Monday, 30 November 2015

Don't Make Me Think = Don't Make Me Read?

We all know (because we've all been told) that online selling must follow the eternal (pre 1990) mantra that 'less is more'.  Less clutter, less text and less mess means less confusion equals more clarity equals more sales.  Yet in the offline world, shop shelves are stacked with 23 different brands of toothpaste, 32 different types of shampoo, and aisles and aisles of goods.  And if you think the bricks-and-mortar model is dead, and you'd prefer a modern comparison:  why are Amazon's warehouse shelves so full of so many different types of identical products?  And why do they have so many web pages?

Ignoring that argument, we know less is more because if there's "more" then people will have to think about the product they're buying. And we know thinking is bad because there's a book about online usability called "Don't make me think," and in this era of online publishing and blogging, you must surely be a respected authority on a subject if you can get a book published.  We may not have read your book, but we've heard of it, and we know the title.  [Steve Krug is a respected authority, and was even before he wrote his book].

But could you imagine if this less-is-more attitude was taken a step further in the offline world?

Imagine going to a bricks-and-mortar store, reaching the checkout with your selection, and then making eye contact with the checkout assistant. He (or she) looks away, grabs your shopping off you; scans the barcodes and runs up the total, then looks at you. You look back. He points to the total displayed on the cash register. You reach for your credit card. He waves his hand towards the card machine.

You put your card in the machine. He does whatever it is they do on the cash register to make the magical words “Enter your PIN” appear. There’s brief delay, the words “Transaction approved” appear in black on green on the dot-matrix screen, the assistant hands you your receipt and without any further delay turns to face the next customer.

Delightful, isn’t it? After all, you bought your items and paid for it successfully, didn’t you?  And did you have to think?  Perhaps you would have preferred to use one of those self-service checkouts, complete with 'unexpected item in the bagging area'.

This is the epitome of decluttered pages, where removing anything and everything that isn’t part of the main purchase experience is the absolute aim and surely conversion improvements will follow.  As online analysts, we've trained our managers and superiors to think that less is more, that clutter is bad and that we should just get people to press the button and buy the stuff. However, I believe that kind of thinking is out-of-date and needs to be revisited.

Our visitors are intelligent people.  They are not all high-speed 'I'd buy this even quicker if you got out of my way' purchasers.  Some of them actually want to read about your product - its unique selling point, its benefits, why it's not the cheapest product you offer.  They want to view the specifications (Is it waterproof?  Is it dishwasher safe?) and they won't buy the product unless you reassure them that it's the one they want.  We can reduce our product specifications to icons (yes, it's ultra secure, and it's got central locking and built-in satnav) but if your icon isn't either well-known or intuitive, then you made things worse by removing the words "with a built-in satnav" and replacing them with a picture of ... well... a wifi point?  Have we have started to think (subconsciously) that we should just show glossy pictures of our products and that this would be enough?

Is text bad?  And is more text worse?  I don't think so - after all, you're reading this, and despite my best efforts, it's pretty text-heavy with only a couple of images thrown in to break up all these words.  I'm making some pretty heavy demands on you (to read this much text, paragraphed but largely unformatted), but you've stuck with me this far.  I know online selling is different from online reading, but if you've managed to read this much, then it's fair to assume you can read some sales copy on a web page for a product that you are genuinely interested in.

So, is less more?  I am calling for a more balanced approach towards website content. We need to understand that it isn't simply about "less" and "more".  It's about the right content in the right place, at the right time to support a visitor's intentions (which may be 'to buy the product' or may be 'to find the best one for me'.)  And having said this much, I'll stop.

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