Hi, I'm Brice McBeth founder of Reap Marketing. Send me a message or schedule a meeting with me below.
It’s an exciting and intoxicating experience to create a brand from scratch. It’s fun to create the name, the slogan, the logo, the colors, the fonts and make all the design decisions. However, decisions in this creative phase are often driven by feelings, passion, intention, and egos rather than actual financial models or facts about your customers and what moves them to buy.
The passion and energy generated by these brand decisions are exciting and give entrepreneurs fuel to launch their websites. However, we entrepreneurs often assume that everyone who visits our website is going to be equally excited about the branding concepts and rush to hit the buy button. You might fall in love with the overall aesthetic, the innovative web design, or the deeper hidden meanings in your logo.
However, after a few months of low sales on that stunning and innovative website, you may have to face the facts. Your cool logo didn’t bring people to the site or entice them to buy. That clever slogan didn’t convert more visitors.
The bottom line is that buyers are usually very practical. Most buyers want either a unique product or commodity product at a price they can afford.
My team and I built a stunning and artistic website. It was so beautiful that we had visions of winning design awards. There was just one problem. Our conversions were below the industry average. But we were a conversion agency, so how could that be?
After some market research—calling site visitors who did not buy—I uncovered the problem. My customers told me my products were too expensive. But they weren’t. The problem after deep investigation was that the high-end feel of our site was sabotaging our sales because the people perceived all of the products were more expensive than they actually were based on the design alone. The discount pricing and free shipping made us very competitive, but it simply didn’t matter because nobody noticed that.
Today, after much testing and redesign work, StandishSalonGoods.com is performing well and is very profitable. In the process of transitioning it to a consistently profitable business that is larger than my agency, I learned a few key pitfalls that can drastically harm your web sales. I’ve divulged three of them here. Avoid them, or remove them from your website and you may start to see better results, too.
When we designed our first version of the website, we used advanced 3D modeling and renderings on our website to create realistic environments and vignettes that showcased our products and gave visitors the feeling of walking into a high-end showroom. It was cool. It was awesome. It was unique. It gave people pause…
We tried to perform user studies and research to understand the root cause. Except didn’t perform traditional usability testing because, in my experience, those tests are skewed based on how people react to questions in a lab – projecting about what they would do if they were a particular type of person (who they weren’t) in a particular type of situation (where they weren’t) – which does not always depict how our buyers make decisions in reality.
We did a test I called ‘The 3 Random Guys Test’. We’d bring three guys in, sit them down in front of a computer, give them a task, watch them fail, then look at each other and say, “that guy is incompetent, let’s go get three more guys.” At some point after seeing this pattern repeat, and after also calling our clients that abandoned their carts to hear that they didn’t buy from us because we were “too expensive”, you realize that it’s not the guys or the clients, it’s the website.
For us, our site was too complicated and too innovative. It wasn’t familiar enough, it looked too high-end (“expensive”) and that was the bottom line.
Our solution was to scrap our (very expensive) custom design and replace it with a $100 template. The navigation in the template was familiar to our common buyers. It had a much more achievable and affordable feel to it. And it worked! Overnight, our conversions went up over 350%!
Tip: Start small with a free template from LemonStand. Their designs are great and follow a conventional layout that shoppers find familiar. Iterate from that point and redesign ONLY after you have sufficient data that suggests your innovative idea will work.
Remember when JC Penney tried to replace coupons with everyday low pricing in 2011? It seems logical… coupons cut into margins, buyers think coupons are hokie if you treat people with respect and eliminate the cumbersome paper coupon then clients will feel smarter and perceive a higher value in your brand. But that strategy failed them miserably.
Similarly, when we launched Standish, we had clients calling to negotiate prices of chairs every day — wanting to FEEL the huge savings. They would call the phone number on the website, ask to speak to a sales person, and attempt to haggle over the pricing. This was mystifying to me. I’ve never called Amazon and tried to haggle with them like I was buying used shoes at a garage sale, but I’m not my client, so what do I know?
So we dug deeper into our analytics. We discovered is that we actually had two distinctly different types of clients. One was a salon replacing an existing chair. These customers were usually on a tight budget and wanted to buy the least expensive chair that had style.
Our second client was very different. This buyer was a salon owner looking to open up a new location who needed at least five fully furnished operator stations, chairs, mats, and the works. They were looking for package deals, volume discounts, and a choice of styles that would set their salon apart from their competition.
By using analytics and talking with customers, we restructured our promotions to streamline the offers and discounts. We came up with a “Spend More Save More” campaign that allowed for deeper discounts at the higher ticket sizes. Spend $1,000, get free shipping. Spend $2,500, get 5% off. Spend $5,000 get 10% off. And so on.
This accomplished two things:
Tip: Try restructuring your promotion. Try selling full price with full shipping. Or mark it up to mark it down without free shipping. Maybe try a tiered promotion to try to increase your order value.
After comparing the user flow through our site between buyers and non-buys, we discovered something interesting. Those who purchased from us had a much higher affinity towards our “About Us” content than those who didn’t buy from us.
What we did not know was if viewing corporate information is a simple characteristic of people who are likely to buy? Or if stumbling upon this same information actually caused a visitor to become more convinced to buy from us.
So we devised a test to showcase this information more prominently. We also tested a “large corporation” tone with little staff information versus a small boutique with detailed profiles of our 8 employees. We were hesitant to embrace the “boutique” approach, but it was actually very effective — our clients liked that we were the underdog and appeared to be working as hard as they were to get ahead. They also liked that they could easily talk to anyone on our team and feel like they knew with whom they were working.
This was part of a series of tests that led to a 25% increase in conversions and 15% increase in order value.
A lot of times I see this with new startups. They are scared to say that they are a startup company with no staff or just one or two employees. They feel like their prospects will think that’s too small and not credible. But in fact, there are a lot of buyers out there who are more comfortable working with smaller companies or a family-owned operations. Some buyers enjoy supporting smaller businesses.
Tip: Be honest, embrace who you are and use it to your advantage. Accessibility and transparency can often trump being a corporate behemoth. Try embracing your startup or boutique.
Through the process of launching StandishSalonGoods.com and then relentlessly testing it over the next four years, my team and I learned valuable lessons about web design and conversion. We discovered that our clients put less emphasis on the brand elements and put more stock into a brand with which they were familiar, and moreover could TRUST.
Ultimately, our clients were hoping to find an affordable hair salon chair. They didn’t care about the symbolism behind our name or our stunning logo. The branding and logo to our clients were just… well… just a logo and colors on a header. These items were important to us but immaterial to our customers.
The solution is to understand the driving factors behind clients’ buying behavior. They are looking for a product that is unique and at the right price point. Create your logo and brand to communicate clearly to your client first.
Then, test everything.
As you design and test your site, you may fall into a trap of testing low-impact items such as button color. Instead first focus on high impact items like value messaging and creating pathways that prompt the actions you want customers to take.
When you focus on the values of your customers and then design a site that makes it easy for them to buy from you, you’ll see your conversions and your profits soar.