Go with the Flow

Even before the war officially started, people began asking, “What effect will this have on e-business?” I mean, you can’t have consumer attention focused so intensely on one event and not expect it to affect buying behavior!

The fabled Martian Wars are just that – fabled. We green folk don’t do conflict. So, for some perspective on this question, I turned to Jim Novo former Vice President for Marketing and Sales at the Home Shopping Network. He got to closely monitor the market during the Gulf War.

And here’s what Jim had to say by way of reply.

“Since I was at Home Shopping Network during the last round of this war, I’m one of very few people who were actually running an interactive business during the last conflict. Sales got soft as people were distracted by the conflict and realized sometimes there are more important issues to pay attention to. But as soon as the outcome of the conflict became clear, sales bounced back.

“At HSN, sales dropped about 25% during this period, due to both fewer units shipped and a fall in average order total. This happened despite the fact TV viewing was up – and when you are selling on TV, increased viewership is usually a good thing! Looks like the same effect is present this time – overall web traffic is up, but traffic to individual retail sites is down.

“There are still things to pay attention to though, if you want to reduce this “war effect” on your store - and I’m not talking about “taking advantage” of the war to sell patriotic items. I’m talking about subtle shifts in buying behavior you may need to acknowledge within your current inventory.

“HSN always sold American Flags back then, starting years before the war. And we failed to predict how much demand would increase, promptly selling completely out of flags during the war. In this decade, I’m seeing clients who have camouflage-styled items – not usually a huge seller – finding demand rising for those products. When the war looks to be coming to a close, I believe demand for flag-styled items will increase. So you might take a look at how you can prepare for – not exploit – changes in demand the war will bring.”

As I consider this question from a marketing perspective, I’ve gotta say that, regardless of your own personal feelings, taking a neutral position is probably best. It’s almost impossible to determine exactly what might be offensive to whom – an action or statement you believe is sincere and caring can seem contrived and manipulative to someone else. You really don’t want to run the risk of being misunderstood or offending folks (perhaps permanently).

Now is not the time to try out bold new directions. Indeed, it’s a very good time to maintain what you are doing with confidence. Patriotism comes in many flavors. Be sensitive and aware, especially if you have a global audience. Do what you can to prepare, plan on subtle changes in the buying behaviors of your visitors. And stay the course. Remember, we’re all in this together.

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Beauty Isn’t Skin Deep

I’m no consumer activist – although sometimes I get riled up enough to consider becoming one. But that isn’t the point of this little musing. What I want you to consider here is the issue of trust and credibility on your Web site.

I’ve often said the appearance of your site has a lot to do with whether or not your visitors think they can trust you. The trouble is that just because you look credible doesn’t mean you aren’t out to scam your visitors. Well … not you personally! <grinning sheepishly>

Consider this story.

I use Windows XP. A while ago, I started seeing those “Messenger Service” windows with no clickable links pop up on my computer. I looked into the situation – several of the pop ups promised I could block these messages forever – knowing full well anything that wants to help you get rid of the advertising venue it just used is probably suspect. I went to www.blockmessenger.com. Here’s what I read:

Have you ever had an advertisement pop-up out of nowhere on your desktop?

Congratulations, you've been hit by the newest form of unwanted advertising, or spam. This message was sent to your computer through a built in feature that Microsoft included in your copy of Windows 2000, NT, or XP. These types of spam messages are worse than unwanted e-mail since you don’t even need to have an e-mail account or web browser. If you are one of the millions of people who get unwanted messages like these everyday, there is hope.

After doing a little research I found the only way to block these spam messages from ever appearing on my screen required doing extensive tweaking and configuring of my computer. It didn't seem right that I had to go through so many hoops just to stop these unwanted messages. I can see how it can be almost intimidating to some people. To help out the millions who don't want to receive these messenger spam pop-ups but are to [sic] intimidated to do anything about it, I came up with an easy solution. With Messenger Blocker, you can block these unwanted and illegal pop-up messages forever with the click of a button! No longer do you have sit and wait as your computer freezes or crashes due to one of these messages. Messenger Blocker will block each and every pop-up ad sent through Microsoft's Messenger Service.

The copy makes you feel this guy’s got your best interests at heart, right? And the site looks avant garde. Theoretically nice little privacy policy. 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Ready to get the cash. $29.99. Very small, straightforward site. However: no contact number, no mention of who this dude is, no company information other than Messenger Blocker, and the info address on the privacy policy page is different to the info address on the home page. Hmmm.

So I tried the other url I had: www.fightmessenger.com. Conservative, believable. Highly values my privacy. This company appears to be called “Message Away,” but it’s got the same copy as the other site, the same privacy policy, the same flash visual. No stated connection. And here you only have to pay $19.99 for the product.

Then I mistyped the first address – www.blockmessanger.com – and landed on a wholly unexpected site: PopUpKiller Info’s Messenger Spam page. Here I learned I can stop this kind of spam myself in four very easy steps for free. Well, well. So much for “extensive tweaking and configuring.”

I figure, if this person really was concerned about the intimidated millions, he’d post those four easy steps on his various Web sites. He could offer the program for download in the event you chose not to fix it yourself. Then, and only then, would I feel I hadn’t been taken for a ride.

The folks who do questionably crummy things make it difficult for the folks who do honest things. Just as email spam makes it hard for folks to feel comfortable even with legitimate opt-in emailing, so online scams from Web sites that look credible are going to make it more difficult for the Good Guys.

The poor fellow who forked over $29.99 and then discovered the fix was free and easy, may be coming to your site next. He’s jaded and cynical because he’s been burned. How are you going to help him know you’re a Good Guy?

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