User experience is (almost) everything

I was consulting a client and I pointed out numerous areas where the user experience could improve – particularly in the purchase funnel. The shopping cart had a “clear all items from cart” button in addition to the ability to remove individual items (why would you have a “nuke this entire purchase” option?), the site offered free shipping to the USA as a standing offer and had a large and obtrusive shipping calculator in the cart that only worked for the USA (again, why?) and multiple other distractions in the purchase funnel. When I recommended alternate designs that would be cleaner and keep the user focused on buying what they had added to the cart he said “changing these things on the web site don’t matter, I need traffic!”.

I had to respectfully disagree. Traffic for traffic’s sake is fool’s gold. What you need is qualified traffic, a clear motivation to buy and the easiest and simplest way to buy.

I had another client who had a small business for a men’s health product and was promoting it on Instagram by posting pictures of models in skimpy clothing. As we were discussing his business he kept referencing his thousands of Instagram followers of which he was very proud. When we started getting into the analytics it turned out that the referral traffic from his Instagram account was negligible and the conversion rates were abysmal. I asked him how much time he spent on sourcing and posting these pictures. “About 2 hours a day” was his answer. I suggested that he make some changes that took 2 hours on only one day and had lasting effects on improving his revenue for months and possibly years to come. That’s the power of good UX. It saves time.

Best practice is often pooled ignorance

Someone told me that the other day – “best practice is often pooled ignorance”. I laughed in tacit agreement. Best practice is what the herd thinks is right. It’s what the thought leaders think is right. And often it is right. But not always. In 2015 many were laughing at the idea of a viable Trump candidacy for President. Now he’s the one laughing.

Here’s a few examples of “best practice” that aren’t always best practice.

It’s considered best practice to have any call to action buttons above the fold on landing pages. You want the user to see that big shiny button straight off and let him know that’s what he needs to click before he scrolls any where. This is Hubspot’s recommendation, I’m Hubspot certified and that’s what I believed.

However, the product and the audience are not taken into account in such a best practice recommendation. Consider the landing page or lead generation form for a nursing home for an elderly parent. In such an emotionally charged purchase decision would it make sense to scream “buy now!” with a bright button above the fold? No, it would go counter to the mind frame of the customer at that point in time in the customer journey. It might even seem gaudy. In such a customer journey where a sensitive and emotional purchase decision is being considered you have to emphasize trust, build rapport, appear to NOT wanting to increase business. In such a case you may want to have a landing page with several paragraphs regarding the high level of care, the difficulty of making such a decision and then have a simple text link as the call to action. It seems crazy, but by de-emphasizing conversion you may in the end wind up increasing conversion.

Another example: the 5 second rule of landing and home pages. Best practice says if you don’t communicate the idea or the product value in 5 seconds you lose the customer. Best practice says that copy should be short and to the point because people don’t like to read. After all, we do have the acronym TLDR – too long to digitally read. However, if you look at almost any stock or investing landing page for disreputable penny stocks or get rich quick sites you will find that they are incredibly long, incredibly verbose and almost intentionally annoying to navigate. BUT THEY ALL DO IT. If they all do it, it must be working. There’s something about the get rich quick mind set that makes it more attractive to bury the value proposition in a mountain of text.

Even the more reputable purveyors of riches-through-stocks advice like the Motley Fool make it difficult to get to the meat of the matter in their marketing. Motley Fool drives users from email to a landing page where there’s a video that auto-plays but the video has no controls. You can’t pause it, you can’t fast forward or reverse. It’s several minutes long and you  just have to sit through it to get to the heart of the pitch. Is this a marketing mistake? Possibly, but I bet they tested it and found that this is what works best for conversion.

So remember, best practice isn’t always best. Always consider the audience, the psychology of the purchase decision and the product and ABT: always be testing.

Segmentation on user action

Most segmentation strategies focus on things like gender, geographic location, race, weekend vs. weekday traffic and the like. However, I have found that segmenting by user action is far more effective at driving conversion.

Let’s take a hypothetical that an e-commerce site has a wish list feature. Customers can put items on the wish list for purchase later. Let’s say a customer adds an item to the wish list. Now what does this tell us? It tells us the user is likely to return and since most wish list functions require registration we now have the personal info of this user. That means we can send them a customized and highly targeted email campaign or have the wish list product info dropped into a cookie so when they return a modal pops reminding them of the product.

Here’s another hypothetical: consider a web site with 3 levels for a service: novice, intermediate and pro. Let’s say the pro version has the most profit margin and that’s what you want to focus on. You could watch for a specific path in web traffic that indicates the user is a highly qualified prospect. For instance, if the user is a new user (has not visited the site before) and the pro product page is the 2nd or 3rd page visited by that user. That’s an indicator that this person is qualified, the site can then be optimized to convert that visitor to sale.

When your audience is telling you what they want with their actions, listen.

Reward framing and offer perception

I used to do a lot of offer testing for a company with 35 e-commerce sites. Offer tests work like this: the traffic is split 50/50, one group sees one particular offer to buy, say a “buy 2 get 1 free” offer, the other group is given a different offer of “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”. Now, if the customer buys exactly 3 items and they are all priced the same then the discount to the customer is the same. However, the perception of the offer is not the same. We tested this very offer combo on two different sites during two different times of the year. Each time we tested it “buy 2 get 1 free” out performed “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”.

In a test done in the physical realm, car wash loyalty cards were tested. Customers to a car wash were given two different kinds of loyalty card. We’ve all seen these cards, they have little icons on them and the business owner punches them out or puts a sticker on the icons to indicate a purchase has been made. One type of card had a buy 8 get the 9th free message on it. The other had a buy 10 get one free message but two of the icons that indicate you had made a purchase were punched out. So, both types of cards have exactly the same value, they both require 8 purchases to get one for free. However, for the buy 8 get 1 free card only 19% of customers redeemed it for a free car wash while for the buy 10 get one free with two purchases already made card 34% redeemed it for the free car wash.

That’s a pretty big difference. So, if you’re going to offer the customer a reward of some type, consider re-framing that offer in another way and see which one converts at a higher rate.


Button psychology

For the vast majority of task oriented online marketing it all comes down to the button. During the customer journey we may have started with our prospects clicking a link in Google’s search results, that took them to a landing page where we expressed the value proposition of our product to the user, that may have lead to a showcase page for more information on our product and glossy content and then we ask them to click a button: an add to cart button, a download button, a register button. Please dear customer, just click this button.

In my years of digital marketing and testing two things have become apparent.

1. When dealing with forms, especially one page forms, buttons that indicate that the process will be over with that button click are almost always most effective at converting the customer.

The marketing psychology of this is pretty obvious. Consider the word “submit” for a button. It’s vague. It communicates sending digital information through the ether, but then what? Now consider the dreaded “continue” button. That communicates that there’s more form to come, that punching in your personal information – a process most people hate – is an ongoing process, you could be doing this until dinner time!

Now consider the words “finish” and “complete”. That intones that you’re done. This is the end, don’t abandon this form now, you just have a few more boxes to tick and then you get the satisfaction of having completed the task. It is my experience that “finish” and “complete” can lead to considerable increases in form completion.

2. When dealing with e-commerce sites yellows, oranges and reds are the button shades that convert the most.’s add to cart buttons are orange, Amazon’s is a dark yellow and Target’s is of course red, but that’s also in inline with their branding. This is no accident. I am sure they are testing this all the time. Orange is empowering, stimulating and reinforces what I like to call the “warm glow of consumerism”, that feeling of excitement you get when you pull the trigger on buying some cherished item.

Of course, you should always be testing buttons but if you’re looking for quick wins in conversion of form completions or purchases, the two suggestions above are likely winners.

Showrooming stats

I just wanted to share some mind blowing stats from the Get Elastic post on showrooming.

71% of US mobile users own smartphones, and 81% of them use their devices in-store.

92% of consumers who showroom have used Amazon to compare prices, compared to 84% who’ve used Google, and 77% that use price comparison sites.

50% of male and 42% of female consumers who showroom are members of Amazon Prime.

67% of showroomers will buy from a physical store over Amazon when the store matches Amazon’s price with a rebate.

73% of consumers expect a retailer’s online pricing to be the same in-store, and 61% expect online promotions to be the same in-store — yet only 16% of top global retailers have price parity, and 73% offer the same promotions.

Amazon changes prices every 10 minutes on average.

41% of customers who showroom end up buying elsewhere.

Nuts for

I’m an Amazon Prime guy. Amazon probably captures 80% of my online spending. But I also eat a lot of fruits and nuts and does such a great job of marketing and customer experience that they get 100% of my spend on that category.

But why? Is the website magic? No, it’s a functional e-commerce site that’s nothing special to write home about. Is the product amazing? No, they sell a commodity – nuts. I defy anyone to tell me the difference between a $4 organic fair trade cashew bought at Whole Foods and one from a Planters can other than sanctimony and guilt. Are the prices the lowest? No, they’re about average. I’ve found lower, but I continue to give my business to and pay a little more.

So what makes so dear to this marketer’s beating heart? All the little things.


Awwwww. Just like Con Ed. (New Yorkers will get it)

The whole tone of their branding makes you smile. They market themselves as a family business that’s been around since 1929 when “Poppy Sol” started the business. That’s a warm and fuzzy. Where ever possible they use a goofy font that is friendly, approachable and resembles a grade schooler’s penmanship – emphasizing the story that there’s real people behind this purchase. The transactional emails are written in a jaunty friendly way that stands out from the cold cold copy of other emails. When my package arrived, they (through the carrier) sent me an email that said “Hiya Christopher! Doorbell. Special delivery from the nutmobile.”. OK, maybe it’s a tad hokey. But I’m a jaded New Yorker and I still think it’s cute.

The packaging is bright and cheery and has little anthropomorphic nut characters on it. The packaging is also durable, easy to open and easy to reseal. It has a little clear window so you can see the contents. Someone clearly put some time and thought into that consideration. Other sites I used to order from just dump the nuts in a clear plastic bag with a twist tie that may or may not be originally intended as a garbage can liner. well branded bag

Good branding! Nobody’s going to look at this bag and ask “Hey, where’d you get those pumpkin seeds?”

Fulfillment is great, I got an email every step of the way and I got my nuts the very next day after I placed my order. OK, it’s coming from a few miles away in New Jersey, but still!

They offer a 100% money back guarantee – for any reason. Now, I’ve had no cause to see if this is true, but it jibes with the whole brand message “we’re a family business of nice friendly people who just want you to enjoy some nuts”.

Jeffrey, Kenny, Uncle Sandy and Cousin David you’re doing a hell of a job.

Sample size and significance

I recently conducted a test for an electronics retailer whose focus is on selling protection plans and accessories for computer products like iPads and laptops. Having worked for a major electronics manufacturing company doing analytics I know the profit margins on hardware (save Apple products) is astonishingly thin. Like paper thin. Like grocery store thin. The fat margins are on the accessories and protection plans. So we did a common sense test and made the area on product detail pages for laptop and tablet accessories and protection plans more prominent.

Now, the take rate for these products – particularly the critical protection plans – is very low. The test, if run according to the rules I learned from my stats professor (Art Vittorito you were my favorite professor!), should have a sample of at least 100 actions on the KPI per creative treatment or user experience. That means this test would have run for months on end to reach that goal.

This was a multivariate test. So you look at the results on the variable level as opposed to the creative level. The results for one variable were so off the charts positive (over 100% lift in desired user action) that even though the sample was lower than desired, you just have to run with it. Yes, it is possible to flip a coin and have it come up heads 20 times in a row. But 40 times in a row? 60 times? And the contributing factor was that it just made sense. The KPI content was part of a series of tabs. We brought that tab to the far left where the natural eye scanning starts (we read left to right of course). So the insane positive lift numbers + duh factor = calling the test before good statistical modelling sample is in.

Sometimes you don’t have to wait.

No such thing as an informational page

A client of mine has several ancillary business lines in addition to their main product. For the sake of argument consider these additional products that compliment the main business line like Dell will try and sell you antivirus programs when you’re shopping for a new laptop. I was tasked with boosting the sales of these products. In doing my research on their site on how they currently market these products I discovered a number of pages that were well designed and had highly relevant content but they lacked one thing: a clear path to purchase. When I brought this to the client’s attention I was told that these pages didn’t need a call to action button or any other improvement of the user experience to buy. I was told these pages were purely “informational”.

There is no such thing as a purely “informational” web page in eCommerce.

If a user got to that page, whether by browsing, Googling, using internal search, word of mouth, carrier pigeon message…whatever… they took the time and effort to get there for one reason: they are considering buying. They have now self identified themselves as a highly qualified prospect. Why would you not make it easy for them to buy?

Imagine if a car dealership worked like this. You take an hour or two on your Saturday to drive in your beater car you are hoping to replace to the dealership and when you walk into the showroom you find that there before you is the gleaming new car that you want. You can pick up the brochure for the model, you can open the car door, plant yourself in the driver’s seat, whiff the new plastic smell and count the cup holders. And once you decide that you want it….nothing. There’s no sales people. There’s no bell to ring for service. There’s no information on how to buy it. You would likely stand around bewildered and then walk out and give your business to someone else.

That fictional dealership would be out of business in under a month.

First rule of good UX in eCommerce: make it easy to buy.

Smart phones, dumb companies.

I first heard about mobile phone payment systems in 1999 and incorporated this “technology of the future” into a business plan for a start up I was consulting for. That was 12 years ago and while I can do some mind boggling things with my smart phone I still can’t buy a mind scrambling double scotch with it (on second thought, maybe this is a good thing).

Why? It seems completely natural that Google or Microsoft should have jumped on this technology years ago and pushed hard for general adoption.

Just in case they haven’t realized it I’ll build the business case for these titans. Google, Microsoft, listen up because this is going to be far more valuable than some of your other ideas. Ahem, don’t make me mention the words Zune and Google Wave, OK?

You should do this because:

  1. You’re both now in the mobile phone business. Well, Google certainly is, Microsoft, not so much.
  2. You’re both in the search business. Well, Google certainly is, Microsoft, not so much.
  3. Your companies know what I search for, what’s in my Gmail or Hotmail account and what sites I visit. You know what I buy online but you don’t know what I buy in real brick and mortar stores. With mobile payments you’ll have that data and can target me more precisely than a Delta force sniper half a click out in a ghillie suit.
  4. You could steal Visa’s, Amex’s and Discover’s (titter) lunch. Which, in Discover’s case, is not so much lunch but more like one of those cheese and cracker packs with the red plastic spreading knife. But Visa in Q4 of 2010 did over $2 billion in revenue and has a 40% profit margin. That’s not lunch, that’s a 12 course meal at Delmonico’s.
  5. You have more cash than God. This is tip the valet money to you.

But how to change hearts and minds of consumers and retailers alike? Mobile phone payments sound scary.

For the retailer:

  1. Offer the hardware for free.
  2. Offer no transaction fees for the first 6 months. Retailers HATE credit card transaction fees. Note all those (mostly illegal) hand printed signs saying “Credit Card Minimum $20” slapdashedly taped to the side of cash registers.
  3. Great demographics. Who owns smart phones? The rich and the young. The customers you crave.
  4. Geolocation targeting of customers. “Benny’s Donuts is 2 blocks away, all bear claws are 10% off for the next 2 hours.”
  5. Easy to manage and highly effective loyalty programs. “Buy 5 bear claws with your mobile phone and get the 6th for free.”

For the consumer:

  1. Geolocation targeting of customers. “Benny’s Donuts is 2 blocks away, all bear claws are 10% off for the next 2 hours.”
  2. Easy to manage and highly effective loyalty programs. “Buy 5 bear claws with your mobile phone and get the 6th for free.”
  3. Rock hard security with biometric payment approval. A fingerprint or face recognition is required to process the payment.

The benefits for all players are so stupendous there must be some barrier to making this happen that I don’t know about. I mean, if Microsoft can come up with Clippy and Google can create Buzz, well, they must be working on this late at night.