Let's stop comparing websites to stores


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

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.

  • Kevin Hillstrom

    Amen on the shopping cart comment! I have met so few people who share that point of view.

    You can improve shopping cart abandonment, but it has few parallels to the retail shopping cart.

    E-Commerce is rapidly evolving around us — your distinctions between retail and online shopping are reflective of how customers think.

  • Lars

    I think there is a difference between comparing websites to stores and thinking that they’re highly comparable. There are pedagogical points to using that comparison, it may add faces and emotions to anonymous numbers. I think it is fine to compare websites to stores as long as you recognize the differences and make sure you communicate them in your comparisons.

    I found myself comparing stores to websites (yeah, the other way around) when reading “Why we buy — The Science of Shopping” by Paco Underhill (thanks to Vicky Brock for suggesting the book).

    That you often have to put items in the shopping cart to get to know shipping costs on websites is a design flaw.

    You forgot the feeling sorry for the owner factor. Have you ever been in an empty and small store owned by some little old grandma? Doesn’t it feel bad to leave without buying something? Even if all she is selling is junk?

    I rarely buy from ugly websites. They need to be both easy to use and pleasing to the eye. I rarely buy from messy brick-and-mortar stores where it’s hard to find the items you’re looking for.

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