Converting visitors to customers

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Whenever we make a purchase, there is a three stage mental process: want, need, and rationale. A website is unique because it can direct and focus a shopper on each of these stages. The website can be as effective as, and more efficient than, a full color brochure. And, the website has the added advantage of providing a shopping cart to respond to an impulse buy.

If you’re not sure that this decision making process is valid, think carefully about the last time you purchased a high ticket item. As purportedly rational beings, we are reluctant to admit that our ‘need’ starts with a ‘want’ and ends with a ‘rationale’. We like to think we just buy that which best suits our needs at the best price we can find.

A good starting point when designing a website is to assume that a visitor arrives at the site as a result of directed curiosity. That is, they’ve run across your site listing in a search engine or have heard about the site by word of mouth or advertising and have some curiosity about your particular products. Your job is to convert this visitor from ‘just curious’ to ‘customer’.

You may think that visitors arrive at your website only because they want your product or something similar, not just because they’re curious. This may be true but, it cant hurt to reinforce this ‘want’ and at the same time grab the attention of the ‘just curious’.

Making someone want something is often done with the glamor shot. A glamor shot is a refined image of your product. The image frequently shows the product being used by a celebrity or a good looking model. Having a person in the picture helps the customer relate to the situation by identifying with the person using the product. On the other hand, especially where you’re selling into a niche or micro market, a superb image of just the product may be compelling enough.

A small amount of text accompanying the picture is usually appropriate. The text message should focus on a key reason for wanting the product. The text should not start describing the product or its features. Save that for the next stage. Think about recent new car ads on television. A driver speeds along a curvy road. The text, audio in this case, is something like, “Get the feeling”.

The basic reasons for wanting something can often be stated in very brief phrases: look cool, be creative, be a hero, be recognized, be more productive, feel secure, attract friends, etc. Longer statements are usually addressing the ‘need’ not the ‘want’.

Now that the ‘want’ emotion has been stirred, it’s time to create a need. Using ‘create’ may seem strange in relation to ‘need’ but, this is exactly what a good promotion has to do. Even if your product is as mundane as a roll of paper towels, it’s important to establish the need in your customer’s mind. In the case of paper towels, they aren’t just for drying up spills anymore; now they kill germs. The message is, “You need that capability; it’s one of the benefits of buying the product.”.

You’re no doubt familiar with the admonition of presenting features, functions, and benefits when promoting a product. Think of a feature as a hilighted function and be sure every function has a benefit for the user. A function is simply one of the capabilities of the product. These attributes all address the ‘need’ stage of the buying process.

Marketing people can get very creative when establishing a need for their product. Certain sneakers will improve your basketball game and a carbon fiber racket will have you playing better tennis. Oh, and if you look good by buying a special outfit, you’re probably going to do better. At least you’ll be more popular.

You get the picture. This is stage two of the promotion and a chance to relate every feature to a benefit for your customer. This is no time to be reticent. Bells and whistles count and can often turn the tide when it comes to selecting your product over the competition.

If your product has many features, a separate page listing may be appropriate. If you’re selling several similar items, a feature comparison page can help the customer decide the best fit to their needs. A page comparing your product features to the competition is good if you offer more or better features.

The more benefits you can demonstrate for a product, the more compelling will be the customer’s ‘need’ for the product. Once a need is established, your website presentation can move to stage three, providing a rationale for making the purchase.


The rationale for purchasing is the process of establishing in ones mind a set of valid reasons for buying a particular product. A more cynical view of this stage might be ‘creating excuses’, considering that the basic reason for making the purchase originated with a ‘want’.

It’s up to the website, to provide the information that will help the customer develop this rationale. This requires a presentation of the hard facts about the product. The hard facts are specific product attributes, comprising specifications, price, and any special offers.

This is stage three in the selling process. When appropriate, especially for technical products, a page listing the important product specifications can be very helpful to the customer’s process of rationalizing the purchase. Compare the product specifications against those of a competitor where you have a clear advantage. This helps the customer to know that they are doing the right thing even though they might not fully understand the technical specifications.

Other specific product attributes can be a coupon offer or an on sale discounted price. Special pricing is always good for the rationale. You can just hear someone brag, “I bought it on sale!”, as though this in itself was a good reason for making the purchase. On the other hand, it is a good reason if first that ‘want’ was successfully turned to a ‘need’.

Exactly how the three stages for the purchase decision get put together at a website is a mater of some flexibility. The brief examples given assume a limited number of items that can be discreetly presented in some logical sequence. Complex websites and service sites may not lend themselves to quit so much orderliness.

Never-the-less, in spite of a cultural trend of blending ‘want’ with ‘need’, the three stages of the of the customer’s psyche are always there. The astute merchant will find ways to best make their website presentation compelling enough to turn ‘want’ into ‘purchase order’

Mel Davey is the creator of ImagineNation (http://imaginenation.com/), a full service E-Commerce Application Service Provider, offering Storefronts, Order Management Utilities, and 3rd party credit card processing.

Converting visitors to customers
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About Mel Davey
Mel Davey is the creator of ImagineNation (http://imaginenation.com/), a full service E-Commerce Application Service Provider, offering Storefronts, Order Management Utilities, and 3rd party credit card processing. WebProNews Writer
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