First, let me explain what led up to the uproar over the issue of allegedly "pre-sold" ecommerce web site visitors.
The Law of Promo Photos
In a certain internet-based forum of mutual technical assistance, and occasional heated debate, I recently read a statement that amazed me.
I had stipulated in that forum that in direct marketing, it is a proven fact, based on numerous A/B split tests, that photos in advertising and sales material should show:
In use by customer.
Solving a problem.
Providing a benefit.
Enhancing someone's life.
Again: show typical users as they use the product, or obviously just finished using the product, to accomplish some specific goal.
Never just show the corporate office building, or a flagship product, or the entire line of products.
Those photos can come later, somewhere within the promotional/sales material, but not upfront and dominant.
When Product in Use photos were tested against Product Alone photos, in measurable direct response test situations, the Product in Use photos always produced greater customer response than the Product Alone photos.
There are exceptions, especially for universally known brands and products, like Coca Cola, IBM, or Madonna.
For some products or services, it may be difficult or impossible to show them being used by the customer. But in most cases a little imagination, plus knowledge of the customer, is all that's needed to come up with some type of product benefit image.
Application of Promo Photo Law
to Web Sites
I believe that this general guideline applies to web sites also.
A web site performs many functions for a company.
It can POTENTIALLY act as a virtual product showcase, corporate receptionist, advertising billboard, salesperson, brochure, catalog, order form processor, distribution point, PR agent, customer service department, etc.
The Comment That
Freaked Me Out
So, in the midst of debating these principles, my importation of database direct marketing principles into the realm of ecommerce applications at web sites, this comment occurred [paraphrased slightly, not the exact quote]:
"People visit an ecommerce web site to get information about the product. They already know they need an item, so they just want to know what the site has to offer in that product line. Photos of products are sufficient. The site visitor doesn't need a full sales pitch. He or she is already sold."
See that pile of hair on the floor?
It's okay, believe me.
I'll grow more eventually, to replace what I tore out.
Selling and Overcoming Buyer's Remorse
of "Pre-sold" Customers
"Pre-sold" customers visiting ecommerce web sites?
That's ill considered, unintentionally negligent, and abundantly disproven.
Remember the dot com bust in the 1990s?
That was one of the detrimental, self-defeating assumptions that caused so many ecommerce "web presences" to sink and disappear forever.
You must NEVER assume any customer or prospect is "pre-sold".
They don't visit your site eager and ready to part with their hard-earned money. A certain percentage of web site visitors may be wanting to quickly pick out appropriate or desired products and proceed to the virtual check out counter...but never assume that all visitors are so disposed.
Even if a web visitor is "pre-sold", what about upselling and cross-selling them? Sales pitches, of varying intensity and depth, should be taking place on an ecommerce web site.
A Web Developers Virtual Library tutorial on ecommerce shopping cart abandonment "Ecommerce and Usability" by Andrew Starling:
states that up to 30% of ecommerce site shoppers abandon their shopping carts. They selected products to buy, but did not proceed to the order form to actually purchase anything.
Studies have also shown that even when a person is 100% ready to buy, the mentally correct marketing strategy is to Sell Them Again, at least to reinforce their wisdom in deciding to buy your product, and to buy it now.
In fact, some customers, including me sometimes, will view an ecommerce web site to gather product information and price quotes, then go to a bricks and mortar store to wheel and deal with that information as ammunition.
This is a far cry from being a "pre-sold" customer visiting a web site.
Then there's Buyer's Remorse.
"Buyer's Remorse" is the technical term for what Selling The Already Sold Customer overcomes:
**Soon after people buy any product, uncertainty assails them, and they begin to wonder if they made a huge mistake. Most medium to high level purchases are subject to this principle of Buyer's Remorse, while it rarely occurs with the purchase of candy bars or habitual purchases like cigarettes.**
No matter how "pre-sold" any customer is when they walk into your store...or visit your ecommerce web site...they still desire, in most cases, to be reassured.
Reassure your customers about their supposedly "pre-sold" condition. Reassure them that they have indeed made the right decision.
For those customers who really are "pre-sold", provide them with detailed product comparisons to help them determine which product offering is best suited to their needs. Then give them a fast and easy route to ordering the products selected.
Do your best to accommodate each customer type, but don't assume that most are "pre-sold" and don't need any reminders of value, or reassurances that their decision to buy from you is wise.
This is the essence of Mentally Correct Marketing, and one of its most important principles.
EDIT UPDATE (Thursday Feb. 3, 2005 at 11:45PM):
I just got "flamed" on that same forum.
I will not divulge the name of the forum,
nor the name of the flamer.
But here is my response:
[________] asked me to provide sources and
citations for my claims.
How about WDVL web site?
An article on Ecommerce Shopping Cart Abandonment
["Ecommerce and Usability" by Andrew Starling]
at the Web Developer Virtual Library site states:
"...[ecommerce shopping cart abandonment statistics]
are generally reported at around 30%.
You don't see 30% of customers in a real supermarket
abandoning their carts, so why is the figure so high
on the Internet? There are many factors including
security, reliability, and high shipping charges (a
major influence) but another big factor is the
intimidating nature of the Web. It's technical and
lacks human contact."
This is related to my claim that we cannot assum that
visitors who go to ecommerce sites are somehow
"pre-sold" and just seek product details and ordering
That is really a wrong-headed idea.
I stand by my post on Selling the "Pre-sold" Customer
over at Streight Site blog, but thank you for pointing
out the fact that I really should provide links to
ConsumerWebWatch has reviewed my web sites and found
them to be in compliance with their guidelines for Web
Site Information Credibility, and I am listed on their
site as a company that has pledged to continue to
adhere to these guidelines.
Have you any credentials this good?
I have the advantage of many years experience in
database direct response marketing, and some years as
a web usability analyst and user observation test
designer and administrator.
I'm just a beginner at HTML, XML, network security,
and other web-related issues.
Most of the [_______] list folks could make me look bad
quite easily and quickly on those technical issues,
which I therefore avoid debating.
I'm a tiny wee bit concerned to hear someone I like
and respect, who sent [did me a certain favor],
claim that he has:
"not heard a SINGLE thing contributed to ANY
conversation [I] have joined [er...I start some
conversations, I'm not just a joiner or a lurker]
based on ANYTHING BUT preponderance and speculation."
Search the [_______] archives and see if I merely make
wild statements of pure, unverifiable opinion.
the word means "weighs more than something else" and
yes, my comments on usability, and especially database
direct response marketing do "weigh more" than
comments on this topic from someone who lacks such
I never mean to "bait" or "flame" anyone, but if I
read a statement that in my professional expertise I
consider wrong, or even potentially detrimental, I
will speak out.
---Love and German (not French) Kisses,
Vaspers the Grate
EDIT UPDATE (Friday, Feb.4, 2005 at 10:34 AM)
My beloved flamer had to respond to my [flame response] post in the forum.
Though he's a web designer/developer, he said he went to Consumer Reports WebWatch and was unable to find me listed on their site. I'm not going to take him by the hand and teach him how to navigate a web site.
He asked what on earth is "database direct marketing" and if I'm one of those people that call him on the phone in the middle of his dinner. Well, at least he has a sense of humor. But if he doesn't know what "database direct marketing" is, he should find out for himself.
He insists on mentioning, by first name even, the person whose statement he claim I have horribly mangled, misrepresented, and used in an "inflammatory" manner.
Well, the person said words to the effect (I refrain from giving exact quote, to make it harder to trace, because I don't want to embarrass the person) that visitors to an ecommerce web site are already "pre-sold" and don't need any sales pitch, just details about the product line and instructions on how to order.
He, as many flamers tend to do, avoids direct discussion of the ecommerce and "pre-sold" customers issue. I guess he knows it is indefensible and outrageous.
Instead, he attacks my credentials, my expertise, my supposedly wild speculations. This is a common ploy that I'm used to encountering in online debates.
He also, and I had to chuckle heartily on this one, asked who I was, since all he could see was "a collection of free blogs."
So now he wants a list of all my clients, and all the web sites I've helped to improve via usability analysis and user observation testing? Sorry, he's just not worth the trouble to go into all that. But I could, if I deemed it truly important to do so.
He also has not been initiated into my esoteric faith, what I refer to as the doctrine of Zero Budget Marketing, a slightly revolutionary concept based on:
"What can a company do with zero, or near-zero expenditure of funds? And if a lot can be done with virtually no budget, just think what might be done with decent or merely average funding of a program!"
I will be posting an article soon here on my theory and implementation of Zero Budget Marketing.
As much as I enjoy lively discussion, passionately held beliefs, and dedication to facts obtained via long professional experience and rigorous research work, I feel I should not make any more replies.
Sometimes self-defense and explanation is appropriate. Other times, it just makes you look pathetic and overly concerned about being perceived as "right" about something.
Love and combative generosity,
Vaspers the Grate
EDIT UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 4, 2005 at 11:30 AM)
At the forum, someone expressed his habit of going to ecommerce web sites knowing exactly what product he wants, thus he is "pre-sold".
He was so happy that others are proclaiming that ecommerce web site visitors are "pre-sold". His expression of delight and relief was odd.
Perhaps he has grown to hate sales and marketing. Maybe he's shy and passive, and has been chumped by unscrupulous, slick, aggressive sales people in the past.
Maybe he doesn't know much about sales and marketing, thus resents being told that ecommerce web sites must incorporate such knowledge, knowledge he is not adept at.
He claims, or maybe I should more accurately say, he seems to think perhaps that he is typical of most ecommerce web site visitors.
His anecdotal evidence may be true for him in most of his ecommerce experiences, but I question if his experience is typical for most ecommerce site visitors.
I press this point, because of how important it is for ecommerce site owners to decide upon the expected nature of visitors to their site.
Ecommerce is about intelligent, appropriate sales messages, not "here's our stuff, and here's the order form."
Here's my recent reply to this thread at the online forum...
"Then try this experiment:
Set up an ecommerce site that assumes that *all or
most* visitors are "pre-sold" and need no solid
explanations of the benefits and great features of
See how profitable it is, compared to another version
of the site that assumes that *all or most* visitors
can bear to be exposed to a stronger, but appropriate,
marketing message explaining or at least listing the
benefits and great features of your products.
This idea of an ecommerce web site being simply a
"digital brochure" or "online catalog" with little or
no marketing or sales strategy is not only old
fashioned presumption, but is largely responsible for
the dot com bust of the 1990s:
...thinking "if I just have an online presence,
customers will flock to it and buy my products
There are many reasons for shopping cart abandonment
and for the fact that most web visitors bail out of a
site within 1-2 page views and within 10 seconds.
But assuming the "pre-sold" nature of web visitors is
a fallacy that contributes to failure."
[NOTE: Now watch them swarm that statement of "bail out of a site within 1-2 page views and within 10 seconds". This will probably offend them as web designers, some of whom can't bear to think of anybody not being awed by their site designs.
If they are typical flamers, they'll attack at what they think is the weakest point of my argument, not knowing all the reputable internet research statistics that support the statements.]
Love and debatable debacles,
Vaspers the Grate