Didn't You Say This was on Sale?

Sometimes you go to a website and you just know the business hasn't got a clue. They're doing everything so wrong, you don't even know where to start. There are also those times you go to a site and think, on first inspection, that things look pretty good.

Until you start dealing with the site's process. In that moment you realize appearances can be deceiving. That's why, through the use of personas and wireframed scenarios, we always make sure our clients are getting their processes squeaky clean first.  It's basic Horse Before the Cart 101.

Our friend and colleague David Cross was trying to buy a long sleeved t-shirt from a company called C&C California. Here's what happened.

From the home page, David selected the women's category ...

... then clicked on the "Long Sleeve Tees" subcategory from a drop-down menu. That landed him here:

Excellent! Lots of long sleeve tees with an attractive one on sale for 35 percent off! David clicked on it:

Hmmm. No indication of the sale price. In fact, not a mention of any sort of sale. Maybe the sale price is reflected in the shopping cart. So David selected a brown color (attractively called "mudslide") from a drop-down menu offering 19 options, a size, then clicked "Add to Bag."

Full price. Not good. So David emailed C&C California. Customer Service replied, "Sorry for the confusion, but only certain colors are on sale. If you go to the 'Sale' tab located at the top of the page, it will bring up the colors that are on sale for $35.75."

Non-plussed, David replied, "That's not clear from your website - it states "Extra Long Sleeve Tee SAVE 35% $55.00 now $35.75. Two other products at that page suffer the "Well, we know it's only certain colors so the customer should, too!" syndrome. Have your online marketers check your web analytics for people who bail when getting to the product page." Then David bailed and sent us the story.

How could I let this go? I slipped into my trench coat, grabbed my magnifying glass, then cruised over to C&C. First time through the site, I followed David's path and got David's disappointing results: the tee on sale that isn't necessarily a tee on sale.  But I knew about getting at these babies through the "Sale" link, so I clicked on the sale link in the top nav ...

... and landed on a subcategory page where everything listed was on sale:

I easily found the long sleeve tee David was hoping to buy in the upper right and clicked on it:

The product page I landed on looked exactly like the product page David landed on, except this time, the page reflected the product's sale status. I selected a color choice (12 of the 19 colors were on sale, and the color featured on the page wasn't one of them), a size, then added it to my bag. It worked.

Two long sleeve tee links that look exactly the same, but take you to different places, only one of which fulfills the promise of a sale.  With the first bad experience under your belt, you'd have to really want this tee from this business to bother sticking with it.

It gets worse!

I started wondering:  if a visitor followed the obvious scenario path through the site - as David did - that visitor wouldn't know which colors were on sale. It would be hit or miss. So what happened if the visitor got lucky and inadvertently managed to choose a sale color without following the sale link?

Petunia was a sale color. So I went back to the sale-less product page and selected Petunia and a size. Then I clicked "Add to Bag." The product page refreshed, and this appeared just below the "Add to Bag" button:

Dang, but you've got to work hard for that 35 percent off!  I followed the "click here" link and landed on:

Yep. The sale version of the product page. And - you guessed it - I had to repeat the tasks of selecting my color, selecting my size and adding the item to my bag all over again! Yeah, right.

This is just about the most frustrating, counter-intuitive process I've come across in ages. Nice looking site, but C&C appears to have let some developer have far too much say in how the business should manage the online buying and selling process.

I figure the last thing C&C wants to do is sell these sale items - they certainly don't make it easy. Count the clicks. Only the most motivated of individuals is going to stick with it (there are a few of them out there, but only a few). And that's assuming those individuals can even find the sale items!

But C&C's biggest mistake came early on, when they featured a sale item on a subcategory page with a link that took the visitor to a product page that didn't even mention the word "sale." Broken promises break relationships. They don't make for happy endings.

David's right. I'll bet the rejection rate on the sale-less product page is way up there. Bye-bye C&C.

The moral of this story? Having a site that's visually attractive isn't enough. You must set up your site processes so they reflect how your customers want to buy, not how you want to sell! Think like your customers. Don't ever make your customers have to figure out how to think like you. And never, ever break a promise by failing to deliver on a click!

Volume 124: 02/01/06


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