We all focus on conversions, and that totally makes sense. Whatever the hustle, we pay attention to the people who tipped, went private and signed up, especially for something with recurring billing.
Conversion and what we can do to increase it is an alluring endgame, but it’s not the only thing we should be focusing on. In addition to celebrating the (relatively small) percentage of customers who convert, shouldn’t we also try to understand the vast majority who don’t?
Here’s an interesting thought experiment presented by online consumer behavior expert, Liraz Margalit:
A man is dropped off on a desert island. He brings with him with an industrial-sized water barrel, which he thinks is full. But when he opens it, he finds only 10 cm of water at the bottom. Should he celebrate the water he has, or consider where the rest went, as a first step toward getting more?
My immediate response was, without hesitation, “You’re trapped on a desert island – Freak out about where the vast majority of the water went!” But if we were to apply the “celebrate conversion” logic here, we would be cheering about the tiny bit of water that remained. It’s interesting that we focus on opposite outcomes in circumstances that are, one might argue, equally significant in terms of sustaining livelihood. Margalit has much to say about this.
“This is exactly the online commerce industry’s conversions conundrum,” she suggests. “We measure and celebrate the minuscule amount of water in our barrels, but don’t really examine the space remaining.”
Why aren’t our online barrels (so to speak) full? What’s the problem!? “With conversion rates steady at three to 15 percent, what really needs to concern us is what is happening to the other 85 to 97 percent?” Margalit asserts.
What counts as conversion?
According to Margalit, successful customer experience does not always end with a conversion, and conversions are not always attributable to a successful customer experience. She offers the following scenarios to illustrate her point:
Think of the man who shops for several pleasant hours on a high-end jewelry website. Several weeks later, he goes into the brand’s physical store and buys the ring he lingered over online. This purchase would not be traditionally measured as a conversion — despite the fact that it was one — and despite the customer’s clearly positive experience.
On the flip side, think of any online purchase you’ve ever made following a less-than-ideal experience. You click “Confirm Purchase” because you really need the item, and you’ve already invested the time to find it on that site. But you’re not happy about the purchase experience, and you won’t buy on that site again if you can avoid it. Yet this correctly counts as a conversion.
Think about the guy who lingers in open chat for weeks, only to eventually become a solid regular. Think about the asshole who pops into your room, taking you private for a whopping five minutes – long enough for him to get off …and totally interrupt your flow with other more promising prospects.
Margalit suggests that the diamond guy and you in “frustrated shopper” mode are two different examples with one common denominator: experience. This also applies to the scenario with the eventual regular, as well as the one with the jerk-off asshole.
It is this parameter – experience – that we need to consider more closely.
What exactly is experience?
Experts in online consumer behavior like Margalit have a lot to say about experience – including why it’s difficult to even conceptualize it consistently.
According to the experts, experience is a product of the interaction between a person and a stimulus, as influenced by individual interpretation. Individual interpretation is why two people can interact with the same website or model and have two completely different stories to tell about their interaction. It’s also important to note that a single experience is made up of an infinite number of smaller experiences, each of which adds something to a person’s overall impression.
This is made even more complicated by the presence of two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self. Renowned scientist Daniel Kahneman says that these “selves” represent, in psychological terms, the two ways people interact with stimuli — in the present and retrospectively in memory.
The remembering self is what (who?) is largely responsible for cataloging the nature of an online consumer experience. Put another way, it’s not about the interaction itself, but about the customer’s emotional takeaway – and as we should all be grown up enough to acknowledge, for better and often for worse, our remembering selves are super capricious.
Think about it. After a long stint online, do you focus on the solid slam-dunks you had in the first couple hours? Or, do you focus on the fact that you basically sat around talking to yourself for the final 60 minutes? Chances are, even your own focus can change from day to day – and the people you interact with online and the capriciousness of their remembering selves are no different.
Can you measure experience?
Assuming we all agree that the 85 to 97 percent of non-converters out there warrant just as much concern as that aforementioned water jug and that their experience very much influences your bottom line online, the big question is: Can we measure experience just as we measure conversion?
According to Margalit, the answer is yes – and the first step to making effective use of the user experience metric is awareness.
“It is crucial we shift our primary focus from the traditional conversion metric — which is not as cut and dry as we once thought — to more relevant and timely user experience,” she explains. “We need to concentrate on filling the empty part of the online commerce barrel. We need to grasp, in a very intimate way, what our customers are feeling as they experience our sites.”
But how in the world do we enact this on cam?
The first step may be to figure out what “positive experience” means in your room. Ask your regulars for feedback, then meter that feedback against what you may be doing or what may be happening in the wider world during low conversion times. Because if we believe science, figuring out what’s going on in that empty space is key!
Which self is shaping these experiences?
Image © Chris Baker.