I'm going to tell you a story about an ice cream cone. This story has a direct bearing on how you design your web site. It may not seem to relate to your business at first, but it does, so please bear with me. It will all make sense shortly. Ready? Here goes.
I was out and about tonight when I suddenly had a craving for an ice cream cone from McDonald's. Not the dipped kind, just vanilla. It's only 170 calories, and I had eaten pretty light today. I lost 40+ lbs 3 years ago and have kept it off in no small part by not trying to completely rob myself of the food I like.
Anyway, I get to the drive through and order my ice cream cone. I pay the guy my $1.08 and pull up. There are two cars in front of me. As I watch the transactions between the employee at the window and the person in the first car, there is a lot of back and forth. The passenger doesn't like the toy in the Happy Meal, so it gets changed out. There are multiple bags because it's a big order, and one of the drinks is wrong, so that takes more time. That's okay, I think, I'm not in that big of a hurry.
The first car pulls away and the next one pulls up. At last, I think, I'm close to getting my ice cream. Another round of back and forth begins between the guy in front of me and the employee in the window. This time, though, there are long pauses in between each of the bags he gets (it was also a big order). I'm starting to get irritated, not with the guy in front of me or the size of his order, but with how many times the workers at the McDonald's are getting things wrong.
I know from experience with this particular store (the one closest to my house) that they get something wrong in the order about half the time I go there. I have to check my receipt and check everything in the order because it's wrong that often. I keep going there because the next closest McDonald's would add about half an hour to my trip time, and while the mistakes are irritating, they never take up that much extra time, so it's still the most time-economic choice.
The moment of truth finally arrives and the guy in front of me pulls away. It's time for my ice cream cone! I pull up and the employee in the window asks, "Did you order just an ice cream cone?"
"Yes," I respond with a smile.
"We just put the ice cream in the machine," the employee says -- and I look and see that, indeed, they are just adding the ice cream to the machine -- "Would you mind pulling up and waiting?"
At this point I ran out of patience. I was waiting in line for a solid ten minutes. Why couldn't somebody add the ice cream into the machine while I was waiting, knowing that it was going to be needed? All I ordered was an ice cream, and I was going to have to wait even longer for it to freeze in the machine. Had I been going to a store that never had problems like this, I probably would have just pulled up and waited. But because of this particular location's history of sub-par service, I chose not to.
"Nevermind," I said, "just give me a refund. This has taken too long already."
Asking for a refund was a mistake. The employee had to go to the manager and tell him I wanted a refund. The manager nodded but never came to the window to give me the refund. After another two minutes of waiting, I finally gave up and told the guy at the window, "You know what, it's only a dollar, it's not that important. Have a great night." And I left.
All I wanted was an ice cream cone.
Fifteen minutes and $1.08 later and I was driving away with nothing. As of tonight I have decided that I will avoid that McDonald's except when absolutely necessary. They have lost me as a repeat customer. It's a shame, really. All they had to do was put the ice cream in the machine when they got the order and I would have been okay. Not thrilled with the service, but okay.
So what on earth does this silly experience have to do with your web site? Everything! A poorly designed web site sales experience is very much like a badly run McDonald's.
For instance, have you ever tried to buy something from a web site only to find that you were required to create an account before you could make your purchase -- even if the purchase was very small? I have. It's irritating, especially if it's a one-time purchase and I know the odds of my coming back again are near zero.
Or how about those web sites that make it easy enough for you to browse their products, but they don't list their price on the same page as the product? No, they make you go to another page and scroll through their entire product line to find the price. Again, time consuming and irritating.
Then there are the shopping carts that make you go through 37 steps to perform the checkout rather than keeping it all on one or two pages.
But my absolute favorite are the web sites that sell digital products (like help desk software) that don't give you immediate access to your purchase. No, you have to wait for manual verification that can take 24 hours or more. Anytime I run into that, I get a refund and never buy from that web site again.
As a site owner you might find all kinds of "logical" reasons to justify why your site does any (or all of) these annoying things. But you need to think like a customer, not a vendor. Make it as easy and fast as possible for people to buy from you, and deliver the product as soon as possible. Doing that will seriously increase your conversion rate and encourage repeat sales. A customer might put up with your slow, annoying buying process the first time, but the odds of them coming back are very small.
To test your site's shopping experience, get the most impatient person you know to go through the entire sales process and ask their opinion. It's even better if the person isn't tech savvy at all. That way you know that your buying process is also easy for pretty much everybody to use and understand. Repeat that testing process with as many people as possible, and make changes so it's easy for those people to buy.
Changes to the buying experience that you think of as small and insignificant can really improve the customer experience -- and your bottom line (like putting the ice cream in the machine when the order was placed rather than waiting).
Seriously, man, all I wanted was an ice cream.
Please post your thoughts and feedback in a comment below, and please share this post using any of the social buttons below if you found it useful. Thanks in advance!
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