Reducing the Steps to a Sale

E-commerce sites that sell products or services online are regularly faced with a dilemma: collecting lots of information from customers we can target our marketing and sales better, but collecting that information creates a barrier to sales. Every extra form field adds a little bit to the already imposing psychological barriers to a sale in a potential customer’s mind. We are faced with balancing the need to gather information with the need to ease a customers path to completing a purchase.

Ask at the Right Time

Any child can tell you that to get what you want you need to ask for it at the right moment. Just as a clever child won’t pester Dad for a new toy if he’s cursing at the leaky sink a clever web site won’t pester buyer’s for demographic information when they are trying to enter a credit card number. Online buying can be stressful for consumers, they can’t hold or inspect the product they are buying, they aren’t always sure when it will arrive, they are trying to navigate through a dizzying array of choices, and they have to muster the courage to send their credit card number off into the ether to a faceless organization. So when they are already stressed and considering leaving altogether for the comfort of their local mall we don’t want to pester them to take a survey.

Reduce the Upfront Work

Writing teachers will tell you that getting started is often the hardest part of the process. This can often be the case when it comes to online buying and registration systems. Once a user has an account and they are past the initial setup they are past that first psychological roadblock to using your web site and giving you the information you want. Ask as little as possible to get people up and running. If you can get by with an e-mail and password to start off you can ask for their official title and mother’s maiden name later on, when they are already psychologically invested in using the system.

Ask Politely

Clever children will also tell you that a smile and polite “please” and “thank you” will get you further than throwing yourself down on the ground and yelling until you get what you want. Don’t demand to know all of the personal information you can think to ask for and refusing to do business with a potential customer until they hand it over. Instead, try politely requesting to know more about the customer while explaining that you need the information in order to provide better service. If they are feeling at all skittish about handing you a lot of personal information, be sure to explain that your Privacy Policy (you do have one of those, right) forbids selling or releasing that information to outside parties. If they still don’t fell like telling you all about them, go ahead and do business with them with what they will tell you and ask for more information again at a better time. This approach will leave customers with sense that you respect and value them and their privacy. This in turn can lead to more information and sales down the road.

There is always a balance to be found and it will differ for each organization and web site, but if you work to respect your customers and show a bit of patience and politeness when asking for their personal information it will tend to pay off in the long run. And by reducing the obstacles to doing business with your organization you can get more customers to complete sales online.

Kevin Hall
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