Exit Strategies (or why I could never get a job at IKEA)

There’s a comedian who tells a story about getting lost in a forest which he had apparently mistaken for an IKEA.  “I thought the instructions just hadn’t been stapled on to the trees yet.”

Most people, especially those who know the difference between a Phillips and a whatever-one-of-those-other-screwdrivers is called, don’t really think this joke is all that funny.

I, however, find it hilarious.

I put together a piece of IKEA furniture once.

Well, technically that’s a lie.

I bought a piece of IKEA furniture once.

It never really got put together.

I carefully opened the box. 

I gently laid out all the pieces.

Next, I took off all the A-B-C-D labels that were dotting the furniture.

It was a hassle.  They really stick those suckers on.

Then, I looked at the directions.

“Put A into B.  It should latch tightly.”

Um yeah.  About those stickers.  I looked at the little pile of them in the garbage and remember distinctively thinking “you are not so smart.”

Yes, I tried matching up the pieces of wood to the little map inside.

For about 10 seconds.

Then I went and got a Hefty Cinch Sak.

There are some things that are not worth $99.

Specifically my heart.

So what exactly does my incompetence have to do with the web, ecommerce, mobile, email, and whatever else I occasionally (yes, I am being generous here) write about?

Web users – YOUR users – are much like me.

They may be Rocket Surgeon sharp, dumber than a box of rocks, or somewhere in between but when they come to your site, they’re going to do it their way.

Then, they’re going to ask for help.  Or, you know, they’ll just throw your crap in the trash and go with pre-built find a “better company to do business with.”

The difference between me and YOUR user is that you have a good chance of saving them.  IKEA had no chance of saving me – sitting on my floor contemplating whether or not I should start taking the short bus to work – but you have a good chance of saving your users from leaving when problems arise.

What’s the best way to do this?

Exit strategies.

There are lots of different types of exit strategies.  These are the best four:

Develop an instigated chat program.  It blows me away how few companies use instigated chat.  Sure, a lot of folks have regular chat (which incidentally is almost never on when I need it) but very few companies are using instigated chat to their advantage.  Where do you start with instigated chat?  Checkout/cart and search functions are usually the best.  (If you are not an ecommerce business, start with your forms: quotes, inquiries, etc.)  Help your user in the place(s) they  are struggling the most – not only will you reduce your abandons and increase your revenues but you’ll learn what works and more important, what doesn’t, on your site.  It takes about 9-12 months to get your instigated chat formula down pat, so don’t give up on it a minute before then.  Why does it take so long?  Usually it’s because it takes that amount of time to figure out who the best “chatters” are in your company.  (Hint: they’re typically not the best phone reps but instead the people who can text message, Tweet, and so on.)

Implement a usability program, even if you just use the Google tools that are available to you.  Yes, I am a big fan of TeaLeaf.   No, not everyone can afford it – and even if you have the money to buy it, you may not have the people resources to use it.  However, there are lots and lots of other user tools available to you – check out Bryan Eisenberg’s honking big list, er, site here which includes ClickTale and Crazy Egg, two very economical packages.  Heck, if you don’t want to spend the $350 a year, use the free one provided by Google.  None of them are perfect but they will give you a solid indication of what’s happening on your site: what people are clicking on, where they are stumbling, and so on.  Plus, they’ll really help your creative team (including your artists and your copywriters) by showing what messages and art styles are the most compelling for your users to click on.

Add the phone number to your top navigation, your righthand column and the bottom navigation.  Put it all over the place in the cart/checkout and internal text search results. I’m a huge proponent of putting the phone number at least once per view, especially on your top exit pages.  Many companies are allergic to this – they think that customers shouldn’t need to call – and they’re right.  Customers shouldn’t need to call.  The reason they do is because your site sucks and they are giving you one last chance to get the order.  If you’re like most, you will get a quarter of the people on the phone.  If you don’t get a quarter or more, your website is often either terribly efficient or just plain terrible.

Utilizing effective pops.  Pops are another one of those things that marketers avoid like the plague.  Their logic is “I hate pop-ups, they’re very distracting.”  Um yeah, you bonehead, that’s why you use them.  You want to distract the user from leaving.  Pops come in all shapes and sizes.  They don’t have to be anything like the ones you see on the adult content sites.  (We all know that’s what scares you – you can’t close those suckers fast enough and you freak.  Stop looking at things you shouldn’t at work or when your wife is 10 feet away.  You’ll like pops a lot more.)  Pops can pop up or pop under.  They can come in the form of midis, catfishes, or sidewinders.  The key to good pops is killer creative.  If your creative isn’t killer, thehe pops aren’t going to work. 

What other exit strategies do you use that work?  Share them in the comments below or send me an email at info@amyafrica.com.


  1. Mike McCormick says

    The tearing-stickers-off part cracked me up. The 10 second part got me howling. All the patience of a starving stoat. Me, too. The four strategies were interesting, but not funny. Mike

  2. says

    Great article, Amy. And as usual, highly entertaining. I’ve used IKEA as an example many times of how not to treat your website’s visitors (i.e. forcing them to walk around your store in a specific path). Obviously this works well for IKEA (and other brick and mortar stores), but not for websites. It’s important to have a predefined funnel(s) on your website, and the key is to help guide visitors to the desired conversion action. But in the end it’s critical to give your visitors options (e.g. people who prefer to search vs. navigate) that allow them to control their experience on the website in order to quickly find what they are looking for. Of course, many of the tactics you mention in your article also work very well to help keep visitors on the desired conversion path.

    Lastly, I’d also like to point out that VisitorCentric has a huge conversion optimization and usability tools directory (280+ listings) for anyone looking to find tools to help improve their website’s conversion rate: visitorcentric.com/tools

  3. Barbara de la Riva says

    The last time I bought a $125 desk from Ikea, I paid a guy $250 to come to my house to assemble it. Not having “extra” pieces at the end made it worth it.
    Great post Amy!

  4. says

    Amy, as you know, I have been on both sides of the affiliate equation. I totally agree with your point about “Add the phone number to your top navigation, your righthand column and the bottom navigation. Put it all over the place in the cart/checkout and internal text search results.”

    Unfortunately some affiliate networks (and affiliates for that matter) pressure retailers to remove phone numbers or make them less prominent in order to “reduce leakage” – ability for a consumer to bypass the tracked affiliate links; i.e. a phone call).

    Your advice should be the prevailing direction that retailers follow. After all, it is their business that they run – not the affiliates.

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