Even though I am a vegetarian, one of my favorite advertisements of yore is the Blackgama print ads featuring movie stars under the heading "What becomes a legend most?" The reason is because it encapsulates in a single sentence the right image for an upscale and classy product like a mink coat. (Not to mention paying tribute to some upscale and classy women as well.)
But when it comes to eCommerce, we can't easily put our fingers on a similar catch phrase. Part of the problem is that many web storefronts haven't been in business more than a couple of months, let alone years, so trying to call them legends is somewhat disingenuous. I have a few ideas on this of course.
What motivates me to come back to the same storefronts over and over again is the combination of two critical factors: powerful yet simple searching and terrific customer service. Get these two things right, and you'll be on your way towards Lauren Bacall status. You probably are tired about hearing how good Amazon is in this area, so let me introduce another potential shot at an eCommerce legend: repairclinic.com.
The site contains a variety of things, including troubleshooting tips, a parts/repair locator and store, and loads of other info. The thing that makes this site is its search engine, which narrows down the list of parts you'll need to fix your dishwasher or refrigerator and will sell you the part and deliver it quickly to your doorstep. Given that I am someone who is mechanically challenged and is hard pressed to get any service technician to come within weeks to my home, this site is a blessing.
A friend of mine tried out repairclinc.com, here is what happened:
They delivered the part on time (overnight) and in perfect condition. They also included a printed customer satisfaction survey and postage-paid return envelope with the part that, of course, I filled in and sent back. Seems to me repairclinic.com could easily become THE source for parts of all kinds. Perhaps that's their plan.
Now contrast this with some random site maintained by the appliance manufacturer. Chances are you can't buy replacement parts online, and even if you wanted to most of these sites just send you to a page where you can try to locate a dealer. Some sites sell just a few parts and don't necessarily tell you if these parts match the particular model you have. Others can't complete the entire transaction online and require you to call in your order or send information via email that can add delay and confusion to the process.
So, here's some advice. If you can't easily find what you are selling by using your site's search engine, it is time for an overhaul. The fewer screens you put between you and your sale, the better. And if you can't follow up the sale with great customer service (overnight delivery that is reasonably priced is a nice way to start), then think about getting into another line of work. Maybe one day you can become an eCommerce legend too.
N.B. A year after this column was written, I got the following response that I'd thought I'd share with you:
Last June 9th you wrote an article about our company www.repairclinic.com. We're the people that sell appliance repair parts online. I just want to let you know that your article has been one of the most effective written works for driving customers to our site. We still get comments from people that heard about us from your article.
We have ads in 900 yellow pages, we've been in every major newspaper in the country. We were featured in Parade Magazine, etc., etc. But I'd bet your article has been more effective than any three of those media exposures put together.
Your praise of our company wasn't for naught. We have grown substantially since then. Back then we were helping ~1,000 people a month repair their own appliances, we're now helping 10,000+. Our sales have grown every month but one since we opened our doors December 1999.
We see light at the end of the tunnel and don't feel that we'll be a victim of the dot.com fallout.
Thanks David for taking the time to try us out and write about your experiences. I appreciate it very much.
And, if you ever need a part for your appliance, you know where to find us.
Chris M. Hall
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