Double shopping carts for poorer conversion?


I would give the world to see Rolling Stone’s web analytics and to know for certain if they are converting as poorly as I think they must be.

A friend got on their website to buy a gift subscription and was completely unable to do so. Here is how the conversation went:

Robbin: I can’t wait to look at their site to see what they are doing wrong.
Would-be purchaser: Maybe it has nothing to do with their site, maybe it is just that I’m unable to do it.
Robbin, somewhat incredulously: You mean, you had your credit card sitting next to your computer, you were unable to give them your money, and you think maybe it’s your fault?

Well, I love a challenge, so I got on the site and saw the problem immediately. Here is what their home page looks like (and that is how I started, by typing their address right in and landing at Home):

“Subscribe to Magazine” is right up there on top and I chose it. (I marked it with a white arrowhead in the screenshot in case the screenshot came out too tiny.) But when I got to their very nice, compact form, it did not give me the opportunity to enter a giftee’s address, or including a note to the recipient.

Hmm, there must be a way of doing this, I thought. So I poked around and further down the page found all the ways you can subscribe (blue highlighting added by me): I also found that they have not one, not two, but three different checkout carts: one for new subscriptions for yourself, one for renewing subscriptions, and one for gift subscriptions. Oh, I forgot to mention the one that you use to purchase back issues.

Maybe they’ve tested it and found that it converts better this way, but I’ll bet that it’s just easier for them to administer this way. And then you have to ask, is the goal of my site ease of administration (sometimes it is) or is it making money on my print publication when the whole world is moving to digital media?

Robbin Steif

Our founder, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics in 2004. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a Diamond Award for business leadership. In 2017, Robbin sold her company to HS2 Solutions and has since retired from LunaMetrics.

  • Chris Spiek

    I’ll pile on with a usability problem, too.

    Why, after browsing the Rolling Stone site, and eventually deciding to subscribe, am I taken to a page that looks nothing like the other pages on the site? The RS logo is gone, the background is different, and it’s a different domain (they’re using an outside cart, so the domain thing is almost excusable).

    Obviously some level of adjustment is acceptable when you design the cart, such as removing the nav to “focus” the user on the checkout process (right now, somewhere in the world, there’s a Persuasion Architect rolling his eyes).

    The difference between the two pages on the RS site are way too drastic. I’d be extremely surprised if they did a test with a checkout page that looked like any other page on the RS site (from a background, logo placement, layout, and color perspective), and didn’t see an increase in conversions.

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