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A GROK Case Study: Magmall.com 

Hey there boys and girls! I've been promising to come to a website near you - maybe even yours - and give it the once-over with all five of my eyeballs and all eight of my senses. Time to start keeping that promise. Once a month, I'll bring you some concrete insight into concrete issues from the real virtual world. Just the stuff you've been asking for.


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You and I both know we could dissect most sites to death, which might be useful but would take forever. So when I take on a website in each of these studies, I’ll focus on one primary feature, something that will illustrate an important principle everyone can use.

So welcome to MagMall.com, a case study that will offer you a before-and-after look at how to improve the selling process.

Overview of The Company

MagMall.com began e-business operations in 1997 as a reseller of magazine subscriptions, both B2B and B2C. They offer over 1,000 national titles (some in languages other than English) at savings up to 85% off retail subscription prices. With the motto "We subscribe to outstanding customer service," MagMall offers several great benefits: a family-friendly (aka non-"adult") inventory, great pricing, huge selection, highly personalized service and some very nice technology for managing a family of over 3000 affiliates.

MagMall was concerned about both their professional online look and the overall organization of their website and shopping process. With a very weak return on their investments (low site penetration, high shopping cart abandonment, low conversion rate, low renewal rate), MagMall needed to make more effective use of their marketing dollars.

Grok-Identified Primary Issues

  • Usability: The site had some regrettable color choices, a proliferation of confusing elements and general disorganization to overcome. (link to original home page)
  • Navigation: It's a rare site that can't improve how it helps folks get from here to there.
  • Sales: A site should never ignore the 5-step process of sales. (To refresh your memory, read my Five Simple Steps to LOTS More Online Sales.)

Paying Attention to the 5-Step Sales Process

PROSPECT: Present the goods your potential customer is looking for right up front. These should be the first thing they see. Notice the link dead-center on the new home page, www.magmall.com <http://www.magmall.com>: "What Magazines Are You Looking for Today?" Notice the link column: "May We Suggest." Each of these added tremendously to the ultimate conversion rate.

RAPPORT: Clean up your design, make content scannable and clear, get the important information up front, remove excess, distracting (or just plain ugly!) color, value compelling text over graphics and make the site load fast (on my system, the core information appears in under 6 seconds and the entire site is done in 10)! Compare this home page to the original to see how Future Now, Inc. did this for MagMall. Check out the improvements: white background, the tabbed categories at the top, big type, clustering of related information, phone number prominently displayed, the vast simplification of color scheme and a more "tasteful," professional appearance.

Each element is important in itself, but when you set about to develop rapport with your prospects, all these elements combine to present the character of your business. They all say a lot about your trustworthiness and how enjoyable it is going to be to do business with you - all of which encourages your prospect to penetrate further into the sales process. You further enhance your rapport if you make sure these elements are consistent through the site.

QUALIFY and PRESENT: This is the back and forth between seller and buyer that is at the heart of sales. You offer, your customer refines, you offer again. Obviously, if your customer can find what he or she wants quickly and easily (here's where your navigation and information architecture - hopefully designed the way your customers think and shop - make a huge difference), sales go up.

Click on that front-and-center presenting strategy, "What Magazines Are You Looking for Today?" Immediately, you go to a page that helps the customer qualify her needs. She has a search option. She has a whole list of categories to choose from. Or, further down on the page, she can examine bundled sales options.

From experience, MagMall learned that the bulk of their sales comes from just a few magazines. Therefore, the “May We Suggest” section was added to include these top sellers. Now click on a choice from the "May We Suggest" list. In under six seconds, you arrive at a product page that describes the magazine in detail, shows a picture, shows bundle options, and suggests related magazines (cross-selling). Pricing and savings are right there. The format for every product is consistent.

CLOSE: GTC (Get the Cash). That's the mantra, so make it easy. MagMall offers all the options and displays them prominently on product pages.

Online ordering: MagMall makes this a simple process (we are working now to streamline this even further for them) and they guide you through it with ease. Navigation through this section is straightforward and help-assisted. Also, you always know where you are in the process and what you are being asked to do. When you arrive in checkout, you are presented with a page that lists your shopping cart contents and offers payment options (checkout page). The system walks you through setting up an account, which on later visits eliminates many of the checkout steps. The form you are required to fill out is not invasive, but asks only pertinent information and allows you the option of declining future e-mail from the business. The information you enter is displayed through the rest of checkout, and you can edit it at any time.

You choose from among five methods of online payment (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover/Novus or Beenz), then review and finally confirm your order. You may also fax your order, phone in your order, or mail your order, in which case you also have the option to pay by check. Your order is confirmed both by email and also on a page that you can print out as a receipt.

Assurances. When the customer is getting closer to the purchase, MagMall relocates the important Point of Action information (see my article) right where it has the most impact on the customer: privacy, guarantees, a description of what's in the shopping cart. When the customer needs to see the assurance, it becomes more prominent. On the first page of checkout, they are greeted with big red letters proclaiming, "Ordering Online Is Private, Safe and Easy -- Guaranteed!" As another example, the "100% Guarantee" announcement moves higher on the screen as the buyer gets closer to the close.

A truly comforting assurance any business can offer is the positive experience of other customers. Throughout their site, MagMall offers testimonials praising various aspects of products and services - and what prospective subscriber doesn't value knowing there are folks out there who are happy with MagMall?

This is great example of implementing a lot of the stuff I've been yammering about for months. Does it work? You tell me: since these changes have been implemented, MagMall has seen its conversion ratio climb from 1.21% to 4.97%. Their closing rate QUADRUPLED!! Best of all, from MagMall's point of view, these numbers are still going up, their revenues are going up, their average order size is going up, and at the same time their marketing expenses are going down.

Will it work for you? Do Martians come from Outer Space?

See you next month, same Grok-time, same Grok-channel, for a whole new Case Study that will help you make more money from your online business.



click here for a printable version of this entire article

Learn even more from my good friend Bryan!

As you probably know by now, I help out the guys and gals at Future Now. (Don't tell them I said so, but they'd be nowhere without me :-). Check out Bryan's latest article at <http://clickz.com/article/cz.3416.html>. Enjoy!


Coming soon to a website near you – 
in fact, maybe YOURS!

Dear Digital Entrepreneur:

You guys and gals have been asking and asking, so OK: I'm now making house calls. That’s right, I'm visiting your own websites and will be writing in future issues about how you can apply the stuff we talk about here.

So, want a free Grokanalysis of your site? It’s simple. Just click here, fill out the form, send it to us, and if I think your site illustrates something that will be of interest to a lot of our readers, you’re in!

Good luck!!

The Grok

Keep Them From Bailin'

Let's face it. A gal arrives in your store, doesn't find what she's looking for, and leaves. Or a guy selects several items, drops 'em in his shopping cart and then decides he doesn't need them after all (you can count your blessings, 'cause in the real world he probably leaves his cart in the aisle, and then you have to return the merchandise to its proper location!). You can do everything right, and still folks can exit stage left without buying. Hey, even in the bricks-and-mortar world, conversion ratios aren't perfect!

But lots of e-tailers out there aren't doing everything right (if they were, I could just book a return spaceship to Mars) and as a consequence, their closing ratios aren't what they could be! Many of the things e-tailers aren't doing right are ticking off customers and giving them darn good reasons to abandon the site super-quick. You'd do everything you could to prevent a customer from reaching the Bail-Out Boiling Point, wouldn't you? So make sure you are doing everything!

I know I'm going to start sounding like an MP3 player with a perpetual feedback loop, but you've got lots of online competition out there. If you don't have your act together, your customers are going to find someone who does. So let's solve some of the key sticking points in the sales process that lead most folks to ditch you in favor of someone else.

Get the Cash (GTC). Engrave this on the center of your forehead! Sing it in the shower! This is the single biggest bug-a-boo in online retailing. You simply must give your customers all and sundry payment options so you can get the cash. On top of that, you've got to let them know any form of financial transaction with you is safe, secure, confidential and reliable!

  • Offer secure online credit transactions that accept a variety of credit cards.
  • Give your clients offline options that include faxing an order form or snail-mailing with payment by check or credit card.
  • Consider if there is an advantage to hooking up with third-party payment managers (such as AOL Payment Services, Beenz, etc.).
  • Make sure you have a telephone contact number (ideally toll-free) displayed prominently on all your pages, so folks can dial up and order that way (or talk to a human for help).

Policies. Folks want to know the deal. They want to know what they are going to get charged for, if their purchases are going to come with your guarantee, how you handle returns or exchanges. At the point they are most likely to wonder these things (see my article on POA), give them the answers they need.

  • Post complete and accurate shipping prices.
  • Promise you have no hidden charges (and make sure you don't).
  • Display your guarantees.
  • Explain your policies for returns, exchanges and whether you offer refunds or credits.

Convey trustworthiness. At every opportunity, in lots of different ways from navigation to usability to common sense, let your customers know you understand their needs and value their patronage. Never make them jump through hoops. Always treat them with respect. Scads of elements contribute to how trustworthy you appear; these are some that directly influence a customer's decision to bail:

  • Make sure your opt-in forms (orders, subscriptions, account information, etc.) ask only for relevant stuff, only for the information necessary to manage the transaction. Don't require a lady buying a digital camera from you to specify how many kids of which ages she has at home - invasive questions encourage folks to beat a hasty retreat. If you want more background information on your customers, come by it passively, or consider employing an optional online survey subsequent to purchase.
  • Have all your function buttons right where the customer needs them, especially your checkout and shopping cart buttons.
  • Allow your customers to edit any information they supply (and make this process super-easy): member information, billing information, shipping information, shopping cart contents.

Realistically, you're never going to see conversion ratios of 100%. What business ever will? But I guarantee you can do better with your online sales when you start using strategies that don't ignite your customers' Bail-Out Boiling Point.


click here for a printable version of this entire article

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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