Friday, September 28

shopping online: observations

I read an item on the Usability Sciences site: Shipping Options positively impact Retail Websites which attempts to explain why so few people (7%, in their study) who enter a website make purchases. I'm not sure they got it right.

To be sure, there are many cases where I (virtually) wandered around an online store and didn't buy anything. There are other times where I've bought something and never returned (example: Uneetee's low-quality T-shirts). I suspect one thing online merchants aren't considering is how easy it is to compare vendors while online. This is something that's much harder in the B&M world, absent an army of friends with cellphones shopping for the same item simultaneously.
A friend of mine explained The Secret of Retail to me this way: If you don't have it, get it. If you do have it, sell it (quickly). Unwritten: if you can't sell it, get rid of it and make way for something that will sell. All sounds simple, but it's not -- consumers are fickle.
I've often browsed an online store and found something I like. My next step is to open a new browser tab to compare bottom-line prices (shipping plus sales tax). Some shopping bots make this easier than others (I continue to admire the simplicity of the "Total price" column on; the savings can be significant. Nor do I always buy from the lowest-price vendor: a low rating will send me scurrying away, while a seller in a nearby state may get my business versus one at either coast (shipping times). Frequently, I will wait for The Exact Model to be in stock.

Once I'm convinced the merchant is reputable and the final price is acceptable, I make my purchase and abandon the e-shopping cart in the other browser tab. I'm then nothing more than a Lost Business Statistic, since there's no analysis of why I didn't buy (odds are high that I wouldn't take the time to explain myself - life is too short). The online merchant is left bewildered (often "clueless"), but no more so than most B&Ms (absent the rare occasion where a clerk asks "did you find everything you want?" -- and really meant it).

One of the most egregious examples of this has to be Amazon Marketplace (the "used and new" merchant selector). Example: given a random shopping cart full of ten books I'm left to attempt combining - manually - my orders so as to minimize the default impact of paying ten shipping charges to ten different vendors. What would be Real Sweet (are you listening, Geoff?) is if I could automagically find a bottom-line price for all books in my cart. IMHO, Amazon Marketplace got it backwards - I'm left to choose the vendor first, then the product. Honestly, I seldom care who's selling to me, as long as they meet my reliability specs.

True, some books may be a dollar more here than there, but this is offset by a reduction in total shipping charges, and presumably fewer parcels en route to me. I would much rather get one box than ten, scattered across 5 days. There's a market out there for an aggregator for Amazon Marketplace, to fix this problem.

Bottom line? I suspect what I'm seeking is some sort of [x]Minimize Vendors button which would give me no more than 3 options:

$100 gets 5 books from Vendor A, 3 from vendor B and 2 from vendor C;
$110 gets 8 books from Vendor D and 2 from Vendor B;
$120 gets all 10 books from an aggregator.

Unspoken Fourth Option:

$140 gets 10 books from 10 vendors (the Amazon Marketplace default)

Granted there is a lot of work to be done here, since the quality of those Used Pre-owned Books may vary wildly by vendor, depending on inventory - yes, I understand that. Would (m)any people other than me find this useful? Unknown. For many years, I have used an e-merchant's Wish List to hold books or CDs for which I didn't want immediate gratification. In some cases, I'm waiting for the price to fall (why pay $75 for a new book when I might find a used one for $25 in 2 months' time?) while in other cases I'm simply trying to minimize the total shipping costs.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that shipments to me via FedEx has become erratic in the past few months; their predicted arrival date is often off by two days or more, while UPS has been spot-on. Is this a trend?

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