This anecdote is how I describe the e-commerce black hole. Here’s what you know, a buyer with a unique IP or email address landed on your homepage after an organic Google search, navigated to a few of your product pages before landing on a particular product, actively spending two minutes browsing the page, adding the item to their cart and ultimately…
We knew so much. Our analytics and inbound marketing software worked as promised, the customer responded to our Call To Action, then, gone. Where did our customer go?
THE E-COMMERCE BLACK HOLE
We can identify them if they return, and we know what they’re interested in, but our information stops there. We don’t know who to associate with that email or IP address. We don’t know what they are saying or thinking about the product. We don’t know when or whether they will return. We don’t know where they will buy the product or which product they’ll buy. We don’t know why they left, good guesses maybe? And we don’t know how they will buy and if our analytics and inbound software will detect a continuance of the buyer journey or count the first contact as an unfulfilled abandoned cart and the new purchase as a short, successful journey.
Now here’s the e-commerce black hole in my personal life
I recently saw an extraordinarily moving Bombas Socks commercial recommended and liked by some my Facebook friends. I immediately embraced their call to action to provide socks for the homeless and headed straight to their website to buy my first eight-pack of Bombas socks.
That’s when I realized that Bombas socks are $12 per pair. Even with a free pair going to a homeless shelter, $6/pair is considerably more than I’ve ever spent on even the nicest pairs of socks, like Under Armor or Nike.
I became a devangelist. I took to Facebook while still in sticker shock and wrote the following:
Rich Williams was feeling skeptical. January 16 · Plano “I’m going to Walmart and donating 100 pairs of socks to Dallas Life Homeless Shelter. It will cost considerably less than six pairs of Bombas socks. Love the ad, though…”
That’s WHAT I was saying.
But I had left bombas.com and dove deep into the e-commerce black hole. Bombas had some insight into my black hole experience on account of my Facebook broadcast, but following the customer journey through the e-commerce black hole is rarely that simple. Bombas took the opportunity to reach out to me in the black hole:
Bombas “Hey Rich, give our socks a try, and if you don’t think they’re worth every penny, it’s your money back. That’s our Happiness Guarantee!” January 19 at 8:38 am
But my consumer journey wouldn’t continue for another two weeks.
A week later, I wore my Hanes socks with my Asics Onitsuka Tiger fencing shoes to work on a day I’ll never forget. Some out-of-town visitors to our office wanted to try a Mexican food restaurant a mile away from our offices, and the group was excited to walk the mile to and from the restaurant. Something about the Tigers and the Hanes combined with my sweaty feet to cause enough friction to create a baseball-sized blister on the bottom of my left foot. I complained to a co-worker the next day who commented that my socks might be to blame for my nuisance injury and my subconscious got busy.
On February 2, 2017, I ordered three pairs of Bombas socks. My consumer journey brought me back to their website where a free shipping offer encouraged me to buy three pairs instead of two, and I couldn’t wait to wear my Bombas socks with my New Balance shoes that fit a little better for the next work-related lunch adventure. Coincidently their largest socks were too tight for my size 14 feet, but I could feel a considerable difference and notice their striking design right up until my circulation slowed and my feet fell asleep.
So what am I now? A dissatisfied user who will probably return the product which is also a brand evangelist for a company I have either loved or hated since I saw the first video. The socks don’t fit me, but they’ll probably fit you, and I get the appeal. They also donate a pair to a homeless shelter for each pair bought. I’m assuming Bombas will accommodate my wife and preschooler.
So do you clearly understand how I feel about Bombas? Probably not. No one ever said what you see when you have insight into the customer’s buying journey through the e-commerce black hole would be clear.
My satisfied purchase came from Under Armour on Amazon.com nine days later once I realized the Bombas weren’t going to work. They had considerably more cotton and reliably come sized to fit large feet.
So let’s break down my buying journey with Bombas so far including my two weeks in the e-commerce black hole.
WHO …is the buyer?
Some pertinent facts about me:
- I’m a sucker for good marketing
- I like the Tom’s Shoes’ buy one give one concept
- I feel strongly about clothing (and feeding/housing) the homeless
- I like tattoos (see video)
- I am an entrepreneur
- I’ve bought socks in the premium athletic range before, not just Walmart or Hanes
- I like feeling like someone is reading my Facebook comments
- I’m funny and like to reward brands I like.
- I’m listening to Sleigh Bells and Lana Del Rey while I write this.
WHAT …was I saying?
Bombas caught me talking smack about their prices. I tagged them for fun but was not expecting a reply. When they saw the comments on my post, they also noticed my friends agreeing that though my friends had visited bombas.com, they too felt like the socks were too expensive.
WHEN …would I buy?
About 16 days would pass between my first rendezvous with Bombas and my paid checkout of $33.60. The jury is still out on whether or not I will return the socks.
A major factor in my purchase was my ill-fated walk to the Mexican restaurant that I’m pretty certain had nothing to do with Bombas.com. Bombas had done an excellent job of educating me about their superiority to traditional blister-enhancing socks before I suffered the worst blister I had ever experienced.
WHERE …will I buy the product?
“Where” is a major unknown. Though I eventually bought three pairs from Bombas.com for $33.60, I later experienced a satisfied purchase from Amazon of 6 pairs for $15. I also like the XL socks available at Walmart (not Target) and frequent Destination XL Big and Tall Men’s Clothing.
WHY …did I not buy the first time?
In other words, why did I leave the lot? Bombas had me where they wanted me; I had “ugly cried” over their homeless Facebook video and gone straight to their site. They even had socks they claimed would fit my large feet.
One pair cost as much as six pairs of the competition. I felt so strongly about this BUT that I took to Facebook to make jokes at Bombas’ expense. I haven’t felt so strongly about a BUT since Anna Nicole’s GUESS Jeans campaign.
HOW …will I buy?
I need my laptop with my credit card autofill software and $35 available to make this purchase. I prefer not to enter a credit card on my iPhone, and the purchase date coincides with a payday occurring between discovery and purchase.
Who experiences the e-commerce black hole?
Retailers experience the e-commerce black hole when a prospective customer arrives at their site and spends time with a product, possibly placing the item in a cart or obtaining pricing, then disappears, often without identifying information. The customer may be comparing prices, soliciting feedback, disinterested or low on budget or simply waiting.
Who are your customers asking?
Customers ask co-buyers such as spouses, roommates or coworkers about budget accessibility. Customers ask their friends and family with experience or knowledge of the product.
Customers seek out acquaintances or even strangers who have expertise on the product. Young customers may require permission, as could a boss/worker relationship. Feedback comes in the form of:
Support: Financial, Agreement, Social
- “Can we afford this right now?”
- “Is this something we would all use?”
- “Would you go out in public with me if I had these pants on?”
Permission: Parent, Boss
- “Mom, can I buy this Arcade Fire t-shirt?”
- “Boss, does this laptop meet corporate security requirements?”
Advice: Expertise, Experience, Opinion
- “As a lighting designer, which light bulb would you use?”
- “Did you like that weed eater you bought at the home improvement store?”
- “Do you think the black guitar would look better on stage than the red one?”
Who benefits from understanding the e-commerce black hole?
A retailer who knows their customer’s experience in the e-commerce black hole can market more efficiently, price for the opportunity, advertise to a more appropriate target and understand which customers not to focus energy and resources. Retailers can predict their sales cycle more accurately and budget, stock, and market accordingly. Tools that provide insight into the e-commerce black hole give retailers an edge when many unknowns become known or at least more familiar.
What are your customers saying?
Customers have developed an opinion about your product based on their first online impression, and though they have not purchased, they could already be evangelists or “devangelists” for your brand. The evangelists would have already bought your product if it wasn’t for _____* and devangelists think your product is too expensive, poorly designed and useless. Winning over a devangelist is harsh, but allowing an evangelist to capture a buying opportunity before they enter the e-commerce black hole might be possible given the right tools.
*If only we knew that 🙂
When will the customer buy?
Understanding what marketers call the Effective Frequency or “the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made and before the exposure is considered wasteful” also means understanding the “Rule of Seven” and its associated duration.
“I do not know who created the concept, but “The Rule of Seven” was widely popularized by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.”
“A good starting point is the ‘Rule of Seven,’ formulated by the marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant. It states that to penetrate the buyer’s consciousness and make significant penetration in a given market, you have to contact those people a minimum of seven times within an 18-month period.”
I must have seen/heard Bombas.com twenty times during my two weeks of Bombas denial.
When will the customer return?
How can we affect the buyer’s return time? One could argue that the ideal time between first contact and paid purchase is none, buying the item immediately.
How can we encourage the user to buy immediately without scammy pricing gimmicks or ransomware threats?
One recent experience I had with a custom watch band company DaLuca Straps sent me some friendly emails offering to help me complete checkout after I had abandoned a cart where I had added a few bands to compare prices.
Would making it easier to compare prices decrease abandoned shopping cart rates? Does it matter?
Where will the customer buy the product?
I also add “Has the customer bought this already from somewhere else?” to this question. Will the customer buy the same product or a different product from another retailer? Will the user log on to your website with a different email address from a different IP address and order the product later? You may never know. Can you track that type of behavior?
Pardot claims to be able to track anonymous users on different devices and starts at $1125/mo. for up to five users with SalesforceIQ.
Where is the customer looking?
Walmart has cookies. Walmart has aisles of chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and Oreos. Not the kind of cookies we need, and if the buyer sees your Stainless-Steel Casio Men’s Atomic-Solar G-Shock Watch on your website for $95.92 but goes into Walmart and buys one with cash from the jewelry counter along with some Oreos.
So without “a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user’s computer by the user’s web browser while the user is browsing,” we may have lost the buyer’s journey forever, never knowing why.
How can we prevent the (else) WHERE?
- Don’t let the customer leave the lot
- Be a price leader compared with brick and mortar
- Offer quick shipping and get the product in the mail fast
- Provide superior customer service before and after the sale
- Educate the customer further and better than a brick and mortar employee can
- Track the buyers ATM and credit card spending, GPS location and sleep habits
- Offer both kinds of cookies on your website
Where is the customer looking for advice, expertise, and information?
- Can you provide more trusted reviews than consumer reports?
- Can you accumulate more quality reviews than Amazon?
- Are you the buyer’s brother?
- Are you the cable guy installing digital at the neighbor’s house?
- Are you the buyer’s boss’s “guy” in your industry?
- Are you Richard Karn from TV’s Home Improvement?
No? But what can you do? Get BUILT.
Remember Both, URLs, Information, Links, Time.
- Appeal to BOTH your customers and those whom your customers seek feedback from, like by providing a simple explanation for your customer and then the technical specifications for his brother that works at Radio Shack.
- Make your URLs direct and shareable for feedback.
- Provide honest, accurate INFORMATION.
- LINK to unbiased external reviews.
- Treat the buyer’s TIME as if it were yours.
Why is the customer hesitating?
Our CRM HubSpot addresses some of these in their article, “8 Reasons for Shopping Cart Abandonment.”
Can control: Price, Fit, Variety, Trust, Stock
- Price would include the inability to afford.
- Fit could be a t-shirt, an auto part or a laptop bag.
- Variety could be a lack of color or customization options.
- Trust could mean your website looks insecure on account of spelling or too little information.
- Customer privacy concerns? Guest checkout.
- “Stock” would be if you are simply out of the particular product the user wants.
- Tender, accept different forms of payment, not Tinder.
- Medium, mobile, responsive, other technical.
- Window shopping
- Information gathering for someone else
- Competitor sale, special pricing, different than everyday price competition
- 5pm? Battery dead? Red light, green? Dropped phone in the toilet?
- However fast your shipping is, the buyer needs it sooner.
Why do retailers need insight to the e-commerce black hole?
If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.
How can I know my customer better?
Last week, my team read that the best way to know who your ideal customer is to look at your current customers.
Before we had any customers.
Bad advice? No, just not timely before you have one single customer.
Here are some things I’ve done to get to know my customers before I had any:
- I went to a meetup and spent three hours shaking hands with potential customers who use a particular software platform we work integrated.
- I paid for a booth at a guitar show to show off a guitar sheet music app.
- I called ten failed customer journey participants and offered them $50 each to tell me why they didn’t buy through a series of questions.
- I’m writing an article about the E-Commerce Black Hole for customers unfamiliar with the concept.
I also recommend inbound marketing software and analytics packages if you have the time, resources and knowledge to make meaningful interpretations of their data.
How can I keep my customer from “leaving the car lot?”
I’m going to look online now for the actual source of the concept for used car salespeople. Hold, please.
Ok, see, “Salesmen Have Ways to Mess With Your Head” for the car keys trick in WiseBread’s Life Hack, “17 Things Car Salesmen Don’t Want You to Know.”
So, take their keys.
Or do the math.
Customers in the e-commerce black hole are meeting particular needs and lining up ducks that for some reason have to be in a row before they return and purchase your item.
If you can help them line up those ducks during their first visit, might they never leave? What if their ducks were in such a row, they felt comfortable buying on the first contact. What do those ducks look like?
Does your customer even have to enter the E-Commerce Black Hole?
Filthy Rich Williams lives in Dallas, has a four-year-old, watches comedy and rocks shows, and likes socks, Shark Tank and Lana Del Rey.