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Apparently on average 60% of ecommerce shopping baskets are abandoned before payment is made, according to the big brainboxes at Marketing Sherpa.

“…our research indicates the problem may not be the design of your shopping cart — in the distant past consumers couldn’t figure out how to check out or got tangled on the way. Nowadays, most consumers are very well trained in the steps of using an online shopping cart. Instead, the problem is nearly entirely marketing related in nature.”

This is true. Technically most ecommerce processes are pretty sound these days. It’s that it doesn’t take much for your average consumer i.e. me, to give up, especially on a site I’m not familiar with. A major problem with buying online is that it’s just so very easy to give up. And if that’s the case, you need to design a shopping system that removes any barrier to purchase, no matter how tiny. Rule No.1: Make it as easy as possible for the customer to give you their money.

It’s often an accumulation of seemingly inconsequential things that little by little reduces my trust. And like most people I have a tipping point of trust – eventually I just give up. Whilst I am unlikely to wail “But there’s no padlock sign on the credit card machine promising me it’s secure” for me to abandon my shopping basket in a real bricks and mortar store, that’s all it takes online. 10,000 years of real world shopping and it’s built into our DNA to blindly trust a shop. In fact, it’s pretty easy to be conned face to face.

So maybe it’s time we looked harder at the little things:

Do you really require your customer to register an account before buying? – there’s no need from the customer’s point of view for giving out their email address, phone number, address, ZIP code, password creation and inside leg measurement beyond what’s needed to fulfil a card transaction is there? Really? What if it wasn’t there and you didn’t get what is to all intents and purposes is marketing info? But you did get their money – what’s more important, eh? Some sites do it and it really works. Or ask me to register afterwards, not before.

Keep it all on one page – Nothing on the page that is not strictly part of the ecommerce process – no help links, no terms and conditions, no links to other products, no pop ups for delivery info. Have it all enclosed right there on the page.

Will I actually get it before Xmas? – I almost never abandon my shopping basket in Amazon because all the info I need is on the product page, including, most importantly whether it’s in stock (plus the mini basket is quite cool). A delivery time of 4-6 weeks always makes me hesitate even putting an item in my basket, I don’t know why. In my head I think “that’s Amazon’s way of telling me I ain’t never getting it.”

Mandatory fields – how many times have you been asked for some personal details you simply don’t want to give? If a site forces me to give my phone number I automatically raise a quizzical eyebrow. I HATE getting marketing calls. If they can’t build an ecommerce site that works or that can’t communicate any problems to me by email I don’t want to know. I mean, I don’t even give it out to people I know let alone

ZIP codes vs Post codes – You KNOW I’m in the UK as I picked “Great Britain” from a long drop down list of countries. So why can’t you dynamically change the next field that resolutely continues to request a ZIP CODE!?

When the webserver falls over half way through my transaction I want to know…has my account been debited or what? If you don’t provide me with a massive trust boost at that point I’m never ever shopping with you again. And if you do deign to give me a support phone number to contact can you please make sure the operator at the end has a clue about your website ecommerce system? “Er…I’m sorry sir but you’re not showing up on our system yet. I’ll send you a form you can fill in requesting a refund which, once processed, should be in your account in 10 working days.” (this actually happened to me with a prominent cinema chain very recently).

Tell me you are totally cool with my data – “We respect your privacy and God can strike us down with plagues of boils and locusts if we abuse that trust” or similar will be fine. It’s just good to know. It’s 1% more trust in you, which might get me to the next step in your ecommerce!

To be honest it’s usually high street stores that move to an ecommerce model that don’t get it. Is there such a thing as a perfect ecommerce model? I doubt it, but even if you leave the rest of your site to rot, keep incrementally and regularly improving your buying process. Never forget Rule No.1.

1) How many confusing instructions do you need to give me, Argos? And what’s with the nasty red crosses that seem to be begging me to give up the transaction?:

Argos 1








2) Click the image below to find out what item Debenhams were offering to change the colour or size of. Strangely enough I couldn’t get it in Hot Pink. This is clearly a default link that should not appear for items that do not come in different colours and sizes!


3) I’ve already put ‘Ocean’s Twelve DVD’ in my shopping basket from your banner advert so why are you still showing it, Woolworths?

And why can I see a trash can icon and a red cross icon next to my items? They are both hyperlinked to something but with no alt text. Do you want me to click them to find out? What if it removes the item? Have I then got to go back through your site to find it again? You mean…you want me to click them to find out? Bzzzz! I’m sorry you have just lost my custom. Don’t make me think! See ya!


“Everyone expects a bit of exaggeration, but the trick is knowing how much to believe.”

Susan Oates, a word usage expert in the department of politics at Glasgow University, co-author of a research paper looking at how estate agents descriptions of properties get more upbeat in a rising market.

I’m trying to sell my house at the moment, which means dealing with estate agents <sigh>. This is the first time I’ve sold a property and the first time I’ve had to consider how to allow my house to be described to make it as attractive as possible to potential buyers.

The usual estate agent speak will be employed I’m sure but will my potential buyers, as modern consumers, fall for it? In this world of instant access to information from blogs, forums, newsgroups, review sites, product comparison services and so on are we still as likely to fall for the same old routines and sales pitches that worked on our parents?

  • “Studio flat” = be prepared for a Kitchen/Bathroom
  • “Up and coming area” = steel bars on lower floor windows
  • “Immaculate throughout” = owner has hoovered and done the washing up
  • “In need of some modernisation” = at least the walls are still standing, eh?
  • “Rare opportunity to buy in this location” = We don’t much like new people round ‘ere.
  • “Internal viewing highly recommended” = Yes, we know it looks dreadful on the outside but…
  • “On street parking” = no need to continue that gym membership, the daily 10 min walk to your parked car will suffice.
  • …and so on.

Here on ode we are also trying to judge how to formulate descriptions for each piece of content or collection of content that gives the customer enough info to confidently buy quickly and easily. At this stage it is admittedly trial and error.

For example these are two different ways we might describe a Key Stage 3 Maths Puzzle game:

  1. “An interactive animation and 3 follow up questions to teach and practice Algebra”
  2. “An enormously popular, exciting and visually stimulating interactive animation where your student plays the character of a frog, leaping between lilly pads that each hide a challenging algebraic equation. “

Which one will appeal more? Do people expect a certain amount of effort to be made by the vendor? Or do you want just the facts, ma’am?

We won’t know for some time exactly how to balance these descriptions. Teachers will be more concerned about the exact educational content and quality of the asset itself, rather than an interesting sales pitch. But, in the same way we sub consciously interpret estate agent speak, we can expect our customers to have strong filters for hyperbole and over-sell that appreciates such florid language has it’s time and place.

Just for fun: Can anyone else offer any more translations of estate agent speak they’ve seen or experienced?

What is ODE?

ODE will be a webstore where educators can buy little bits of digital educational content and put them back together any way they like. Simple.