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The little things that make you say WOW!

Beyond best practices in e-commerce



9:14 pm on Dec 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator ergophobe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Some ecommerce transactions fall well below expectation. I must say, few have ever fallen into this category for me. The vast majority are just vanilla. You get what you ordered in the allotted time and at the right price.

And then some companies stand out. So what's the last thing that some company did that made you think, WOW? A few for me:

- two different companies in the last month sent an item that I wasn't totally sure I would keep because I had never seen a sample. Surprise! In both cases, the items came with a preprinted return label for UPS, a pre-filled return form and instructions on how to use both if I wasn't 100% satisfied. Does that make me willing to order an item from either of these guys again, even if I'm not sure it's what I really want? You bet. Did I return the items I ordered? Nope. I absolutely love them.

- One of the companies has an instant return policy - drop them an email and say that you'll be returning an item and they give you instant credit and will ship out the right size or another item. When they receive the return item, your credit turns into hard cash if you want it.

- Top-notch usability. I was trying to buy an everyday item, but the first two websites used retailer jargon (something like "tearpack" which is useful for retailers who want to know about packaging and display options, but I wanted to know, is it really one battery that I'm ordering or something else?). Finally I found a site that just told me, in the language a consumer would use, what exactly I was getting and reinforced it with a picture. I spent about one minute on the first two sites before giving up. I purchased from the third site even though the prices were about 20% higher (but this only came to about $2 and was well worth it).

- In the latter case, when I looked at their site later, asking myself why did I eventually settle on these guys, I noticed that almost everything above the fold in the left navigation was oriented to after-sale care (customer service, track your order, contact us, etc). I realized that everything on their site said "We're not about making a sale, we're about gaining a customer." They did. I will not even comparison shop again if I'm looking for batteries. It's not like buying a car where I might save a thousand dollars by shopping around. For the couple dollars I might save, I can't be bothered to waste time. Their service-oriented navigation was a subtle signal that I did not notice until after purchase, but when I looked at the site, it was palpable.

- the first of these four most recent purchases was for an item that was out of stock everywhere, including at the manufacturer, who was waiting for a shipment from the production facility. Only one website stated that clearly. On the other sites, there was no indication that it was out of stock, but there was no indication that it was in stock. Perhaps they had one gathering dust, but I couldn't be sure. I ordered from the merchant that offered certainty, even though they advertised a much later ship date than the other two sites that had the item. Again, I chose safety. Maybe it says something about me in particular, but I think it's a common reaction. The merchant in question followed up with letters for every change of status ("Item delayed in production. If you wish to cancel your order ____. If you want your purchse to remain on backorder, do nothing. If not in stock by ____ we will contact you again to see if you wish to cancel your order.") This saved them the effort of dealing with my inquiry, but also increased my trust dramatically. Again, in the future might I pay a bit more to shop with them? Certainly.

Conclusions for me

- Trust is huge. It's the thread that runs through every one of these stories.

- even the web savvy are leery of sending money off to cyberspace or, more simply, of ordering sight unseen. Even if you make the sale this time, you may not have allayed that fear. If you have excellent follow-up (see how easy it is to return things to us?), you can allay those fears for future purchases and build loyalty. I will definitely favor the two merchants in question who sent return labels.

- Your customers don't care about your classification of your products, they care about their needs. It's an old saw: they come to you for a solution and if you sell batteries to consumers, the type of packaging does not address their need. You can win on price and lose the sale if you speak the wrong language. Really, I was 99.99% sure that I knew what the others were selling and knew what I would get, but I was put off by a retailer-oriented language so much that I paid 20% more to shop on a site with consumer-oriented language where I was 100% sure what I was ordering and where I didn't have to read around to figure that out.

Okay, so that's what I learned from my last four WOW purchases as a consumer where the merchant just blew me away with service and after-sale care.

How about you? What did you learn during your Christmas shopping?


2:49 pm on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

As someone who runs an e-commerce site i'd say the "Things that make me go wow" is the obvious lack of logic when people shop online. Its almost like people toss a dart and hope it lands on what they expected.

i have many great shoppers who can understand simple processes but i find it hard to fathom someone can figure out how to get online, find my store and order something but can't comprehend why i can't delivery on sunday, why free shipping doesn't include free overnight delivery and why a tv that weighs 250 lbs has to be shipped freight.

Customers love to have things written in stone when it suits them but completely fail to read that stuff when it suits me. If i offer "Super saver shipping" and state "item may take 1-2 weeks for delivery" i get about 75% response rate of "Shipped slow, will never use again". Even though its in RED during checkout, asks for CONFIRMATION of delivery date and EMAILS OUT a tracking number

i get people asking me to refund an item because i shipped the wrong one. They send me a link to the item that they wanted and i show them its the one i shipped and they sit on it for a while and then i see a chargeback "Wanted the wireless one instead" show up.

I've since shipped to generic shipping.


with generic estimation dates - 7-10 days, 5-7 days and 1-3 days and that has worked best for me. I can choose the best carrier based on warehouse & location and people don't flip out on "hey, i ordered vis ups but USPS brought it". Does it really matter WHO brought it vs when it arrived and the condition of it? Our shipping details even state that we may alternate carriers based upon delivery ETA, availability and reliability.


4:45 pm on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator ergophobe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

>>Does it really matter WHO brought it?

Yes. UPS delivers to my house. In fact, since the UPS driver knows everyone in our community, he sometimes drops my packages with my wife at work instead of leaving them outside in bad weather.

USPS delivers to a mailbox 2 miles away if it fits inside, and to a post office either 12 or 17 miles away, depending on who knows what.

Meanwhile, at my previous address, UPS was incredibly unreliable and lost so many packages I refused to buy anything that shipped UPS. Since they literally messed up more often than they got it right and this seemed to always require a trip to their service center (45 minute drive each way), I got so exasperated I would never get anything that came UPS.

As others have pointed out, rural America is a small market, but has a high tendency to order online, since it's two hours drive for me to run down to Target or Best Buy.


7:39 pm on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Once my new commerce system is in place i'll let the consumer re-choose what they want.

A typical item we ship costs 11.93 USPS to a rural Wyoming address but costs nearly 24 dollars UPS. Would you rather me increase my costs 12 bucks or would you rather drive to the post office to get it?

Not to mention the UPS item can take 5-7 business days while USPS priority would be 2-3 days.

With USPS i can insure, double box, printed return label and throw in a 10.00 off coupon and still be ahead of UPS in many rural accounts.

Seems like a moot argument, wouldn't you be checking your USPS mail a couple of times a week anyway?


8:12 pm on Jan 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator ergophobe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

>>Would you rather me increase my costs 12 bucks or would you rather drive to the post office to get it?

I'd rather have the option to pay extra if I want to choose a more expensive option. I certainly don't think the merchant should eat the cost or be put at a disadvantage by having to use the more expensive option. I would say that for that cost difference I would choose on a case-by-case basis, but probably go USPS 90% and just deal with the hassle and hope I could get a neighbor to swing by and get it for me.

I don't ship anything these days, but I know when I did we always chose the cheapest method unless people had special needs, but situations like mine never occurred to me until I moved out to the sticks.

Anyway, it's like payment methods. Sometimes I want to use paypal, sometimes a credit card and I appreciate the choice, but I understand when a merchant doesn't want to make things infinitely complex just to accomodate my occasional whims. Like I say, though, I appreciate the ones who do.


3:50 am on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Business model of 2008:
1. Screw up every transaction
2. Fix every screw-up to build trust.

Actually, you get better results training rats if you do NOT give them a food pellet every time they press the lever. (Don't think about it.)


4:19 am on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

A typical item we ship costs 11.93 USPS to a rural Wyoming address but costs nearly 24 dollars UPS. Would you rather me increase my costs 12 bucks or would you rather drive to the post office to get it?

It depends on
- how far is the post office and how much I'll spend on gas AND even more importantly
- how much I value my time - i.e. if I value it at $85/h and it takes me one hour to go to post office and back I would rather pay extra $12 in shipping and don't loose an hour
- weather: if there is a storm/blizzard/etc., and I really don't wan to get out of the house I'll pay extra $12
- I just might be lazy to go pick it up....

There are many reasons while people prefer convenience of the "at the door" delivery and are wiling to pay extra - it would be vise to offer choices...


3:00 pm on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Tastatura has it correct, I believe, on offering options. It's not just the rural areas. In a metro area of 600,000-700,000 population, local UPS rules make it impossible for me to get UPS packages at home (it gets complicated, but basically has to do with living in a "multi-unit dwelling" - aka an apartment building). It takes close to two hours of my time to pick up something at the UPS center. OTOH, I have a large lock-box for USPS deliveries and if something is too big for that the post office is five minutes away (and is open better hours than the UPS center).

If someone ships only UPS, that breaks the sale for me. Last week I was choosing between two sites for ordering some specialty items I can't get locally. Both listed UPS as their shipper, and I emailed both asking if it was possible to have something sent USPS, stating I'd be willing to pay extra for it. One replied with "Sure. Make a note of it in the comment box." The other sent an email just repeating "Deliveries are by UPS." You can guess who I picked. There's one source I order from regularly because they'll ship USPS. Because I opt for that, I don't get the "free overnight shipping" they offer with UPS, but that's fine with me - I don't need overnight shipping.

I don't think it's so much a matter of which delivery service is better, cheaper, etc. Life is so complicated now that everyone's situation is different. Give options, and charge extra for one if it's more expensive for you.


3:40 pm on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Options are nice but you have to remember shipping varies greatly upon what you are looking for.

I'd say about 40% of my products are free shipping since thats the only way to compete. If i offer UPS as a choice - no one will choose it but they sure as heck would call and ask why free shipping doesn't include UPS.

Cart abandonment is also high if you offer shipping upgrades - that seems to scare off more people than it attracts. "Why is there free shipping if there is an upgrade fee - does free S&H suck?"

More often then not we use USPS for free shipping unless UPS delivery is in the same zone as the ship zone because USPS is cheaper for free shipping.

So to make people happy i have to absorb UPS costs on random orders viewing comments or i have to offer choices that scare people away or i have to simply offer both UPS and USPS as free options and hope i can manage the costs and still compete.

I still don't buy the whole snowed in argument and whatnot. You still HAVE to check your USPS mail every once in a while and if i do ship UPS to you are you going to hate me for signature required as well? :)


4:20 pm on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I do regular supermarket shopping on the web on regular basis. This is at least 50 different goods in various quantities, weights and sizes each time.
I do shopping twice a month. That was 20 time in 2007. So they delivered 1000 positions in 2007 to me. They never made a mistake.
This is my wow for 2007.


6:00 pm on Jan 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

My WOW goes to you, actually, for risking that :-)


5:11 am on Jan 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Although amazon appears to be king of the ecomm sites it irritates me to no end that you have to go through a zillion pages of customer service pages just to get to one where you can send an email to them. And half the time I've gotten a "canned" email response and nothing else.

I do shop on there quite a bit, however i miss alot of the older features they used to have.. like the old gold box style of browsing for things. half the time i'd find things i bought that I wasnt even looking for and I dont like all of their "recomendations" based on what you've looked at before. It becomes very stale.

The things that really stand out on a website for me is still:
- list a phone number prominently
- clearly list your location, address etc..
- show a photo of your business.. either showroom or warehouse.
- a well written "about us"
- show your site is secure (no brainer)
- easy way to send an email or submit a form, and response time is key .. and i dont mean an automated one.. a real human response.
- prompt delivery
- prompt contact if there is a delay
- always send tracking numbers when the item ships and not the day it arrives at your door.
- friendly customer service reps that aren't in some other country.
- easy return processes.

Things I dislike
- photos of the customer service people... especially if they are NOT real agents... everyone knows what i'm talking about here.
- sites that all look alike. get away from those templates that everyone else uses. makes you look like you're doing business in your undies.
- answer the phone. no one likes leaving a message.
- I really dislike companies that have 10 sites "appearing" to specialize in one type of thing when they all really funnel into one. If you're a big company then show it.


5:53 am on Jan 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

- a well written "about us"

Rare lately. Most now are just dumb mission statements [ugh!] that say nothing about the company and its experience... perhaps for good reason.

Yeah, love those canned pics of adorable customer service reps

Similarly, stock photo of 500,000 square foot warehouse with the company sign obviously added with Photoshop.

All financial firms show a 60 story building even when the address is a PO in Peoria.

Venting a few of my recent non-Wows.


4:52 pm on Jan 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator ergophobe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

It continues to surprise me, looking now at Bewenched's list, how important trust is (the first several items there are trust related, I would say).

The only one I disagree with is

- friendly customer service reps that aren't in some other country.

All I care about is competence. I *think* the tech support people at my webhost are in this country, but since they fill my support requests in minutes or seconds at 3am local time for the company, I always find myself hoping that maybe they have some folks in India who don't have to be nocturnal just to accomodate me when I decide to do something foolish in the middle of the night.


... speaking of deliveries in bad weather, they're saying we could get 10-12 feet of snow today and tomorrow over the higher elevations (probably about 5 feet down at the house)... deliveries until Monday here!

Oliver Henniges

11:44 pm on Jan 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

> - a well written "about us"

Lol. Take a look at our's if you find the time. Dunno if it is well-written, but it is very, VERY uncommon;) And, in fact, I recall one customer, who HAD a wow-effect on exactly this page, and told me so in a phone call. Positively.

Bewenched, I'd second all you said. We do most of it. Mail- and physical address, as well as Phone-number on top of EVERY page. But do those things raise a wow-effect?

A side note on what has been said on the correlation between the wow-effect and mistakes: I think it is a logical one: For instance, think of what happens if you are driving your car. If everything goes normal, you might flow away in your mind, brew over your current programming-project or anticipate your next holiday. But as soon as something unexpected happens, your attention is back to driving. Mistakes should be, and are exceptional; thus they naturally raise this wow-effect.

Are we on to something with this? Did you all mock too early?

We dont't necessarily have to stick to mistakes in the normal shipping- or selling-process. What about mistakes, or lets better say "unconventionals" on your website? e.g. Amazon does NOT use one of the ordinary shopping-cart-systems. They are big enough to create their own solution. Are we all just too used to it, to still notice that the usability and functionailty of Amazon is so highly exceptional?

Noone has yet been talking about wow-effects concerning website-design and -usability. Is sticking to standards here really only a matter of trust or is it rather just boring? Where is the cutting edge between the positive effect of a screaming design and the negative one of not-trustworthy-craziness?

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