Let's Stop Comparing Websites To Stores


February 2, 2007

I read Bryan Eisenberg’s article on “The Value of Online Traffic.” He says he’s tired of hearing marketers complain about the high cost of clicks. I, on the other hand, am tired of hearing marketers compare websites to stores.

Bryan writes things like, “The corner of 57th St. and Fifth Ave. in Manhattan is one of the highest trafficked intersections in the country. So it’s no surprise that the cost of commercial real estate is priced accordingly. To establish and support a retail store there, you must take advantage of the traffic’s high margins and volumes.”

Well, that’s fine if you are a bricks and mortar store. If you are at the corner of 57th and Fifth, you get to charge high prices. Shopping in downtown Manhattan is not just about acquiring goods – it’s about having fun. When I buy shoes at Nordstroms in downtown Chicago or a scarf at Harrods in London, I expect to pay way, way more than I would on the Internet. E-tailing is about getting the goods. Shopping in the high rent district, however, is entertainment. Let’s not get them confused.

And while I am ranting, let’s stop comparing abandoned Internet shopping carts to abandoned carts in grocery stores (a sin which I have been guilty of in the past. The comparing part.) when we shop in a grocery store, we don’t have to put it in the cart to figure out what it costs to get it home. More importantly, when we shop in a grocery store, abandoning a cart might be embarrassing. I never go grocery shopping but my spouse does it weekly and always comments on who he saw there. I guess if he wanted to abandon he could walk away, pretending to look for something else and then just never return, but he still might meet people in the parking lot who know him. (“Gee Paul, couldn’t find any food today?”) Online, no one knows when I leave (except for your super duper web analytics package.)

And speaking of leaving — there aren’t a lot of ways to leave a store. A big department store might have three levels but each one usually has one big entry/exit. A big grocery store might have only one main entrance and one main exit. Compare that to a website where you can exit (and usually enter) from any page at all. So let’s make it easy to find things, because online, I don’t expect to cross the entire website to move from the dairy to the produce.

And then there’s the hassle factor. By the time you put on your coat, get your kids into the car, get to the mall, and spend an hour cruising around looking for the perfect black suit, you really, really want to find the suit. Because — you have put way too much effort into the problem already to come home empty handed. On the other hand,shopping on line is so easy that I don’t feel bad if I leave a site without whipping out my plastic. I can always go back tomorrow (or in five minutes, for that matter.)

Robbin Steif