The Devil’s in the Details

As you can imagine, I do a lot of my shopping online. Hey, might as well, eh? So when I started to experience a recurrent problem, I got to wondering, “What gives?”

You see, I was getting a surprising number of order rejections, some of which were nicely phrased, some of which were a little less circumspect about accusing me of error. Most of them suggested I return to the site, carefully place my order all over again, and carefully fill out the various shopping cart information forms.

Guess how thrilled I was at the thought of having to go through this process a second time. Guess what I didn’t do. Guess who lost a customer.

And for what? Ah, therein is the tale.

The culprit, in my case, was technology. I got this brand new mouse with a wheelie thing in the center, so now I can actually scroll down Web pages without fussing with the rightmost scroll bar (yes, I am admittedly slow to adopt new technologies … probably at about the same pace as John Q. Publick).

Scrolling wheelies are totally cool. Everyone should have one. Everyone very soon will have one, given that new developments usually make old ones obsolete.

Wheelie mice can benefit your persuasive process. You know how I always tell you to keep your visitor focused on the active window, and how any distraction that draws your visitor away from that area is an encouragement to leave? Well, when your visitor doesn’t have to fuss with a scroll bar on the screen, she’s much more likely to a) scroll down to see your below-the-fold content and b) stay with you. Cool!


You know those option boxes, especially in the checkout process, that require you to select your answer from a list? They get used a lot for state, province or country information. And dates. Like your credit card expiration date.

An indecent number of order rejections later, I have realized that when you select an option in one of those boxes, you must actually click outside the box (anywhere on the screen will do) to lock in your selection. If you scoot on down to fill in the next piece of information, without clicking your wheelie mouse to start navigating the page, your mouse continues to scroll through the option list. The source of my problem? The last piece of information you usually have to supply during checkout, before hitting the submit button, is your credit card expiration.

So, trying to scroll toward the submit button, you have actually changed your credit card expiry from 2004 to 2009, before you realize the wheelie isn’t scrolling the page. Furrowing your brow, focused on the fact the wheel isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing – and completely unaware you’ve entered a new expiry – you click your mouse (the technological equivalent of kicking your car’s tires), thereby locking in your new selection – and continue with the process.

You submit the order (many allow you to reconfirm shipping and billing information, but few bother with a confirmation of credit card information), print out your invoice and set it aside against unforeseeable glitches in delivery.

The next thing you know, you’ve got one of those emails that I got (hopefully a nice one). “Your credit card was declined.”

Shoot, I think, I could buy a freaking car on my credit line. What’s the matter?

Mea culpa. No two ways about it, I messed up. I really did enter the wrong information and didn’t even know it. And, yes, I felt stupid. But, no, the problem isn’t mine, it’s still yours. Because I probably won’t be back. So here’s how you can help plug one of those leaks in your conversion bucket:

  • Never accuse the customer of being wrong, even when it is abundantly clear your customer is an idiot.
  • Never ask the customer to return to your Web site and go through the whole process again. Nine times out of ten, he won’t.
  • Instead, if you have to send a decline, phrase it soothingly and offer a real customer service number so a human can resolve the problem on the existing order. If it was submitted, you have a record of it. And everyone asks for phone numbers in checkout, presumably so they can contact you if there are difficulties with the order. Think about it. Which alternative do you think is more likely to persuade your customer: an extremely polite customer service rep calls you to confirm information or an impersonal letter lands in your email and tells you to go back and place your order?
  • Employ opportunities for confirmation, and provide edit options within your checkout process.
  • Reconsider using option boxes that can be affected by wheelie mice.
  • Encourage manual entry of critical information (of course this introduces a different opportunity for human error – see above about the phone number).
  • Devise a tactic that encourages your customer to lock in an entry field. Even a totally fake “click here to lock the selection” would work.
  • We’re not talking people who bailed on the home page or even from the shopping cart. These are completed orders, guys and gals … “Roger, Houston, conversion mission successful.” If this is happening to me, it’s happening to others as well. So find a way around the problem, because I know you don’t want to lose folks to a wheelie mouse!

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