Sunday, July 28, 2013

Measuring What Matters

At a conference I attended, there was this obnoxious little man who needled the speakers every time they mentioned a metric.  When someone cited a change in their Net Promoter Score as evidence that an initiative had been successful, he'd ask them a flurry of pointed questions about what the metric meant in terms of the firm's financial results, flustering the speaker (who was unprepared to go off on this sidetrack) and annoying the audience (who patiently waited for the speaker to be able to continue on the topic they had come to hear about).   Later in the day, this heckler took the stage to deliver his own presentation, developing the topic he had wedged into previous presenters.  What he had to say on the matter was impressive, and well worth considering.

Primarily, there is a widespread problem of metrics being chosen at a whim.  Companies latch on to a fashionable metric such as the Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Experience Index (CXI) and use it as a means to measure the performance of their initiatives without, as he had aggressively suggested, considering whether there is any correlation between the metric and any behavior that is remotely of value to a firm.

That is to say that a 10% improvement in the NPS or CXI does not automatically correlate to a similar increase in revenue or repeat visits.   Sometimes, you can effect an improvement in a score while the other goes down, or achieve improvements in both scores as your revenue diminishes, your reputation is damaged, and your customers' loyalty is strained.  As such, you really shouldn't take any metric for granted.

Firms really should consider the metrics in terms of meaningful outcomes - but it's obvious that few actually do.   Management will set a random goal tied to a random metric (such as a 10% improvement in NPS) and feel satisfied when they are able to achieve the mark they set for themselves regardless of its impact on the firm's performance.   Turns out we're fond of numbers even when they don't mean anything.  Five is better than six, regardless of what is being measured or whether there's any demonstrable benefit to being a six rather than a five.

The one possible use for industry-standard metrics is to compare your firm to others in your industry.   But even that is ultimately meaningless: a company that achieves a higher score in one regard may have worse performance than another firm whose score is lower.   Doing so also means that you take for granted that the industry is doing well - to be the customer service leader in the airline or used car industry is like being the healthiest of the terminally ill.

Ultimately, the work we do is about improving the customer experience, taking it on faith that it will result in improving the financial performance of our firms - and generally, this turns out to be true.   Having a vague sense that you're doing the right thing is likely better than having no sense at all - and better still in feeling a sense of accomplishment for doing something terrible.   It cannot be taken for granted that a general metric is an indicator of success at anything but making a number better.

And in this sense, what "works" for the industry may not work for a given firm.   Two competitors may find different metrics to be meaningful:   one may find that revenues increase in correlation to NPS, another may find that revenues increase in correlation to CXI, and a third may find a completely different metric to be meaningful.

I'm left with the distinct sense that I should ask some of the same noisome questions of my own colleagues, albeit more gently and in a more appropriate forum, to determine which of the metrics is most meaningful, and encourage the pursuit only of those that can be strongly correlated to outcomes, forsaking all others for what they are: scores that are no more meaningful than a magazine quiz.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Scenes Missing

Even in the present age of information, there's a lot we do not know about customer behavior.   We are able to detect and identify when a prospect enters our site or what happens after they leave, and while we can collect data on every click as the customer peruses our site, there is very little analysis and even less knowledge of what they happen to do while they are there.

As a result, the perspective on the customer experience follows the flowchart to the right, which has few known events and many gaping holes.  I am not prepared to fully explore those gaps at this time, as it would seem to be a monumental task, but for the present, I'd like to consider their nature.

Before Visiting the Site

The notion that people idly "surf" the web and stumble into random sites is vastly wrong.   It cannot be dismissed completely, but it is certainly not typical behavior: users surf when they are bored and nothing takes their fancy, but even then they tend to latch at some point upon an idea and take a more focused approach to gathering information.

As a result, the vast majority of instances in which someone arrives at your web site, the visitor has a specific purpose in mind.   For some sites, that purpose is merely gathering information - but for most commercial sites, we are more interested in purposes that lead the user to make a purchase.

This means two things: (1) the visitor has recognized a need and (2) has identified the product or service as a possible solution to his needs.   Both of these are elaborate cognitive processes.

People bumble through life on autopilot most of the time, not thinking or at least not putting very much thought into what they are doing.   At some point they become aware of a need: there is something preventing them from doing something they wish to do (problem) or there is something they wish to achieve for which they lack the means (opportunity).   It's at this point that the journey begins, and we are largely blind to what this initiating event might have been.

After the recognition of need comes the identification of a possible solution.  This is also largely invisible to the site operator because the visitor has not yet visited and he likely does a great deal of thinking on his own before he visits a site that sells a solution.   That's not to say that he arrives at a clear idea to which he is devoted before visiting, but some level consideration has been done in advance, the degree of which will vary according to the individual.

While Perusing the Site

Much is made of our ability to track behavior when visitors arrive at a website.  We know which page they landed upon and can track each click they make as they move from page to page.  There are even solutions in place that enable us to track in-page behaviors: data entered into form fields even if the form is not submitted and even scrolling and mouse-movement events.

Trouble is, we don't seem to know what to do with this data once it's been collected.   There are solutions in place to gather it, but analysis and reporting are still sorely lacking, and we often do not pay attention to what little data we have.  (And admittedly, we have quite a lot, but it's "little" in its relationship to the complete set of data pertaining to the buying decision.)

Even when we are paying attention to what the user is doing, then we know only that: what the user is doing, but not why the user is doing it, - and "why" is far more important to understanding motivation and behavior.   The best we can do is speculate, and we generally speculate with a laser-focus on whether a given action will lead to an immediate same-session purchase.  But that's about as far as traffic pattern analysis goes.

Moreover, there is likely not a shrink-wrapped solution that provides easy answers.   The behavior of customers on a given site and in a given situation is highly idiosyncratic and any generalizations are likely to be entirely wrong.   It's likely that the customer's personality also plays a significant role (the cognitive patterns they typically follow as determined by their past experience).  There's a great deal that is not only unknown, but seems to be unknowable.

After Leaving the Site

Our mercenary focus on the customer limits our field of vision to a few fundamental questions.  If they purchased, why did they not purchase?  If they did purchase, can we count on them to come back and purchase again?

Unfortunately, we often seek the answers to these questions in the data we have about the customer and their interaction on the site, and know little about their behavior once they have left.   My sense is that what happens during this period is critical to determining whether the customer will return to the site to make a purchase (or another purchase) in future.

For prospects that do not buy, there is the possibility that they abandoned the journey and decided not to fulfill the need after all, likely considering the need was not important or the solution was not worth the cost.   More likely, they did some further thinking and research off-site to consider other alternatives for solving their needs, and may return if the other options are unattractive or unsuccessful.   But we have no idea what those alternatives might have been in more than a superficial maner.

For customers that do buy, there remains the question of whether the good or service they purchased was successful in fulfilling the need for which it was purposed.   As we do not understand the need, we cannot answer the questions that arise.   We also rest on the assumption that if the product we provided filled the need satisfactorily, the customer will repurchase automatically.  Sometimes, that may be true, but there may be conditions that cause the customer to repeat the process of identifying and evaluating solutions the next time the need arises.


I'll stop at this point, having nattered on for quite a while.  It was not my intention to fully answer the questions that arise from the gaps in knowledge, merely to do a cursory exploration to identify some of the questions that arise.   It seems to me that there's a lot more to think about than I had assumed - and that the shopping and buying transactions are far less important to the overall experience of the customer than I had previously thought.   And I don't think I'm alone in this by any means.

Consider this as the starting point for many potential meditations to come, on the periphery of the on-site experience and consideration of the entire customer journey from the identification to the satisfaction of a given need.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Big Data: Big, Fat, Stupid Data

I don't think it can be plausibly denied that there is an incredible amount of data available for analysis, and that there is great potential in discovering patters of behavior that can be leveraged to turbocharge customer experience and drive amazing financial results for business.   It's just that nobody seems to have quite figured out how to get from point A to point B in spite of millions of dollars spent on doing exactly that.

The amount of data being collected is massive - because storage has become very cheap (a terabyte drive costs less than $100 at retail) companies can now afford to hang onto the mountains of data that they used to throw away or simply regard as not being worth collecting in the first place.   Every click or keystroke of every visit to every site can be stored for analysis.   And this doesn't even begin to touch the vast amounts of data that can be gathered from the Internet, particular from social media forums in which over half a billion people declare which products they like and speak about them.

It's a huge mountain of data and there is the automatic assumption that anything that is very big is very important - but this is not always so.   If measured solely by the amount of bytes, most data is in the form of images and videos - one image can take as many bytes to store as a thick book, and one video can represent as many bytes as a small library.   But it's not easy to analyze, nor has anyone suggested that most snapshots and home videos contain much content that is meaningful at all.

But even for the data that is read-to-eat - ASCII text that can be easily parsed and analyzed, we're not doing a very good job of it.   Much of the data is locked up in databases that are stubbornly unavailable outside of the source or for any other purpose than to support the system to which they belong.  Moreover there are no standard formats and little interoperability, making it a chore to extract the data that is available.

And once the data is extracted, there's not much intelligence applied to the analysis.   Raw statistical analysis is practically pointless, as it tracks correlation without causation, rendering reports that do not serve to guide meaningful decisions.  There merely happens to be a statistical correlation between two bits of data and little can be done with it.

As a result, firms are data rich and knowledge poor, focused entirely on the numbers without considering their meaning.   At best, data analysis can tell you what people are doing, but not the reason why they are doing it.   The result of all of this is reports that provide random trivia or completely self-evident conclusions.   People who own dogs tend to buy a lot more dog food than people who do not.  Thanks a million for that brilliant insight.

All in all, I'm dour on the prospect of big data.   I cannot deny that there's a lot of information, and it stands to reason that there is likely to be highly valuable insight to be gleaned, but the approach that has been taken thus far has not produced anything particularly meaningful.

My experience dealing with numbers geeks is that they are reluctant to tell you anything until they have analyzed everything - which means that progress will likely continue to be painfully slow.   It also occurs to me that since it's going to take years to get anything useful out of the analyses of big data, perhaps it's worth taking a second look at small data.  Firms that have not quite figured out what to do with the limited subset of information in their order database (which is to say, most firms) likely have no business attempting to tackle the much larger task of aggregating information from all internal systems as well as harvesting it from the world outside the firewall.

And yet, that seems to be exactly what is happening, leaving me with the distinct sense that many firms are using "big data" as an excuse for their failure to make good use of the smaller collections of data that have been at their disposal all along - and hoping they can use the bigness of the task to convince others to refrain from expecting any meaningful results, at least until they are ready to retire or move on.

Seems to me that this has turned into something of a pessimistic rant, but it is not without a reason: very little seems to have been accomplished, and there aren't many signs that anything will be accomplished in the near future.   Until some results have been rendered, even a sufficiency of small "quick wins," I will remain highly skeptical, not that there is valuable information to be found, but that the prospectors haven't a clue as to how to go about finding it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Creative Strategy

Bilton and Cummings book on Creative Strategy raises a question that is not often asked: it's generally accepted, without much thought, that companies would benefit from greater creativity and innovation in their planning processes - but how was it drained in the first place?

Virtually every company that has been around for longer than a few decades and has grown to substantial size was originally based on the vision of a founder.  Even if a company is said to have been founded by a group, one person was the driving force, with the remainder of the group in assisting or supporting roles.   From there, many hands are called upon to make that vision a reality, to produce it, to bring it to market, and to make it a success on a sustainable scale.

But at the helm, there is a single vision - clear and focused, devoid of ambiguities and hidden agendas.   And if the founder is an effective leader and his vision is compelling, this singularity of purpose resounds throughout the company of people he gathers around himself and drives the way in which they perform in aggregate.

Eventually, the founder departs and the organization loses its way.   The vision is blurred and the mission statement becomes convoluted.  There is disagreement about the goals and purpose of the organization.   The body of people who once collaborated to achieve a shared vision are now pursuing conflicting objectives, either based on their earnest interpretation of what is needed or on ulterior motives.

Even worse, such an organization has been left without a navigator to carry on a journey that the crew does not completely understand or embrace, but follows as a matter of course - and that is a far more pernicious problem.  Once a successful system has been established, it is presumed that the system must remain untouched in order for it to remain successful.  The assumption is that any significant change will be detrimental, so changes are subtle, incremental, and often in the nature of scale and efficiency - the core concept remains, even as the environment evolves.     It takes nothing short of a crisis for the fundamental assumptions to be challenged - and even then, a sizable organization will do everything in its power to avoid making substantive changes.  People will attempt to continue in what they are already doing, perhaps in a slightly different way, and hope that the external environment will change in a way that makes it more productive.

There has been a growing acceptance of the idea that organizations must to be open to change - but that is to say the idea is accepted but not widely practiced.  Even in organizations that pay lip-service to the notion, there remains a dedication to tradition and a defensive posture against altering the standing practices.   Changes are made to superficial elements in ways that range from being entirely uninspired (upgrade the software without changing the practices) to completely ludicrous (put pinball machines in the break rooms).   All of this indicates a lack of understanding of the problem faced by a firm that has remained stagnant in an evolving market.

In order to understand the way in which something is broken, you must first understand how it worked in the past, and identify the factors that have changed such that it is no longer achieving the same results it once did.   Failure to perform that analysis leads inexorably to the inability to envision an effective solution.   This is where creative strategy departs from raw creativity - raw creativity is often a euphemism for anything that is not clearly understood, whereas creative strategy is grounded in reality and has a clear objective: changes have a causal relationship to the outcomes they are intended to achieve.

There are, as the authors indicate, numerous other qualities that a company that wishes to be genuinely creative must undertake: open communications, simplified processes, a tolerance to risk, and the like - but adopting these qualities merely creates a culture in which change can be introduced easily.   Understanding the necessity of specific changes requires a great deal more effort and dedication, and is likely the hurdle that organizations that earnestly wish to be innovative are unable to clear.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Making Good Recommendations

In the previous post about cross-selling or upselling, my main concern was differentiating the two practices rather than lumping them together.   Along the way, thoughts bubbled up about how to approach each task effectively.   Rather than making the original post insufferably long (or "more insufferably long" given my tendency to ruminate), I've extracted those passages and am presenting them as a separate entry:

In General

The decision of whether to cross-sell or upsell can be made based on an understanding of the buying process: cross-selling offers additional products once the decision is made to purchase a specific one, whereas upselling interrupts the decision process to suggest a different item that is better suited to the shopper's needs.   This distinction should be made before either practice is attempted.

Once the approach has been chosen, there is a separate decision as to which specific products to offer in a cross-selling or upselling attempt.   This is a significantly different decision that cannot, or should not, be made according to the stage of the buying process, but instead requires a more careful consideration of the needs of the individual shopper as assessed by their characteristics and behaviors.


Effective cross-selling requires careful selection of the suggested products.   If it makes sense that the shopper will require the additional products to accomplish the goal for which they selected the main product.   An item may be an appropriate cross-sell because the primary item is of little use without it (batteries for a flashlight, filters for a coffee maker) or it may be an item that is used in the course of performing an anticipated task in which the main product is used (trash bags with a rake, oven mitts with a banking pan).

It should not, in any case, be without a plausible connection to the primary product.   Poor cross-selling occurs in instances when no apparent relationships exists between the main product and the suggested product (because you bought a coffee pot, consider buying motor oil).  If the relationship between the items is not evident to the shopper, he develops the sense that the seller is pushing random merchandise with no regard for his needs or interests ... because that's exactly what the seller is doing.

The problem that arises when sellers attempt to fill in empty space with product promotion is that it undermines the value of suggestion.    Where there is a logical connection between one product and another, shoppers become conditioned (in the Pavlovian sense) to recognize that suggested items add value to the primary item.   Where there is not a logical connection, they become conditioned to recognize that there is no logic to the cross-selling, hence no value to themselves, and they learn to ignore it in future.

With that in mind, design should be undertaken with the goal of producing an interface that can accommodate suggestive selling, but does not require it.  In the latter case, there is the temptation (which is often irresistible) to fill the void with random and unrelated products.  Such practices not only result in a low take-rate for a specific offer, but in diminishing effectiveness of the cross-selling program in general.


Effective bundling also requires careful selection of the bundled products.   As a subset of cross-selling, it still means that the shopper should need the additional products to make use of the main product, but it must be far more stringent in considering whether an additional product should be bundled.   In particular, bundling should be limited to items without which the primary item will be useless, rather than items that might be needed in case the shopper is performing a specific task.

The benefit of the bundle is that it enables the shopper to purchase multiple items at once - but the drawback is that the shopper may have the perception that they have no option to buy the original item without the suggested ones - and will opt to purchase neither from a given vendor.   For example, a store that bundles trash bags with a rake (and does not allow for the purchase for the bags without a rake) will sell fewer trash bags to shoppers who need that item only and do not wish to purchase a rake.   Such shoppers will take their business elsewhere - and there's a risk of their doing so immediately, without investigating the possibility of buying the items in an un-bundled fashion.

The solution is fairly simple: to offer the shopper the option of purchasing any item in a bundle rather than making the additional purchases mandatory, such that he may add only the main item if he so desires, or take advantage of the bundle if he so desires.   Also, when items are offered in bundled fashion, provide a prominent and unmistakable affordance to purchase them separately.

Badly conceived bundling has the same flaws as badly conceived poor cross-selling: where there is not a clear relationship between the main items and the bundled items (and for bundling, it must be very clear) the shopper will reject the bundle and shop elsewhere.  He will in future ignore your suggestions without giving them much attention and, if you bundle extensively, he may decide not to shop your store or site at all.


Effective upselling is different, in that it requires careful selection of an alternate product not in reference to a specific product, but in reference to the shopper's needs in a more general sense. That is to say that suggesting they by Deluxe-A instead of Standard-A should be based on the knowledge of the shopper's desired outcome, and the confidence that the additional cost of acquiring Deluxe-A will be justified by additional benefits the shopper will receive for having chosen it.

It's also worth noting that upselling is not limited to a "deluxe" version of a given product, but may involve selling a different product altogether - rather than a deluxe broom, the customer's needs would be better served by a vacuum cleaner.  To do this, you would need to know the customer's needs (they are seeking to clean a carpet rather than a hard surface) either by inquisition or inference.

(As an aside, it occurs to me that this may not always be an "up" sell to a more expensive item, but could be a lateral or downgrade to a more appropriate but less expensive item.  This does entail sacrificing short-term sales because the original item was more expensive for the seller, but my sense is that it is a better long-term strategy for earning trust and loyalty - but that's likely a separate and longer meditation.)

In order to upsell well, a seller must know his shopper well.   Shoppers are leery of up-selling and distrustful of merchants who are constantly trying to get them to pay more for an upscaled product whose additional features offer them no benefit - as such the practice of showing a "deluxe" version creates instant mistrust that must then be dispelled by explaining the value of the additional features to the shopper.

In general, standard products generally outsell deluxe products because most shoppers do not really need the added features.   Too many sellers take the attitude that shoppers don't understand the value and need to be educated about the product - the irony of which is that in such situation it is the sellers who do not understand the shoppers needs and need to educate themselves about their customers.

It's also worth noting that product customization is often a species of upselling, at least in instances in which the customer has the ability to make changes to the product for an additional price.  The same problem of assumption occurs, and it is incumbent on the seller to educate himself about the shopper's needs rather than the shopper's to learn about the value of the product in order that the shopper will be amenable to paying a higher price.

Poor upselling makes the general assumption that Deluxe-A is a better alternative to Standard-A for everyone - and it very often is not.   As such, attempting to upsell a shopper whose needs are served by Standard-A will not only fail, but it will cause the shopper to regard the seller as untrustworthy and ignore their suggestions in future.

Sometimes, Your Best Option is to Do Nothing

Grandmotherly advice for social interaction is that if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.    This dictum is equally worthwhile to consider from cross-selling or upselling that if you can't suggest something appropriate, then don't suggest anything at all.

Marketers are too eager to blabber at shoppers in order to make a sale, and designers and developers are too eager to set a "default value" when designing and building applications because the page would look odd with an empty space and it's easier to cram something into the hole than design an interface that works equally well without a selling module.    This has led to a serious problem for cross-selling and upselling systems, in that if the system is unable to determine (based on rules created by the marketers) which products would be appropriate to suggest, there must be some product to use as a filler even if the product is wholly irrelevant and inappropriate to the shopper.

It should be obvious this is an extremely inadvisable solution - as has been mentioned in the previous content, suggesting inappropriate items trains customers to regard your suggestions as worthless and the general level of trust that shoppers are willing to place in the brand will be diminished - such that the harm in making bad suggestions is that any future suggestion will be disregarded, even if it is carefully made and well considered.

A likely reason that the marketing profession is covalent on the notion of suggestive selling is that some shoppers appear to like it and others appear to hate it.   But I would posit that it is not the difference between shoppers, but the difference between sellers.    A salesman or store clerk who is adept at understanding the needs of his customers is valued, and even loved, by those customers - not only for making valuable suggestions but for refraining from trying to "push" when no suggestion is appropriate.   One who is not adept at understanding the needs of his customers is annoying and obnoxious - he is not merely "not loved" but over time becomes to be distrusted and even disliked.  It is, in essence, the difference between being regarded as a helpful salesman or a pushy salesman.

Said another way, if you have found that cross-selling and upselling have not worked out for you, it is likely because you are doing it very badly and entirely too often - and rather than dismissing the value of cross-selling and upselling in general, humbly accept that you have acted inappropriately, and making a concerted effort to change your behavior - or just as humbly recognize that you are no good at it, and stop pushing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cross-Selling or Upselling

To better understand the concepts of cross-selling and upselling, the two concepts need to be disentangled.   The use of "and" often leads marketers to consider cross-selling and upselling to be essentially the same with very subtle differences.  However, ignoring the difference will lead to errors that can undermine their effectiveness and disrupt the customer's behavior in a way that negatively impacts revenues, so it merits careful consideration.

(Note: I've prepared this material in the context of a very specific discussion about "cross-selling and upselling" on product pages in an ecommerce site - just not enough space in the discussion forum's 1000-character limit to fully explain.   As such I need to provide some redundant detail from the conversation as well as broader detail so that it makes sense in the context of a blog, read by others who weren't party to the discussion - but it's essentially about determining the right places in a flow to cross-sell or upsell the shopper.)


The distinguishing characteristic to cross-selling is that the seller wants they buyer to purchase another item in addition to the item they are presently considering.   The phrase "in addition to" is critical, in that the seller still wants them to purchase the original item.

The problem with cross-selling on a product detail page is that the shopper has not yet completed the action of selecting the original item.   To consider other items at this time derails them from their task flow, and may end up distracting them to the point that they do not complete the original task (they leave the page to consider the suggested items and do not return to purchase the original), or suddenly feel overwhelmed by it (they get the sense the original item will be useless without the additional ones and decide the total cost is not appealing).

Cross-selling is appropriate to the shopping cart view, particularly in the moment after an item has been added.  At that point, the buyers' momentum has run its course: they have added the intended item, and are now open to consider other items before completing the purchase.  More importantly, their decision to purchase the original item and its precipitating actions have not been interrupted.

Specifically, cross-selling is not appropriate until a decision to purchase an item has been made.   In that sense, I can see only two pages in a purchase flow where cross-selling should be done: the shopping-cart view (which encourages the shopper to add additional items before finalizing their purchase) and the order confirmation page (which encourages the shopper to return in future to purchase additional items).

There are also instances before and after the shopping task when cross-selling can be done: advertising can preload a "set" of items in the shopper's mind before he enters the store, and cross-selling on an invoice or shipment notice can bring them back to purchase other items.   But when the shopper is in the process of evaluating options, cross-selling can only be disruptive.

Special Case: Bundling

The "cross-selling" done on Amazon's site has been cited as proof of cross-selling, but there is a subtle distinction to be made:  all bundling is cross-selling, but not all cross-selling is bundling.

Bundling requires the purchase of items in a set - per the example of Amazon, the offer to "buy all three and save" requires you to purchase all three items to get the deal and (presently) provides no opportunity to purchase only two of the items without the third.   The shopper who wants only two of the items must go through a longer process (add the present item, seek out the second item, add it to the cart separately, and forego the deal).  Therein lies the problem - is that the task becomes daunting and the shopper may decide at any time to abandon the entire transaction.

The experience could be somewhat improved by creating flexibility in the bundling options - to enable the customer to choose either or both of the complementary items on the intended product page before adding to cart.  This creates a bit more complication, but far less than having to add the items individually.   But again, this would be cross-selling rather than bundling because the customer is able to opt into buying each item rather than having them bound together in a bundle.

Bundling makes perfect sense and is generally acceptable to buyers when the accompanying items are necessary to the use of the primary item - an in some instances failing to bundle disappoints consumers ("batteries not included" is a disappointment if it is discovered only after the customer has arrived home with the item and no batteries) and vendors will even merge the two into a single product (batteries are included in the package of the original item, rather than a separate package bundled to it).


The distinguishing characteristic to upselling is that the seller wants the buyer to purchase another item instead of the item they are presently considering.   The qualifier "instead of" is the essential difference between cross-selling and upselling, in that the seller no longer wants buyers to purchase the original item when they choose the alternative item presented.

Upselling is appropriate to product information pages because the shopper is evaluating a product as a possible solution to his needs, and may be open to suggestions that there may be a better alternative.   While the seller's motive is generally to push the buyer in the direction of an item that is more profitable for them to sell, buyers can be amenable to this if they understand why they should prefer the alternate product and feel that the additional benefit they get is worth the additional cost.

Upselling is not appropriate on a "shopping cart" page, because at that point the shopper has made a decision to purchase a specific item.   Even if he agrees that an alternate product would be better, he must now remove the original item from his cart as well as adding the replacement item.   But worse than that, the upsell is an implicit suggestion that the shopper has made a bad decision - the product you just added to your cart is not really what you need - as a necessary step in suggesting a better one.   Whereas an upsell on the product page helps the shopper to make an informed decision, the shopping cart is attempting to reverse a bad decision - and to suggest the decision they just made is bad will be either offensive to the shopper or at the very least undermine his confidence in the purchase and the level of service he is receiving from the seller.

It's also worth considering that an upsell can be initiated at other times during the shopping process - at any time when the shopper is considering products that might address their needs, they can be presented an option that might be better suited that the one(s) they might see before them.  As such, it's appropriate to upsell on a list of products (a category menu or search results) as well as on the product information page, and other locations as well.

The only time it is inappropriate to upsell is after a specific decision has been made and acted upon - which would be the shopping cart and order confirmation pages ... the exact pages where cross-selling is most appropriate.

Consider the Shopper

In all, the decision to upsell or cross-sell must be made in consideration of the shopper's buying process (which can be significantly different to the seller's desired selling process) as well as the needs of the individual shopper.

That is to say that making an appropriate decision to cross-sell or up-sell must be based on the shopper's situation of the moment: whether they are considering which product to purchase, or the decision has already been made.   Neglecting to consider the difference leads to serious problems that will cause the immediate attempt to fail.

Once that has been determined, making an effective decision of which products to offer must rely on an intelligent or, preferably, an informed decision as to the specific products that will be needed based on the need that the shopper is attempting to address.

The latter is very similar in both cross-selling and upselling, but the former is significant to the decision as to whether cross-selling or upselling is appropriate at all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Imperialism vs. Globalism

When someone uses the phrase "capitalist imperialism," I don't expect what follows to demonstrate much intelligence or common sense ... but on the rare occasions that it is backed by rational argument, it makes me stop and think.  And in this sense, I do think that there may be some shred of merit to the aspersion that should lead to a reconsideration of certain practices.

In this instance, the accusation of imperialism was backed by the plausible, and perhaps undeniable, claim that along with products and services, Americans are exporting their culture into countries where it is not wanted and may be harmful.   Granted, it's not strictly an American problem, nor is it even an originally American one - within five minutes of listening to any European, you get the distinct sense that his perspective is that there are only two ways to do things - the European and some inferior and less effective way.   Given the values of freedom and individualism in American culture, it does seem more poignantly ironic that we would be as bigoted as Europeans, and this is likely an element of their culture that should have been left on the other side of the Atlantic.

But to return to topic ... American firms are seeking to place their products in global markets in order to generate revenue - but at the same time they are failing to consider whether the products they sell are at all appropriate to the markets they are attempting to enter.   The same principle applies domestically, when a firm wishes to mass-produce a standardized product and, instead of adapting it to the needs and preferences of a particular market segment, seek to convince the segment that they should accept the mass-produced product without modification, adapting their behavior or accepting compromised outcomes to suit the product rather than seeking a product that is suitable to their situation and needs such as they actually are.  Is there any wonder that this would cause resentment?

Because the market segment is in this practice defined by arbitrary political boundaries when discussing imperialism, the argument becomes polluted by jingoism - but if you strip away the patriotic aspects the argument still has merit.   The proper way to approach a market is to study the market first, determine its idiosyncratic needs and preferences, and then offer a product that is suitable to those needs - rather than presuming an existing product will be suitable and seeking to convince the market to purchase it.   Pushing an inappropriate product is not only more difficult and expensive, but it damages the esteem of the brand and sours the prospects to any future overtures.

Admittedly, in insisting that the customers in foreign markets have an expectation of being served by suppliers that are considerate and respectful of their needs and preferences may itself be a matter of cultural egocentricity: the desire to be respected and treated as an individual is a distinctly American value.   However, I find it absurd to consider that there are cultures that are entirely malleable, in which people have no sense of dignity and abandon themselves to external influences and are happy to abandon the "old ways" of their own culture in favor of a new foreign influence.  

That's not as ridiculous as it sounds - especially when you consider how youth the world over, desperate to define their own generation as being different to their elders, but at the same time lacking the intellectual sophistication to define a culture of their own, tend to readily adopt the trappings of other cultures (antiquated or foreign ones in particular) in order to seem distinctive.  That includes the youth in the American domestic market, for whom anything unfamiliar is attractive and there is presently a cultural void, such that anything distinctive or different, be it from a foreign market or a previous time, is embraced.

It's also not merely in foreign markets where ill-suited goods are foisted on prospects, as this often occurs even in domestic marketing, where firms aggregate populations into generic masses and executives based decisions on the assumption that customers must follow the same lines of logic that he does - or if they fail to do so, they are unintelligent and need to be educated about the product.

Even so, my sense is this is a limited segment of the population, at home and abroad, and that most people are happy with their own culture and regard external intrusion, especially when it is pushy about imposing itself, as unwelcome.  The global marketplace is not homogeneous, and will vehemently resist attempts to be homogenized, and until a common culture emerges (which is not likely to occur for quite some time), firms will need to be highly circumspect when attempting to export domestic goods abroad - or even attempting to expand markets internally on the assumption that a product appropriate to one segment will be acceptable to all.

So in the end, accusations of imperialism are likely melodrama, but there is some scintilla of value in considering the possibility that they are merely reactions to American behavior in world markets.   When we insist that foreign markets not only purchase our products, but adopt our way of life, we have likely crossed the line between globalism and imperialism, and would be best advised to step back and think things over.