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Internet Department
December 04, 2001 12:32:25
Ten Biggest Dealer Website Turnoffs

Greg Mushro
TheNetLab, Inc.

Setting up an online presence is easy. Making it work -- and making money at it -- isn't. So why do so many dealer website sites, large and small, fail to become the cash cows their owners once envisioned? Maybe because customers are getting bogged down, fed up and just plain irritated with the downside of shopping online.

The Internet may be revolutionary in the overall scheme of things, but individual Websites are like any other means of hawking merchandise, from storefronts to packaging. If they're inviting and appealing, the customers will come.

Here is a very unscientific list of the biggest boondoggles on Websites today, from this columnist's perspective.

Make Sure Someone's Home

Number 10: The server is down -- again.

If customers can't get in the front door, all of the money and effort spent on that flashy Website is for naught.

The solution here is simple. Dealer website operations that don't have the hardware and trained staff to keep their sites up and running should outsource the job to a host that can offer top-level security, redundant power supplies and a bunch of other whistles and bells.

Number 9: Write it right.

Customers hate to see those error messages when the coding isn't right. It irks them to no end and makes the Website look like it was a half-baked idea. Customers feel insecure shopping at a place that seems haphazard and carelessly slapped together.

Thorough beta testing before a site launches should do the trick. But constant vigilance thereafter is needed. Nobody's perfect, but speed counts. Every minute a site is dysfunctional, potential buyers are lost. They won't come back, either.

KISS Principle

Number 8: Keep It Simple.

It's really very easy to fill space with declarations about how wonderful products are or how terrific a company is. And, sure, text loads fast. But customers don't want to read through dictionary-length pages.

Every Webmaster knows the Internet is a rapid-fire medium. Any eyeballs that rest momentarily on a new site will blink and look elsewhere if the home page resembles "War and Peace." Too much information is a very bad thing in the dealer website universe.

Make that home page friendly, visually enticing and spare.

Number 7: Stop playing "Where's Waldo?" with site directions.

Tabs, buttons and search functions need to be uniform and clearly labeled. Customers come to a site wanting to be enthusiastic about what they find there. Be nice -- and entertain with information, or Waldo will leave the building without making a purchase.

Make Privacy Policies Public

Number 6: Not with my life, you don't!

Most sites treat privacy conditions as if they were a footnote in a thesis -- tiny and buried. Research clearly shows that most people are still hesitant to divulge personal information over the Internet because they are afraid of how it will be used or abused.

A site that boldly tells people their information will be guarded like the family jewels is likely to score some points. Customers and prospects want to know how important their privacy concerns are to you're the dealer.

Number 5: Sorry, but I'm not telling you again.

There are still sites around that haven't figured out that forcing customers to repeat information is a sure way to kill sales.

There is abundant technology available to eliminate such duplication. Sites that don't get it are soon clogged with abandoned shopping carts.

Don't Diss Training Wheels

Number 4: Let's try it one time just for fun.

There are a lot of people who have shopped online, but millions more haven't. Savvy websites explain what the customer can expect when using the site and will give them the opportunity that every brick-and-mortar shopper has -- let them browse and inquire with no obligation. It may seem obvious, but it doesn't hurt to post it clearly in the inventory area.

The technology is out there to allow people to give this online shopping thing a try without committing themselves in any way. A dry run through the entire request process with no string attached is very reassuring for a nervous Web newcomer. The folks running online brokerages have allowed potential customers to try sample trades for years.

Number 3: Oh, dear -- it's raining pop-ups!

Pop-up ads seem to be the latest craze, dropping in from nowhere with eye-popping designs in ever-increasing numbers. The occasional pop-up can be both effective and efficient. Too many of them can make a Web surfer feel surrounded by brushfires -- with just one tiny little mouse to help put them out. Anyone who has to feverishly click to get rid of in-your-face pop-ups is likely to click right out of sight.

Customers expect to be hit with some advertising -- they just don't want to be bludgeoned to death.

Skip the Waiting Game

Number 2: I think I'll paint the house while I wait.

While there is a natural desire to make a site look as cool as possible, dealer website have to keep one very simple thing in mind: Much of the flashiest new technology requires some hefty bandwidth that the average customer simply doesn't have. Most consumers do not shop at offices with T1 connections and cable modems. They are probably at home, connecting at 56k.

Shockwaves, animations and many other eye-catchers are too slow to load for people with soup can-and-string connections. Sites that offer the choice of a graphically simpler format can please most people most of the time. Those that don't might not get a lot of click-throughs. Instead, they'll get Click! Bye!

When in Doubt, Just Ask

Number 1: Ask the customers!

This list may seem like a crock to some dealers, but have they bothered to go to the source that has the best straight answers? Online operations need to ask their customers what makes shopping online great or awful.

While the tools of the modern CRM trade are vast and inspiring -- from predictive analytics to artificial intelligence -- nothing can replace the direct-from-the-source information a company can get from customer surveys. Sites can gather responses online, on the phone or via "snail mail." The important thing is to let the customer know that his or her opinion and preferences really do matter.

When the survey is complete, smooth dealer operators will say thanks by giving each participant a little tangible appreciation, such as a $5 coupon or some other token. Brick-and-mortar retailers have done it for years, and it drives traffic, sales and word-of-mouth advertising -- something money can't buy.

Greg Mushro, TheNetLab!



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