return to a Web site on which they had a poor shopping experience, according to the study. Potentially even more significant than that, nearly one third of people who have had a bad experience on an e-commerce Web site say they are less likely to shop at the company's retail stores because of that sour experience.

To quote Miss Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, 'My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.' (The wisdom that can be gleaned from BBC costume dramas should never be underestimated.) Eight years ago, neglecting your b-to-c Web site meant missing a hiccup of sales. The total e-commerce shopping take for the 2005 holiday season has been stated at $28.2 billion, including travel-related purchases. (The total for the calendar year 2005 is about $143 billion.) That's a big hiccup. Companies still offering a cabbage-scented Web shopping experience are rapidly running out of excuses. CIS

The author, who once warmed up stuffed cabbage in the TMC microwave for lunch and was nearly garroted by her co-workers for it, may be reached at [email protected].

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