May 31, 2001, 12:00 AM

If web stores were more like real-world stores, sales would surely go up

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Seems obvious doesn’t it? Sadly not many major retail web sites seem to think so. The web site of one famous department store has a fabulous zoom function that lets our shopper examine the details he’s interested in, but the descriptions are very terse, and nowhere are there warnings about items that are dry clean only.


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Another aspect to making the sale is customer service availability. This inspires the following scenarios:


- Shopper is about to buy a new baseball game for his PC, he see it requires a 3D graphics card (which he has) but he is unsure if it is of the right type or capacity.


- Shopper wants to buy the latest handheld computer, but is finding that stocks are shown as low or zero at all web sites she checked. She needs a more timely way of checking stocks and putting her order through.


- Shopper is having problems with her credit card number in the on-line checkout process. She has already spent time filling her cart and is determined not to lose her items.


There are so many possibilities, the list can go on and on, but these examples tell us something very useful: product pages and checkout processes are the most common places when shoppers’ inquiries go outside what the web site might normally provide.


Many web sites discourage customer calls, hiding the phone number below e-mail links or feedback forms in a “contact us” section, because they find most of the calls are related to browser or ISP problems and they don’t want to provide free technical support. However, if a phone call to customer service will close the deal then it’s worth the retailer’s time and effort. A prominently placed phone number on product or checkout screens can increase sales by a good few percentage points. Once again, we can easily see how this helps the business objective of increasing revenue.


Cute not wanted


These are just two fairly straightforward examples. The other business objectives-to catch new customers from visitors and retain existing customers-will have their own particular customer goals and corresponding designs.


Now that the dot-com hysteria has subsided, many retailers are stepping back and rethinking their online offerings., recognizing its mistakes from its first online foray, partnered with ToysRUs felt this partnership would provide the customer experience it desired in a cost effective and timely manner.


Does everyone have to partner with Amazon to get by online? Certainly not, but Amazon is everyone’s favorite example of a successful online retailer. Why? Because it already gets the Internet experience, and can concentrate on delivering services that customers actually want. Amazon doesn’t add features in the hope that somebody will think they’re cute: it adds support for scenarios that will satisfy customers’ goals and make the sale.


So figure out your business objectives and your corresponding customers’ goals, then help them meet these goals. The closer you can meet each particular goal, the more satisfied shoppers you will get, and the more revenue you can expect from your online ventures.


Chris Steffens is

a Partner at Quidnunc, specializing in business solutions in the retail sector.

He can be reached at


Andrew Lyons heads

Quidnunc’s customer experience design section. He specializes in digital

services that meet user’s goals and deliver a highly usable experience.

He can be reached at

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