December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

10 customer-costly mistakes that Internet merchants keep making

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One telecommunications retail site sported no less than six different looks, ways of ordering, and content styles. Customers don’t care whether different areas or divisions come together on a single Web site. They want and deserve consistency.

8. Links that mean lost business

Links to other sites are great services to your customers, but don’t let people leave your site without realizing it. On an apparel site, I clicked on a link for complementary products, only to find myself at a different store. First I was dis-oriented, then I became fascinated with the second site and never returned to the first. Savvy retailers work out relationships with partner sites to ensure that links come up with the look, feel, and navigation tools of the original site still intact.

9. Broken promises

These problems are both implicit and explicit. On the explicit side, make sure that you follow through with special offers and promotions. Another Web clothier promoted a drawing for a free item to customers who registered on the site. When I checked months later to see who had won, I learned that no drawing ever took place. No one was sure whose responsibility it was! The retailer has since removed the offer until it has the resources to conduct a drawing.

On the implied side, another retail site (since redesigned) was plastered with South Park characters that urged customers to register for the site. But mysteriously, the site sold no South Park merchandise. Nor did it offer links to South Park-related sites.

10. Too many ads

Most sites contain too many ads from paid advertisers and for the company’s own products. And they’re often animated and competing for attention. The result: busy, eye-straining pages. My rule of thumb is no more than three ads per page and only one of them animated.

Worst lists are lots of fun, but turn these mistakes around, and you have 10 solid guidelines for improving your e-store and pleasing your customers. And that’s a recipe for success if I’ve ever heard one.

Ronni Marshak is senior vice president of the Patricia Seybold Group.

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