Thursday, 28 May 2009

Call, don't click

Conventional wisdom states that anyone selling a product or service should make it as easy as possible for the customer to purchase, from as many media and channels as possible. EMC Advertising Gifts is gambling that the conventional wisdom is wrong, at least for its business.

In a press release for the latest version of its website, the promotional-products cataloguer enthuses about its improved search engine, more user-friendly navigation, and cleaner design--the usual fare. Then it mentions that customers can no longer order directly from the site.

“We have decided to drop online ordering for the moment in favour of encouraging our customers to get in touch with us by phone, email and through our online quote and sample request form," the release states. "This way we can offer our promotional gifts expertise to ensure the customer is getting the best deal available and the most suitable product for their budget and their promotion."

Customers can order by phone, fax, or email, as well as request a quote via a button on each product page. What they cannot do is order 25 pens or keychains by clicking a button, dropping an item into the shopping basket, filling out a form that includes name, address, payment details, and the verbiage they want engraved or embossed on the product, hit "send", and wait for an acknowledgement.

Perhaps EMC didn't receive many orders online anyway, so it figured it could safely remove the option. Or perhaps every order it received direct from the site was problematic, requiring its customer service reps to phone back anyway. If that's the case, though, might EMC not have been better off simplifying its order process? Or maybe strongly encourage customers to phone, fax, or email but nonetheless retain the ecommerce option for those with simple orders, repeat customers, and people who really, really, really prefer to order online, to the point that they'll seek out another vendor that allows them to do so.

Then again, a visit to a half-dozen or so of EMC's competitors showed that online ordering is the exception rather than the rule in this market sector. So perhaps the personalisation involved makes ecommerce impractical. All the same, I can't help but feel that if EMC had managed to make it work, rather than giving up the ecommerce ghost, it could have used the online-ordering option as a way of setting itself apart from its myriad competitors.

If I may add one more carp: The EMC logo across the top of the site's web pages is not clickable. Selecting it will not take you back to the home page, as is the standard for websites these days. It's one thing to buck convention for a reason; it's another thing to simply be contrarian or decide that best practice doesn't apply to you.--SC

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