De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

When I was first starting out in usability (walking uphill both ways to work in raging blizzards with only cardboard scraps taped to my bare feet), there weren’t any best practices or proven methods for ecommerce or lead generation sites.  Sure, there were a couple folks who professed that designing the perfect toaster was exactly the same as building the ideal website but there wasn’t anyone that I’d go all Koresh over, that’s for sure.

So, we had to figure things out for ourselves.

We got a lot of things wrong but the things we got right, we got REALLY right.  So right, in fact, that they made up for all our mistakes, errors, and just plain idiotic pontifications.  (Yes, I’ve had many.  Many being a gross understatement.)

In the early days, we’d give folks $500 to watch them shop online.  Now you have to give away free cars, luxury trips and 11 days of being married to Kim Kardashian but at the beginning — back in the Dinosaur Days – $500 was a lot of money.

Each person would have their own area — which simulated their home or office environment, depending on where we thought they did most of their browsing/shopping.

We’d give them the credit cards and let them go wild.  They could look at porn (which people seem to have no qualms of doing in public – and on videotape — I might add); buy stuff; bid on an auction; or do whatever they wanted to do with the $500.  If they didn’t spend it, they didn’t leave with it.  So if you spent $100 out of the $500, you didn’t leave with $400 in cash.  There was an incentive — and a hard deadline — to spend the money.

A high percentage of people sent free ecards.

Yes, you read that right.

Folks sent free ecards.

People would come in and instead of doing what I’d do (which is spend all the money IMMEDIATELY so I could be assured I’d get every last cent of it!), they’d go online and start sending their friends ecards about the experience.  “I’m doing this great thing!  We get $500 FREE MONEY to spend!  I wish you were here.”

After they wrote everyone, their brother, and their pug that they knew, they’d move on to something of greater importance.

They’d do things like watch HamsterDance.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

Over and over and over.  Like a lovesick teenager listening to a break-up song.

Fifteen minutes before the end, we’d give a signal that the time was almost up and then, and only then, would people make a mad dash to spend whatever they could of their $500.

Over sixty percent of the people had money on their credit cards when they left.  (Note to self: It was in those final moments — in the deepest, darkest hours of my career — that I lost all faith in humanity.)

Folks tell me all the time how much better the internet has gotten – and how much more evolved we are – but the truth is, things are pretty much the same.

People still abandon their carts in much-too-large percentages.

Our traffic still bounces way more than it should.

Open and clickthrough rates are still at embarrassingly low numbers.

Folks still bail immediately or a couple pages after they’ve used search, even if the search has been deemed “successful”.

Sure, we’ve gotten a little bit better about keeping people or getting them to come back but in the end, our numbers haven’t varied all that much.


Perhaps it’s because we still aren’t asking ourselves the right questions.

Are we asking for a first kiss or a f*&k?  If I don’t want to sleep with you the first time I meet you, are you asking for my number (read: email address or mobile number)?  Or are you an all-or-nothing proposition?  (Hint: if the only place you are asking a user for their email address is along the bottom of your site, your odds are as good as picking up a California Dime for a one night stand.)

Or maybe it’s because we’re still not doing the right things.

Yes, I know, Pinterest is sexy and putting up your last 10 years of catalog covers is way easier than setting up the rules to dynamically merchandise your home page but in the end what’s going to bring you the most money?  Amazon’s been dynamically changing their home page for years, what are YOU doing on yours?

Are you connecting with your customers and prospects on your terms or theirs?  Most marketers think this means “are you emailing enough?”  That’s only part of it.  (And I’m willing to bet you’re not emailing even close to the amount you should be.)  It also means… do you personalize your site to MY specific needs?  Do you show MY recently viewed items?  Do you leave MY items in the cart indefinitely?  Do you offer me suggestions on what I should buy based on things that I’ve bought before or have looked at?   Is your site designed to appease the CEO of your company or is it customized for me?   Do you use deadlines to create urgency and cause me to focus?  Do you clearly delineate your bestsellers and customer favorites or do the merchandisers use your most valuable selling space to get rid of clearance and overstock items or to push new items that they don’t even know will sell?

You get the drill.

Years later, the questions really haven’t changed.  Sadly, nor have we.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.




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