Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Face it, I’m just not THAT into you

I was emailed an invitation by Mothercare to complete a survey last week. “This simple survey will only take about 10 minutes to complete” it said. I thought it might be interesting so I clicked on the link and set to work.

It started off easily enough, but three pages/questions in I noticed that the progress bar was barely shifting after each question and I began to wonder what I had let myself in for. The third question asked me to tick which of about a dozen baby and child web sites I visit ‘regularly’ and then which I’d bought from; not so hard, though I’ve no idea whether ‘regularly’ means weekly, monthly or what.

Then came the first of several essentially impossible questions; ‘And which website have you bought MOST from in the past 12 months?’. How the **** am I supposed to know? I have a baby. Do they think that I have the time to create a spreadsheet with all my purchases coded by merchant and product category so that I can run a report to identify where I’m spending the most? A few more easy questions, and then: “Roughly how much do you spend on kids and baby products each month both online and in total?’ Few people – when faced with a question like this – could do more than make a wild guess. At this point the progress bar was scarcely more than a quarter of the way to 100% and if I weren’t professionally involved with ecommerce then I would have bailed out. Three or four questions later and my patience had run out, with the progress bar still stubbornly below the halfway mark. I just couldn’t face trying to remember what the Mothercare site was like, and so wasn’t in a position to score it on 8 different factors.

I can’t believe that this survey will yield any useful results. It is not credible to imagine that a significant percentage of customers will make it all the way through to the end. Those that do make it will surely represent a skewed sample, and most will have guessed many of the responses.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mothercare and I dread to think how much money they make from the Meath Baker household. But I don’t love them enough to get brain ache trying to answer questions for 10 minutes, not least when I don’t know the answers.

Why spend precious management time on a survey that will be reliable as a Met Office weather forecast? One of the beauties of online retail is that pretty much everything can be measured, and therefore tested. If you want to improve your website, don’t waste money on a survey; get some multi-variate testing software and test, test, test.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Report: online shoppers hunting more, paying less

A recent survey into US online shoppers has identified some interesting behaviours and attitudes, many of which are likely to be shared by UK consumers.

Three in particular drew my attention:

- Web surfers are spending more time hunting for bargains than they were six months ago.
- Many shoppers don’t seem to realise where they’re buying – 17% claim to have bought from a search engine and 7% from a comparison site.
- Free shipping is the feature most likely to influence buying, followed by product ratings or reviews.

The first finding shows the fragility of building a business based on gathering traffic from search engines and comparison shopping sites; many of the sales made via this route will be from consumers who won’t buy again. There is no point ‘buying customers’ if the result is one-time purchasers. Many home shopping experts only regard a prospect as being converted into a customer after the second purchase.

A multi-channel approach to prospecting and reactivation is vital. This means that the traditional key benchmark for mail order businesses – the size of the ‘house list’ (number of unique active customers) – is still the best indicator of a healthy home shopping company in 2009. To bring the concept up to date, just include email addresses as well as postal addresses.

The second finding shows the importance of effective branding across all the material seen by customers, from web site to packaging to order notification emails. A whopping 17% of those surveyed thought they had bought from a search engine, so some merchants must be failing dismally. If even your customers haven’t heard of you, then you have a branding problem.

The third finding shows that even if you don’t offer free shipping to all your customers then you should at least offer free shipping with conditions such as a threshold spend. And it would probably be sensible to run a test to see if free shipping gained more in profits on new sales than it lost in costs.

Anyone who wants to download the full survey can do so here

Friday, August 07, 2009

Product reviews will change the world

Despite my professed dislike of real shops, I ventured into Comet at the weekend for an essential electronic gadget that couldn’t wait. On the way to the till I spotted the Tefal Actifry, which was described as being able to make 1kg of chips using only a tablespoon of oil. Sounds good, huh? Who doesn’t like the idea of low-fat chips that taste just as good as normal chips?

I was tempted to scoop it up as I went past, but mindful of the propensity for kitchen gadgets to disappoint – and the fact that it’s pretty pricey - I resolved to check out the online reviews first.

I’m glad I did.

The Comet site didn’t have very many reviews but the Amazon site has plenty; and the vast majority are positive. But - and it is a big but – the negative reviews are very damning, full of stories of endless broken hinges. That would be bad enough, but it seems that a “small proportion” of Actifrys burst into flames on occasion, and that BBC Watchdog ran a program about this immolation tendency in late 2008. Now I’m sure Tefal will say that the fires were minor and that anyway the current model has been modified, but I’m not ready to take the risk.

This episode illustrates how product reviews have the power to keep manufacturers on their toes. Gone are the days when a few faulty products wouldn’t be noticed! Both the BBC comments page and the Amazon review page are full of would-be buyers posting messages to say that they will not now be buying an Actifry.