Thursday, 16 June 2011

On online shopping and the art of persuasion

On Monday, Kevin Hillstrom, the president of Mine That Data and a regular speaker at the ECMOD conference, wrote a blog about multichannel attribution. (You can read it here.) He described how he had decided to buy a new TV from Crutchfield, a US-based retailer of consumer electronics products. In just one month, Hillstrom received a catalogue, abandoned basket notification, free gift offer, a lower price, and an email featuring the selected TV, alongside a free shipping offer. He asked readers to deconstruct that information and explain which marketing activity caused the order, bearing in mind that he had already made up his mind to buy from Crutchfield.

Now, I don’t want to wade into the argument. In fact, what interests me most about this experience is just how hard Crutchfield worked to get the sale. With more than a hint of disappointment I can safely say no retailer has ever courted me like that. The closest I have come is a “Thank you for your interest” email from John Lewis and a couple of “we miss you” emails every now and then. As for abandoned-basket emails, the last one I saw was one my boss forwarded me from hair and beauty care brand Aveda.


To show the contrast between Crutchfield’s tenacious approach to get Kevin to buy the TV, and the more laid-back sales tactics I am accustomed to, here’s my recent experience shopping for shoes. I was looking to buy a pair of Converse Ox trainers and started out using Google’s shopping search.  My buying decision was based on price: Who could give me the best deal on Converse Ox trainers. After trying the usual shoe suspects, I ended up on eBay’s fashion outlet. I clicked “watch” on a pair of trainers so that I could save my choice and continue browsing.  You’re probably expecting me to say that a pair of trainers followed me around the internet as I continued searching. However, because a lot of my browsing was done on a smartphone I didn’t see any of the now ubiquitous retargeting ads.

A couple of days later I noticed the price of my watched item had been reduced by 15 percent, and still had free delivery. Was that intentional or a coincidence? Could the seller, knowing he had only four pairs in that size in stock, used the tactic to tempt the “watchers” he had? Or was it that with only four pairs in stock, he wanted to shift them faster? Or, was it always the plan to reduce the items a certain number of days before the “buy it now” auction ended? Whatever the reason, I took the bait and bought the shoes.
Now get this—six days after I bought the shoes I received an email from eBay: “Miri Thomas, recommended just for you”. Remember, eBay knows I bought the shoes. So why on earth did it send me a selection of Converse trainers? As Kevin Hillstrom would say, “Oh boy…”

eBay's idea of what I'd like. Not in my size though.

Faring slightly better in trying to woo me was Dell. But only slightly. In March, we bought a new PC. In June, we received a mailing from Dell with 10 percent off related accessories—a nice touch. However, if we were in the market for accessories we would have bought them in the first couple of months of buying the computer—and we did. We got a new printer and a new mouse in April from another online retailer. Dell missed the boat.

Crutchfield wanted the sale and it worked for it. The eBay merchant was on the ball, but the online marketplace got its emails wrong. And as for Dell, I give it top marks for the idea, but it was let down by poor timing.

For the marketer, Crutchfield’s sales technique is, as Hillstrom puts it, an “attribution nightmare”. But as a consumer, Crutchfield’s approach is seductive. Hands up: who among you would rather receive an email showing you the shoes you could have bought, or the PC accessories you already have over a free gift to go with the shiny new TV you have put in your basket but haven’t purchased yet?

Thought so.--MT

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