Return to: GROK Dot Com 3/15/2001

Clueless Pundits Say the Darndest Things

Excuse me while I hang up my trench coat and stow these dark glasses. What I go through for you folks! I walk the "seamier" side of life and endure loads of ribbing from the guys around the office, but hey, I have a reputation to maintain, you know! Hard work, but who else is gonna do it?

Maybe you've been reading lately how mainstream dot.coms could learn a thing or two from the online adult entertainment industry. Maybe you've been touring some of those sites - all in the name of research, of course. Well I hate to ruin the party, but I'm here to tell you the “research” song won’t play no more.

I've been saying for a whole year now that every purchase a customer makes is based on an emotional decision. I've been urging you to appeal to your customers' emotions. You want to excite your customers, ignite their desire to buy when they are in the thrall of shopping lust. You want to seduce them toward the climax of purchase by making sure your machinery of action is well lubricated and reduces unnecessary friction, giving them what they want so you get what you want. Some folks are now telling you the sites that do this best are the porn sites, and you could learn a thing or two from them. The authors are using bad logic plus a titillating topic to attract readers despite info that is total b.s. We are not amused.

Here are the highlights of the pitches I'm hearing:

Sex sites were quick to take advantage of the web and most were profitable within 6 months of starting operations. If profits were under 20%, they considered they weren't doing a good job (eat your heart out Amazon!). Follow the logic? If you're making money, you must be doing things right. Also, because most porn sites were funded largely "out of pocket," the focus was always on maximizing sales and cutting costs. Again, dot coms take heed. And take further heed: adult sites quickly learned how to appeal to the desires of their clientele: make the site easy to navigate, make the site accessible to everyone, don't burden users with the need for plug-ins. Bottom line: they do everything right, and grab gobs of cash as a result.1

Nice picture on paper, isn't it? Maybe e-tailers could learn something about managing their web operations from the online adult entertainment industry… if only that stuff was true.

IT AIN’T.

Allow me to take you into the offline world for a sec. Ever been to an adult bookstore? I have (hence the trench coat and dark glasses). Nobody's out there telling real world retailers they could learn something from these places. Good thing, too, 'cause nice-to-see-you, fig-tree, comfy-chair, espresso-bar joints they're not. In fact, once you get past coping with the mangy appearance (count yourself lucky if you find it merely "tacky"), you realize most of the products are shrink-wrapped so you can't flip through them. Many have the covers concealed so you can't even see the feature photo. And I've found friendlier folk in a tollbooth during rush hour! Buying here is a pure act of faith - but what faith customers have when it comes to matters of the flesh! Yeah, adult bookstores aren’t adult websites. And it makes SO much sense to believe those successful, admirable adult websites are SO much different from the bookstores - NOT!

I’m sure you would never visit one yourself, so take it from me: if they didn't have such a hot commodity, online adult sites would be out of business. The only thing these sites do well is make money. They don’t use the 5-step sales process we’ve explained is so important. You might try arguing these sites are successful at employing AIDAS, but really, the only reason they “seem” to grab attention, develop interest, instill desire, get their customers to take action and satisfy is because they have a product with near-universal appeal and insatiable market demand. In fact, if you look at the process operating on these sites, they don’t even do AIDAS. But they don’t have to. The customers have already done it for themselves. Many of them come there wanting to buy and the only time they don’t is when the site is so bad, they can’t. Can you say that about the customers for your product or service? And even the “satisfy” part often is bogus. There is no other online business so notorious for come-ons, promising great stuff and then, after they have your money, delivering much less. There also is no other online business that generates more complaints to local consumer affairs agencies, credit card companies, and even legal authorities.

As models for mainstream e-commerce, here's just a smattering of what they do very, very wrong:

· Easy navigation? Says who? Links are hard if not impossible to find. Nothing is standardized. The pages are full of ads that go on forever. Very little (aside from what is being offered) is obvious. It is virtually impossible on many sites to find the exact link that takes you to where you actually want to go. And many links are traps: they take you where you don’t want to go - and you can’t get back!

· Customer Service? Lots of teasing goes on - that expert "come hither" (said the spider to the fly). You work your way through several layers of presentation, then hit the "Become a Member Now" option. You don't get a lot of choice how you want to pay. Most of the time it’s just VISA or MasterCard. A lot of the time you have to join an “age verification” service - which means you have to go to another site, go through their nonsense, pay to get an ID number, and then come back! No 800 number - no help - few if any guarantees, and no privacy policy (are you kidding?) And I have yet to see a site that would allow me to fax my payment. Next, see if you can find an email address you can use. On the vast majority of sites, if you have a problem you’re - uh - screwed. And this is the only industry where the credit card fraud victim is the customer. Just try getting your money back, or even getting them to stop auto-billing you. If you don’t know someone who’s gotten burned, just ask any state attorney general.

· Design? Where? Amateur. Ugly. Chaotic. Black backgrounds. Reverse type. Stupid animations. Somebody must have told these folks the color red is exciting, 'cause everything is red. Lots of stuff flashes (this is the pulse of libido, right?). After a day of researching these sites, I'm thinking there is one single person out there who has designed every porn site I've found. And that person is a design (and usability) Plutonian! Oh, my favorite? So many of them have such teeny or grainy pictures - when that’s exactly what they’re trying to sell. They don’t all make money - trust me.

· Pop-Ups!!! Ack!!! And you're lucky if you only get one or two and can easily click out of them. Some sites send you into a Pop-Up Cosmic Black Hole, loading you into layer upon layer of stuff you can't get free of. You become a captive of the site … you begin to panic … your browser's back button is disabled (yes, they can do that). At one point, I was so far into one of these maelstroms, I tried to close down my browser - and found they disabled that, too. (Yup, they can do that too.) I had to shut my machine down. And this is supposed to inspire me to buy????

Face it, sex sells. And it's not just the sex sites that take advantage of this. Look through the list of member-created chat rooms on AOL (you don't even have to go to the "Special Interests" category - just cruise through "Town Square") with names like "musclem4m," "i love to tease," "f4f very bi curious," "crossdressers4m," "strict men 4 females." It's 8 pm on a Friday night as I write this, and these rooms are packed to the gills.

The only lesson the online adult entertainment industry teaches is if you've got a product folks demand, one they'll do pretty much anything to get, you can totally suck and still make money. Sorry, but I'm just going to have to revoke your "all in the name of research" adult site privileges. What? You say you’re surfing them just to find examples of what not to do! Hey, works for me. <grin>

1. "Sex Sites Teach Mainstream Web Shops." Lucas van Grinsven. Internet Report. October 12, 2000, is just one example. 

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