September 22nd, 2008 by Judith
I recently used an online printing site (that shall remain nameless) to order some personal business cards. The site has one of those wizards which steps you through a selection of fonts, images, and paper stock as you build a card. Once you are satisfied with your design you can order a proof or place the order immediately.
After some fiddling with file formats (TIFF instead of GIF for a background image) and doing some adjustments to get my card just right, I was eager to place my order and be on my merry way. I placed my order and expected that I would need to enter contact and credit card details in order to complete my transaction.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
Instead, I was put through an unending series of “special offer” pages– leather-bound card holders, personalized calendars, pens, et cetera. I found this annoying since I simply wanted to pay. Isn’t that the point of ecommerce? Why stuff a bunch of screens in my face? I just wanted to pay and move on.
Anyway, I breezed through these screens since every selection was opt-in so there was no need for me to deselect as I clicked the “next” button repeatedly. After six or seven of these opt-in screens, I arrived at a magazine subscription page which was formatted differently. It had radio buttons instead of check boxes, and the behavior had changed to opt-out. However, I was on auto-pilot and so accustomed to breezing through the flow that I automatically clicked the “next” button instead of deselecting the offer– even though I registered this change. Once I noticed this, I clicked the browser’s back button to attempt to return and deselect but all I got was a blank screen. Anxious to move on, I impatiently clicked “next” and arrived at an order summary page. I assumed I would be able to see any “special offer” including the magazine subscription as well as my cards and thus be able to delete the subscription (as most shopping carts interfaces allow.) Since there was no mention of a subscription as part of my order and therefore nothing to delete, I assumed everything was hunky dory and went ahead a completed my order.
Once the order was placed, I called the company’s 1-800 number just to verify that no subscription was placed. Much to my dismay, an order was placed for “Field & Stream” no less–incidentally, I am a vegetarian– and yet, I had no proof of this on my order summary. After roundly criticizing the user experience of the shopping cart to the customer service person, I was told I could cancel by sending an email to email@example.com so I went ahead and did so…
2 months and counting and I just received my third issue of “Field & Stream”…Arghh!!
What to take away from this experience? How could this company enhance their bottom line without alienating paying customers?
Best practice would be to limit the amount of offers for paying customers. The folks looking for a freebie would expect to have to jump through a zillion offers, but paying customers should be treated with more respect. They should also use consistent controls (radio buttons or checkboxes) and, more importantly, make the behavior consistent: either opt-in or opt-out. Whenever you change the control or behavior you have the potential to trip up a person’s mental model. In the specifics of this scenario that kind of trip ip can lead to the user to accidentally selecting items that he or she had no intention of buying. This is a subtle form of bait and switch and can compromise a site’s trustworthiness and lose a customer forever.