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Is your IT team still designing your Web site?

Back in the late ’90s, just putting up a Web site was a technical feat. Things broke every minute of the day and none of us really knew how to make the site perform, much less do things the way customers expected. I know. I was there. But it’s not 1998 anymore. If your IT team is still making decisions that affect your customer’s experience, it’s time to move on. Is your customer’s Web experience what it should be, or is it still being designed by IT?

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All this was brought to mind recently when my wife tried to make a large purchase on the Kohl’s Web site. On Friday night, she shopped for about an hour and a half on their site, put about $500 worth of clothing and accessories in her cart, but did not know to explicitly save her cart. The next morning, she saw that her session had timed out, and when she signed back in, the cart was empty.

A Cray-2 supercomputer at the Musée des Arts e...

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Let’s stop the story right here. Why would the session time out? There’s no real harm in having someone signed in for quite a while. Time was that it put great stress on Web servers to have thousands of carts active at once, but those days are gone. This timeout is undoubtedly a throwback to those performance-conscious days that is no longer needed to be anywhere near this strict.
But let’s let that one go. Perhaps there’s a security or other reason to time out carts that I don’t know about. Why wouldn’t Kohl’s save the cart? How much merchandise is unceremoniously dumped out of carts each year than could have been revenue? If the IT people tell you that the resources to keep those carts around are not in the budget, perhaps it’s time to put it there. How many sales do you want to lose over this?
So, back to our story. My wife, Linda, not being very easy to get rid of, woke up Saturday morning determined to complete her purchase. Already you can see that few Kohl’s customers would exhibit this much loyalty, but let’s see the reward for those that do. My wife redid all her shopping in about an hour, got everything neatly tucked into her cart, and then made the foolish mistake of allowing one of our four kids to interrupt her for a few minutes (less than 15 minutes, she is sure). When she returned (you guessed it), the session timed out.
When Linda went to contact customer service, the e-mail in “contact us” was broken, so (reluctantly), she called customer service. The phone rep, Roberta, understood what happened to my wife because she had heard this story many times before.
Let’s break into the story again here. If this rep has heard this story so many times, how is it that Kohl’s has not fixed this problem on the Web site? I can’t help but wonder how much money this has cost Kohl’s over the years.
Back to our story. After Linda gave Roberta some free technical and design advice for the Kohl’s Web site, Roberta offered to place Linda’s order at a thirty percent discount. Linda pointed out that she had already planned to use a promo code for thirty percent, so Roberta then offered a sixty percent discount.
Interruption, again. Now we are starting to see what this has cost Kohl’s. You can imagine that most of the sales disappear forever when this problem occurs, but even the sales that are consummated might have a 30 percent discount applied just to soothe the customer. Although it is crazy that Kohl’s hasn’t fixed their Web site, it is very smart for them to provide discounts when customers are this inconvenienced, so Kohl’s customer service is doing the smart thing here, even though eliminating the problem would obviously be the smartest thing.
To Kohl’s credit, Roberta took a serious interest in both Linda’s customer experience and her advice for how the site should be fixed. Linda appreciated the discount for all her trouble and still considers herself a loyal Kohl’s customer, but that will only stick if they change their site in short order. But kudos to them for at very least rectifying the problem.
In my opinion, all of this was caused by an IT-centric approach to the commerce experience, where the computers are more important than the customers. No one could want this to happen to their customers, but the reason that it does is because of some ill-conceived idea on server performance or scalability that should be a distant second to the customer experience. I mean, with the sales that are being lost here, they could probably buy as many extra servers as they need to make the site work the right way.
So, ask yourself, “Who is designing my customer experience?” As a long-time IT person, I can still say that if it is your IT team, it probably isn’t going as well as it should.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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