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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Is your online sales process losing customers?

I am indebted to Simon Allen at, the pay-as-you-go e-commerce solution, for sending me a link to this article. It details a case study where the requirement to register resulted in an $300 million loss in online sales revenues.

I don't know about you, but I recognised myself in Jared M Spool's description of online behaviour when website users are confronted by a simple login/registration form involving just a email address and password, with login/register options and a forgotten password link.

We see this all the time, so we assume it's a well proven formula that will work if we copy it.

Yet how often do we arrive at a similar form and wonder whether we have registered or not with the site? It's fine if we use the site a lot, but a real pain if we don't. I buy from very few sites frequently enough to remember all the login details as I vary passwords from time to time and different sites have slightly different requirements. It seems I'm not the only one.

Just like the users they researched in the article, I put in an email address and stab way at a variety of the usual passwords. And if I've changed my email address, was it before or after I registered? No wonder they found some people had registered several times. Others (to the tune of some $300 million) gave up and either found another seller that was easier to buy from, or did without.

Most users resented the registration process. First-time buyers weren't sure whether they would be repeat customers so they had no interest in relationship building. They viewed the process as yet another spam generator. Most repeat customers couldn't remember whether they were new or not.

Yet how many marketing people bang on about collecting email addresses to create a permission-based list that will be your future gold dust? Yes, the ability to send well-timed and well-spaced offers and interesting information to customers will surely generate repeat sales. But it is counter-productive if the timing of the contact information collection gets in the way of the first sale. I suspect you need to analyse user-experience to determine the best point in your repeat sales cycle and make the process as easy as possible - every keystroke counts online.

Simon was making the point that this doesn't happen with web shops on the platform, and it's a good point.

I remember being commissioned to write a series of case studies (one of our specialities) for an online payment provider that didn't require the payee to register. The first interviewee reported a 24% increase in revenues on the day they switched to this payment services provider. When I asked the others, none had noticed, but when they looked into it, all saw 20+% increases in sales as a result of a massive drop in failed carts (purchases abandoned during the sales process).

The next time I'm specifying or re-vamping a web site, I know I'll be looking at removing barriers to sales, not creating them. The memory of the $300 million invisible sales hurdle will live on in my memory.

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posted by Penny Haywood Calder at


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