Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Halloween story: the ghost of Boo!

Friday, October 31, 2003
by Mark Hurst

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This year for Halloween, a scary story.

It's..... the ghost of Boo!

I can remember, not too many years back, a site named Those of you are (or were) in the Internet business might remember it.. an e-commerce site that tried to sell fashionable clothes and shoes to young, hip Net users who (the thinking went) wanted a fun, hip website to buy from. was a spectacular failure in the dotcom years, an e-commerce site with too much funding and not enough brains.

Not enough brains. Some would say they were eaten out by zombies. ZOMBIES, I tell you!

But the truth isn't anything nearly as cinematic. simply forgot the key truth about users online, at least those wanting to conduct a transaction (like, say, buying hip shoes):

The only reason users use the Web to do *anything* is because it's a better experience than doing it in the real world.

All things being equal, if something is

- easier,
- or faster,
- or cheaper,
- or more fun

doing it online than off, users will likely go online.

Which means: If you manage or design a website, everything you do, every success you hope for, every possible goal you might have comes down to the experience that users have on the site. If your site doesn't create a better experience than the alternative (i.e. a competing site, or conducting the activity offline), then it will fail. Or should I say, it will be dooooooomed! (Muuah-ha-ha-ha.)

Most users don't naturally want to use the Web to, say, write a check. Or shop for shoes. Or find a doctor. The human-computer interface is one of severe limitations - hunched over a computer screen, poorly designed operating system (on most of the world's computers, anyway), all sorts of arbitrary rules about clicking and links and passwords; all sorts of stuff that users NEVER have to deal with when they conduct these activities in the real world.

The only reason users *might* put up with this nonsense is if, in balance, it's easier, or faster, or cheaper, than not doing it online. And the only reason users will put up with *your* site, instead of your competitor's, is if... well, you get the idea.

In the case of poor, they forgot that users - even young, hip, supposedly techno-savvy users - prefer the experience of shopping offline - in an actual store, which doesn't crash one's computer, which loads right away, and which has real live humans to demo the shoes - to a confusing, distracting, animation-heavy website.

Or maybe's designers had their brains eaten by zombies, zombies calling for "more brains!"

The end.

Now eat some S'mores, kids, and then it's time to hit the sack.

*For readers outside the U.S.: Halloween, a U.S. holiday on Oct. 31, is celebrated by dressing in costume - supposedly to scare away evil spirits - and, for kids, walking door-to-door in the neighborhood to ask for candy. (Why? Because that's the way we've *always* done it... :)

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