Why Can’t E-Commerce Close The Sale?

It appears there is a whole lot of window surfing going on at e-tail Web sites and not enough buying.

That is the conclusion to be drawn from a recent study by the NPD Group, which indicates that 84 percent of those who have purchased something online in the past six months say that while they often look at products online, they usually buy offline.

Why can’t e-commerce close the sale online? What’s so alluring about the brick-and-mortar environment? Especially when the real-world store is selling the same merchandise at a higher price?

These questions keep cropping up, demanding an answer.

As it turns out, talking about why people research products online, but make their purchases offline, does not make for sterling cocktail party conversation.

Shaken, Not Stirred

When faced with the question of why people are hesitant to buy online, most of my friends and acquaintances either stare incredulously or dismiss the inquiry with a reference to how complicated the e-commerce process is or can be.

However, as someone who buys online regularly, I have to say that I don’t find e-commerce transactions mysterious or complicated. Even with so many dot-com stores closing their doors, I find it simple to buy what I want on the Internet — whenever I want.

The problem is convincing the already-wired masses to do the same.

Surfing in Place

The average consumer considering a new purchase requires that at least two elements be part in the shopping experience: human contact and something — anything — that would suggest the seller is credible in the marketplace.

That might explain a finding by Jupiter Media Metrix earlier this summer that just a few Web sites — including AOL/Time Warner, Yahoo! and Microsoft — control 50 percent of online user time. AOL/Time Warner and Microsoft make the nightly news regularly, creating an image of omnipotence online, while strains of “Do You Yahoo?” play with some frequency during commercial breaks.

Familiarity breeds credibility in the new world of the Internet. Unfortunately, the traffic reports might be leading smaller companies online to believe that their survival depends on getting swallowed by a major player.

But the little guys have another option: make some noise in the marketplace and fill a unique need among the consumer base. The surfers will start spending dollars.

Starting Young

Meanwhile, Jupiter also reports that teens — who routinely use the Internet as part of their lifestyle — like to shop online, but without credit cards, many are unable to push the virtual shopping cart through the checkout lane.

Will current e-tail sites survive until today’s teens are old enough to flash plastic? That depends on reassessment of current online selling techniques.

For example, why don’t more e-tailers follow the lead of companies like Saksfifthavenue.com and offer live help online. It’s as simple as using familiar instant messaging technology and it offers customers an opportunity to ask questions in real time with a representative of the site.

Call for Service

And what about some greater emphasis on quality of personalized service? When I bought an electronic device from an e-tail site, a service rep called the next morning to verify my order. That was encouraging, until the service rep called me Mr. Green instead of Mr. Greenberg.

Even if service mentality among businesses in our culture has waned in recent years, online businesses have to bolster their service in any way possible. Closing the sale online requires not only that the merchant fill a need, but also that the quesions asked later are answered.

Soon Enough

Still, if Web sites are influential enough to cause users to sign off and drive to the mall and make purchases, why are they not able to take that next step in causing the customer to order the merchandise online?

In sales circles, the close is often called the big “get.” Everything else in the marketing process is window dressing.

Which brings us back to the adolescent contingent. Since most of them cannot buy online, now is the time for forward thinking e-tailers to establish lasting relationships with them. If teens become familiar with particular merchants now, they will enthusiastically use their shiny new credit card to go that all important additional step.

One might think of everything before that as something akin to driving with a learner’s permit.

Blues Note

Further, businesses that operate with multiple channels would do well to create a comfort level with online usage inside the walls of their brick-and-mortar stores.

Kiosks and other in-store technology could go far in helping younger or less Web savvy consumers incorporate Internet usage and buying into their lifestyles.

It’s time to get over the shakeout blues and move forward with the next stage of e-commerce.

It’s time to close the sale.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • I think we’re missing the point.

    The big deal is “Trust” – people (i.e. non-geeks) just don’t trust online shops. The media is full of failure stories and pessimism and the general opinion is “if they can’t run their business, how can I trust them with my money?”

    There are a number of additional reasons:

    – you can’t touch or feel the goods

    – (normally) no service

    – very difficult returns (postage, time, shipping)

    – people feel unsafe paying over the web

    – poeple worry about being bombarded with advertising after having bought something online.

    Until online shops can make up for these deficits, people won’t buy. Making up for this can take different forms – free returns, live chat-based service or, most importantly, low prices.

    • On-line banking will resolve this. If the teenager has a bank account that is set up, then he could transfer money into his account at the department store. The left over money could either stay in his account at the department store or be transferred back to his bank account. This is one remedy that will allow teenagers to buy on the net, since they do most of the surfing.

  • Too much focus on kids! Do you realise that most of us are not interested in selling to the soon to be adults or just wait for their Credit Card?

    No, the main point is CREDIBILITY and closing the sale. You have to adapt to your targeted clients and offer an environment that answers their needs. My website is designed to sell to women 40-65yo, thus to fit the surfing pattern AND ACQUIRE CREDIBILITY I have to put a lot of text, articles and nice pictures. Why? Because women like to read about the things they may buy and showing your knowledge of the product, the techniques and presenting the artists (I sell Art of the Table and Decoration pieces) will bring you credibility. A basic online catalog just won’t do for my “soon to be clients”. The drawback? A lot of content to create, which means time, which means money. But content creates keywords… [thus can be seen as a marketing effort too!] After earning credibility, you then have to close the sale: you have to finish your articles with “call to action” verbs, symbols, buttons, navigation patterns without forcing too much the hand.

    In other words, you can simplify all that by saying that FOCUS (on your market cluster) will drive your web development (to create a adapted surfing experience) which in turn will bring credibility and it would be up to you to close the sale smoothly. Don’t complain if you don’t close the sale without having those rules of thumbs followed since CLOSING THE SALE IS THE FINAL STEP IN A PRECISE (AND ADAPTED) PROCESS.




  • It has been my experience new technologies and procedures to make online purchasing a breeeze are not readily embraced by e-tailers or service providers.

    Generally they wish to stick to the established mode of operation which has ben in place for remote purchasing for a hundred years. This is not conducive to encouraging on-line purchasing.

    New systems ARE available specifically designed for the the new environment.

    It has not been good enough to provide a website and just leave everything else to the horse and cart.

  • There is one more point that everyone is missing on why can’t e-commerce close the sale. That is, you purchase the goods or services in return for payment immediately (in fact in some cases you pay after you get) in real life. This is impossible on the net and furthermore you have to wait a couple of days in order to receive what you have bought. This is human nature and a shopping habit. When this habit starts changing (as it already has in teens) users will be closing the sales.

  • Ecommerce can’t close the sale for the following reasons:

    – Ecommerce pricing is rarely cheaper than brick and mortar.

    – Customer service is generally deplorable, even if it isn’t actually worse than customer service in total, the perception is that it is (and rightly so)

    – Shipping is a pain, it cost $$$, I have to wait for it – and in many cases, if I’m not home to sign for it, I have to wait, or go get it anyway

    – Sites for “browsing” merchandise are still a long way from emulating the shopping experience

    – Payment method is inhibiting

    – Finding an online store for a particular product isn’t worth the effort

    – Overall, taking into consideration the above notes, it’s a very unsatisfactory experience.

  • eCommerce sites have a great opportunity with teens. Look at today’s spending habits of the average teen and the lure becomes that much stronger. There needs to be another alternative for this segment to be able to spend on line aside from a credit card, whether that is a proprietary e-dollars account or one of those services which provide the concept of internet money. These accounts would be replenished before sales could be made. The pay as you go direction would be very similar to paying with cash. I AM surprised that this approach has not been taken with lightning-speed implementation.

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