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How to Alienate Customers with Your Web Site

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In Internet time, the Web is ancient; in real time, it’s still in its infancy. Many sites are going into their third, fourth, or nth generation of interface overhaul. Some sites do this to their detriment. To illustrate the common pratfalls that you should avoid in your site, I’m going to tell you about a bad redesign of a site and how it affected me, the customer.

My Life as It Was

First, a little background is in order. I am a movie freak. Every Tuesday, before I leave work, I go to the National Large Video Retailers (NLVR) home page through my T1 line, drop down to the combo box for new releases, and get a list of all the new videos in the store that day. (For those of you not in the know, Tuesday is the day that new videos are placed on retailers’ shelves.) I then rent at least one new movie from the NLVR’s brick and mortar (BAM) location.

Now, the NLVR site is not particularly fast, but it gives me the information I want and allows me to decide what videos I want to rent before I go to the store. This is an excellent use of the Internet for brand reinforcement. I associate the quality of the site with the quality of salespeople in the store, and the selection and availability of products on the site enable me to save time while I am at the BAM location. The site also helps drive additional rentals. I like obscure movies and might miss a new title in the clutter of the store (especially if they have only a few copies). With its clean listing of all the new movies, along with plot abstracts and, possibly, video clips, the site actually causes me to rent more. It’s a perfect example of how the Internet can be used to drive sales at a BAM location, build customer loyalty, and build brand identity and awareness.

Along Comes the Redesign

Sometime in November, the NLVR decided to redesign its site to focus better on selling movies and music online. In my first experience with the redesign, I attempted to hit the home page; it took 4 minutes to load over the T1. In addition, gone was the new-release combo box. Instead, I had to hunt through the home page, vainly clicking anything in an attempt to retrieve the coveted new-release list, but ’twas not to be found. The site had been changed to a format that encouraged me more to purchase music and videos or view advertisements for music and videos, not to reinforce content available at the retail location.

After 20 minutes of playing with the new interface, I finally noticed, in 8-point type at the bottom of the page, a link for new releases, but here was the joy: Clicking the link

brought up only a partial list with apparently random release dates. I was sitting here in month 11, and the site was telling me new releases for month 6. That should be really embarrassing and never should have been released to the public. (However, what was fun was clicking the link over and over to see which virtual month it would pick next.)

At this point, I became thoroughly disgusted and went to a competitive video retailer’s site. It had a new releases button that immediately gave me a list of all new releases from the current date backward. (Ain’t technology grand?)

The kind-hearted soul that I am, I penned an email to NLVR about the site response time and redesign issues and told them about how I used their site every week. This was where they made their second mistake. If you are going to have a customer service link on your page, you had better respond to the email sent to you. They even had text that said that they would respond within 24 hours. In reality, I received a response 12 days later that was just a canned auto-responder thanking me for my email and telling me that a human would get back to me within 24 hours. I never heard a peep out of them after that.

A month later, I checked back at their site. Things had improved somewhat, but the new-releases function was still funky, so I sent them another letter. This time, the auto- responder got back to me within two days (still not the promised 24 hours), and I got a response from a human within a week. Better, but it still didn’t make the grade.

So What’s It All Mean, Mr. Natural?

The point is simple and should be obvious: You have to provide what your customers want. You must be responsive to customer service inquiries. Before you redesign, you need good intelligence about how your customers use your site, and don’t exclude information vital to your BAM customers just because you want to focus on online sales. Test a new design thoroughly with a focus group before release. In addition, stress-test a new design and make sure that it will perform in the real world. You need only a few bad experiences to drive customers away permanently.

I finally hit NLVR’s site last week for the first time in over two months. It now loads quickly, and the new-releases function works better. Still, in the interim, I have used the competitor’s site to retrieve lists of videos that I want to rent and have bookmarked it in my browser. If I choose to buy online, where do you think I will go first?



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