Practical Ecommerce

Keep It Simple And Straightforward

During a recent online shopping experience, I was thrilled to find the particular store offered free shipping on orders of $25 or more. The large, bold graphic denoting such offer was in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. So I spent some time picking out a few more items, then I began the checkout process.

On the shipping selection page I could not find the free shipping reference, and frustration set in as I took another (closer) look at the graphic. In pale gray (almost white), small lettering sat the words “certain restrictions apply.” The graphic was clickable, taking me to a page explaining the limitations of the offer. I could get free shipping without limitations if I ordered $49 or more, but they’d already lost me.

When making free shipping and other enticing offers, it is important to serve both lenient and principle-driven shoppers. My experience was not much different than a “bait and switch” tactic: The advertisement was legal, yet questionable when it came to how it attracted customers. You’ll gain far more respect if you’re crystal clear about stipulations, even if they aren’t to the benefit of the current customer.

When using attention-grabbing graphics to promote sales, consider the following:

  • Not all computer screens are calibrated the same. Calibrating a screen requires user input, so what looks white, gray, green and so forth on your monitor may not look the same on another. This also means that pale colors (like grays and yellows) may be invisible against a white background.

  • Just be clear. Hiding brief restrictions by using tiny font sizes causes more confusion. It’s better to be up-front, whereas shoppers only need to click the image to read even more details, but the offer itself is pretty clear.

  • Don’t change offers during shopping sessions. I recently shopped a store mid-day, whereas it also offered free shipping on orders of $30 or more. When I began the checkout process (at noon PST), the offer changed to $49. If you’re shopping cart software is unable to track existing shoppers who began their sessions before the promotional change, consider waiting until the least popular shopping hour to make such a change. This store also lost my sale and when I emailed them about the issue, they responded with a stock reply about how to review all current offers prior to checking out.

  • Keep it simple. Some online stores list varying ways to take advantage of special offers, requiring multiple product line purchases at various dollar amounts. The more confusing the offer, the less apt you are to attract a high number of new customers.

  • If it’s free, make it free. It’s understood that heavy “free” items may need to carry shipping charges, but I’ve seen online stores offering a free t-shirt at checkout and then impose a $4.95 fee on top. By making free items ship at no additional cost you will prompt more shoppers to spend minimum amounts.

  • Be detailed. When offering free merchandise, include full details about the item. There’s nothing like spending more to qualify for a free item, only to find it’s made cheaply and won’t withstand the perceived intended use. This is a good reason to offer quality items, even it means requiring a higher purchase amount.

Two stores last month lost my business. This was after I gave them the opportunity to at least recognize that their tactics would make many online shoppers feel mislead. Just think about all the online shoppers who would just walk away and not even tell you why.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Legacy User June 12, 2008 Reply

    Great articale and I offer Free shipping on my website for orders over $25.00 Including multiple item orders the only catch I have is that I have to refund the shipping as the paypal for a 12.00 item automatically keys in the 11.95 shipping on each item under 25.00. But I make it very clear that the shipping charges will be refunded as soon as the order is processed.

    — *Tim Marr*

  2. Legacy User June 12, 2008 Reply

    For every customer who actually sends you a kudo, there's probably 10x more who feel just the opposite. And, those who hate are probably much more likely to share their complaints. This is simply bad, really, really bad, for business. Good customer service…no, GREAT customer service is good business. The harder times get, the better the service needs to be. Personally, I rarely ever go back to a business that didn't treat me fairly, even the slightest. Average CS gets no loyalty from me either.

    — *Steve*

  3. Legacy User June 12, 2008 Reply

    This is right on point. I always look for those Free shipping deals and if they use a "bait and switch" tactic, I delete the shopping cart and remove the site from my favorites list. And those stock answers to a query, what a loser of a site. I definitely won't do business with a company that can't even give a personal reply to your comment. I get enough of that BS with the computer software companies I have to deal with, I certainly don't want it on a shopping site.

    — *Dave*

  4. Legacy User July 10, 2008 Reply

    I think tricking people into buying your service is very bad practice. How do companies expect to establish credibility and trust in this manner. It seems the best way to lose customers.

    The best way to generate customers is to look at your website and see how you could improve its nlayout, navigation etc. Read up on terms such as information architecture and user experience. You need to make it as easy and simple for customers to read about you and buy into your service with as few clicks and confusion as possible.

    Look at to see what I mean or for a good article on what its all about

    — *gary fisher*