January 16, 2012

5 Myths About Your Customers That Will Lose You Money


So you think you know your customers; would you be willing to bet on it? If you’re falling for these 5 common myths about your customers, you are betting on it. You’re betting the time and money you’ve invested in your business, and you may be betting on the wrong things.

1. Your customers are just like you
This is by far the most common mistake I see business owners make: they assume their customers are just like them. If only I had a dime for every time I heard an entrepreneur say “I would never _____ so I don’t ______ with my business”.
I recently wrote about adding social share buttons to my order confirmation pages. Several Etsy sellers were quick to protest that they’d never share what they buy with such a widget. Does this mean their customers wouldn’t do it and give them tons of free word of mouth? All I can say is I got this idea from Amazon.com, the largest online retailer. They’re #1 for a reason and they thought this type of feature was worth putting on their confirmation page. That alone makes this feature worth testing.

What to do about this
Don’t ever assume your customers think the way you do. The most reliable indicator of customer behavior is customer behavior — that means you have to test everything. Test new features and see what percentage of customers use them. Test new products and see how well they sell. Test different price points and see which ones are successful. Google has provided a terrific free tool, Google Website Optimizer, that allows you to actually test different versions of pages on your site.

I like to keep abreast of tons of online commerce sites like Practical Ecommerce and Get Elastic (you’ll notice I often feature my faves on Friday link lists). When I see an idea that looks promising I always test it out, regardless of whether the idea would work on me as a consumer.

2. Customers do what they say they would do
This is an easy trap to fall for. You’ll innocently ask on Facebook “Would you buy this in red or green?” your customers say red, so you order 100 in red and 20 in green. Sure enough you sell out of green in 2 days and you’re left with too much red.

There’s nothing wrong with asking customers for opinions or feedback, but don’t take what they say as a reliable indicator of what they would actually do. Testing in the real world is the best way to get an accurate answer.

What to do about this
Always test things before you invest heavily in an idea. When we’re trying out a new product at Ex-Boyfriend, we’ll usually pay more per unit to produce a smaller number of something new to see what sells best. Then we’ll invest in more inventory for the best sellers at a higher volume for a lower cost. Sometimes we ask for customer input, but we also listen to our gut a lot.

3. Customers speak your language
Nothing makes me crazier than maker-speak on product pages geared to customers. The average consumer doesn’t know what the hell cabochons or giclee means. They’re shopping with you because they don’t make their own prints or jewelry or bags or whatever you sell, so don’t use words they won’t understand. Your customer is not impressed that you used a toggle clasp for that necklace because she doesn’t know what it means. You’re better off writing “Includes a super secure locking clasp that won’t accidentally open, so losing this necklace on the go is never a worry.”

What to do about this
Ask a friend or relative to take a look at your product pages (make sure it’s someone who isn’t in your industry). Ask them if they see any words or descriptors on your pages that are unfamiliar to them. If your Aunt Sue or your next door neighbor doesn’t know what your product pages are talking about, your customers probably don’t either.

4. If they want to buy it, they’ll figure out how to use your website
Crappy user interfaces are another peeve of mine. I hate to see a product page where I can’t find the “add to cart” button, or websites where I can’t find the check out button. If your site is at all difficult or confusing to use, you’re losing sales. Don’t assume that your products are so great that your customers will suffer through a bad user interface to place an order. There’s too much competition out there, so your site’s usablity needs to be top notch.

What to do about this
Having fresh eyes on your site is a great way to see if your site suffers from this problem. To make sure my site is easy to use, I always give it a “mom test”. This means I call up my mom, who is probably less computer savvy than my cats, and ask her to buy something on a website. If she can’t figure out how to do it, there’s work to be done.

5. Customers read
Everyone is busy busy busy, this means they probably don’t have time to read every word on your site. Your job is to make sure the most important information is highly visible to customers, easy to digest and reiterated in key places. Customers are not going to read paragraphs of text, so if you’ve written your terms about ship times, returns, etc. inside a novel your customer probably never saw it. Customers look at pictures and headlines, customers skim.

What to do about this
Make sure your website is skimmable. You’ll notice I do that here on Smaller Box, you can usually get the gist of a post I’ve written by reading the headlines and then read the entire thing if you’re intrigued. This means my content can be a quick snack or a full meal, depending on how busy you are, but you’ll be able to get info you need either way. You can do this with your product-based website too and here’s how:

  • Put as much info as you can into bullets. Bullets are great for product descriptions.
  • Use bold and headlines for really important information (i.e. Return Policy should be a bolded headline, and then how returns work can be written in bullets or a few short sentences)
  • Reiterate information in key places (i.e. put delivery time frames on product pages, check out pages and confirmation emails. Your customers are looking for this information so don’t make them dig for it, put it every place they could possibly look so they’ll see it right away)
  •  Use images instead of text whenever possible. People are drawn to photos, so if your bag has interior pockets with zippers it’s important to put this in your product description AND show a photo of the inside of that bag.
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7 Comments »

  1. Such good points! Especially the one about how customers don’t always buy what they say they will!

    Comment by Stacey — January 16, 2012 @ 10:39 am

  2. Thank goodness my customers are not just like me, or they would make their art dolls instead of buying the ones I make, and they’d be super frugal instead of splurging on luxury handmade gifts.

    Thanks for all the pointers.

    Comment by Robyn Coburn — January 16, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  3. I really enjoyed this article! I too often fall into the trap of thinking that my customers think and act the way I do.

    Comment by Michele — February 9, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  4. I like the bit about trusting your gut. It takes a certain amount of courage to do it, but experience tells me that sometimes you have no choice. What I wonder is, do our guts learn? Can you teach your gut to make better choices?

    Thanks for the post :)

    Comment by Josh — February 9, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  5. Cute store, Josh! I feel like we have gotten a much better instinct about what will or won’t work with our business, but I still believe in testing whenever it’s possible to do so.

    Comment by Meredith — February 9, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  6. So true…the best myth…”Customers do what they say they would do”

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Comment by Story Tellers Vintage — February 9, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

  7. The point about language really grabbed my attention. I try to be so technically accurate … it never occurred to be that a shopper may not know the same words that I do. Great point!

    Comment by TangoPony — February 9, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

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