Effective Ecommerce with a Login

The screencast I created of the effortless ecommerce process for Coda prompted several questions about how to best incorporate a login to the online sales process. I’m going to address that issue via a normal blog post rather than a video.

Every additional step in an online process usually costs you people who don’t want to go through that extra bit of effort. Depending upon the situation, the abandonment rate can be quite high for each step. Exceptions are when the goal of the process has a very high perceived value by the customer.

The Coda example does not use a login. They have no need for it. All they care about is selling an individual product to you. However, some organizations offer discounts to certain classes of customers (members, rewards program, etc.) and they need some way to identify them in the process. They may also wish to capture data about the individual purchasing a product for later analysis.

Here is the deal: you can incorporate a login to the ecommerce process if it provides sufficient apparent value to the customer to go through the extra steps required. Here are some potential reasons a customer would perceive value in logging in:

  • Repeat customers can save time not having to re-enter their data and billing information.
  • Certain classes of customer receive a significant discount or savings if they identify themselves to you by logging in.
  • They want the product enough to jump through the login hoop. (This is obviously not a good reason for a login, however.)

Look at your process for selling online. Is there any value to your customers to login for each sale? If not, you are going to hurt yourself by placing a login between your customer’s money and your bank account.

What should you do if you have both customers who can benefit from a login and those who won’t? Provide the option to login but do not require it. A number of sites offer this where you can login to retrieve shipping and billing data or go to a simple form for entering it. Providing the option allows your customers to self-select the process that is most appropriate for them.

Your database administrators may be pushing you to implement a login to reduce the occurrence of duplicate records in the database. You must analyze this requirement for the actual value to your organization. Is forcing data maintenance onto your customers the most profitable tactic to take? It very rarely is from a online sales perspective.

The Amazon Bar

Amazon continues to set the bar for ecommerce efficiency and overall experience. I have been telling clients and audiences this for some years but I had an experience this week that shows they are still on top.

I bought three books from Amazon yesterday, which get free 2 day shipping from my Amazon Prime membership. They showed up today. I could immediately access status reports on the orders and even change or cancel them before the products had shipped (although that didn’t take long!). Great experience, exceeding my expectations all the way around.

I also bought two small bags from REI for organizing all the gear that goes with my laptop and other electronic doodads. I selected regular ground shipping since I don’t need these in a hurry. My e-mail from REI confirming the order says I can access the status of my orders after 48 hours have passed. I have no idea when they might arrive. It was such a let down from my experience with Amazon.

The lesson, my friends, is to go through your own ecommerce process, including fulfillment. How do you measure up? Do your customers know exactly what status their order is in, when it ships and when it will arrive? I guarantee you are being compared to the Amazon experience by many of your online customers.

How would you rate your experience with our coat hangers?

I just got an e-mail survey from Starwood Hotels, who wanted to know, in excruciating detail, about my experience at the Annapolis Sheraton two weeks ago.

The survey had over 60 questions. Sixty! I skipped most of them. The only feedback I wanted to give was that the A/C was out in the entire building except for the guest rooms and that the elevator almost stalled out on the way up to my floor. You know, big important items.

Instead, this survey asked 10-point likert scale questions on every possible facet of the room and hotel. They may as well have asked about the coat hangers too. This survey probably has a response rate of less than 1 percent and would generate data only from their guests who are willing to invest an hour filling it out. These people are probably not their desired customers.

Paging Fred Reichheld

Getting Out of The Way

I made a short screencast on Friday showing how Panic does a great job with the shopping cart for their products. In We Have Always Done It That Way, I write about getting out of the way when someone is ready to invest in your product or service:

When a member has made the decision to invest more money in the association by purchasing a product or paying dues online, get out of their way and make it as easy as possible for them to complete the transaction.

Panic does a great job of this with their site. They collect the bare minimum of information for completing the transaction. They don’t even ask for you to subscribe to a newsletter! Watch the video below to see a demo with my commentary.

Web Site Redesign Resources

I sent out a few links to articles and blog posts I had written on web site redesign issues recently and thought I would share them here as well.

Things to Think about Before a Web Site Redesign
Three questions you should answer before a web site redesign.

Avoid “Me Too” Web Site Benchmarking
Too many web site design project start with benchmarking efforts that result in a laundry list of ‘me too’ features rather than focusing on how to best create value for members and the association. Learn how to avoid this situation and identify valuable benchmark sites.

Five Critical Steps for a Successful Web Site Launch
These five steps will help your web site launch go as smoothly as possible from a technical standpoint.

Less Is More on the Home Page
Learn why creating chaos on your home page by putting too much on it is an indicator that your site is not aligned with the overall goals and strategy of your organization.

Is this feedback really necessary?

I received the following error on a web site today:

An unexpected error has occurred and technical information regarding this error has been reported to the site administrator.

In order to improve the quality of our site, please contribute helpful feedback using the form below. Otherwise click here to return to the site.

This text was followed by a feedback form. There are a couple issues here:

  • They already know what the problem is here. What feedback could I provide other than, “Fix it!”?
  • On the other hand, I’m not entirely confident they have been alerted to the problem automatically.
  • In fact, I’m not too confident the feedback form will actually get feedback to them, given the current error.

So I left the page and came here to post about it instead. 🙂

Pay attention to what your error messages say. Everyone has issues on their site now and then (I got a server error from the New York Times just yesterday). You should review all the standard error messages your site can generate and make sure they convey the right impression.

In this case, a form for an e-mail address and an offer to let you know when the problem was resolved could have been a good alternative to a standard feedback form.

Integrating Third Party Web Sites: Don't Forget the Template!

A common issue I come across in my work is the effective integration of third party services with the overall web presenece for an organization. And I don’t just mean the login system, although that’s been a hobby horse of mine for some time.

I mean that the visual and navigation experience of moving from the main site to a hosted service is often jarring and off putting. If your audience includes folks who are still a bit skittish online, you’ll lose them if they are not positive that the hosted site is actually yours. We can thank the phishing scammers for that.

What is a third party site? It is one that an organization has contracted with to provide a specific service, content or features that they either cannot or do not wish to develop on their main site. Job boards, search engines, discussion forums, social networking tools and blogs are all examples of these kinds of services.

The solution is to make the ability to use your overall look and feel, including navigation system, on the hosted site as a primary selection criteria. Many managers don’t explore this fully and end up with a service that has their logo on it but otherwise bears no resemblance to the main site. Exploring this fully during selection and contract negotiations will prevent a lot of user pain down the road.

And to you service providers out there, making it insanely easy to support an organization’s overall look and feel would be a good way to stand out from your competitors.

Microsoft's Hammer

Is it just me or has Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) mania taken over the IT world?

I have heard lots of buzz about this package, especially in the association industry, but I’ve yet to see the overwhelming value in MOSS’s interfaces and services over previous versions of SharePoint. MOSS is nice for collaboratively managing documents and searching but beyond that basic project work I think its interface gets in the way. It is a horrible community platform compared to many of the open source and low-cost solutions already available.

Not to mention the organizations that are diving in head first and planning on using MOSS (with MS CMS rolled in) as the total solution for their intranet and public web sites. There is a good reason that different classes of solutions have evolved for public and intranet sites: they have vastly differing requirements for most organizations.

My advice is to bide your time and carefully consider which nails you ultimately decide to whack with the MOSS hammer.