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Yes, being honest with yourself increases conversions

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You don’t go to big, retail trade shows in search of heroes, but there was Jason McClintock on stage at IRCE on Tuesday talking about pretty much everything his company had done wrong in designing and maintaining its website.

Starting with that dot-net thing.

Which is why he’s my latest retail hero. McClintock, president of Desert Steel, spoke unflinchingly about his mistakes with Scott Kincaid, a user experience researcher with Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

The two had met a year ago in Chicago at the same event, when Kincaid made a general offer to critique the websites of anyone willing to take his free advice. To hear Kincaid tell it, he had a lot of advice for McClintock, who was running a site featuring original, metal art pieces for backyards and gardens.

Their talk that day and their presentation a year later was a lot about site design and marketing and merchandising, but the underlying lesson applies to all aspects of ecommerce.

The quick takeaway, as they like to say at trade shows, is: Ask people, especially customers, for advice, listen carefully, share your own thinking freely and be ready to acknowledge that what you thought was a great idea was maybe not such a good idea at all.

A customer experience change for the better

And spoiler alert: McClintock took Kincaid’s comments to heart and changed — a lot — on the site. In fact, it’s a different site and a much more successful one.

None of which is to say McClintock didn’t have a vision back when he started at Desert Steel, after being a product guy his whole career. He did.

“My attitude then,” he said at IRCE, “was just create a really cool product, which we had.  We had products that people loved. But that’s not enough.”

He also wanted a beautiful website, with engaging stories about artwork and the artists, and artsy photographs of the sculptures that the artists were creating and that Desert Steel was selling.

One problem? The website barely mentioned that Desert Steel was selling anything. It was hard to figure out what Desert Steel was.

The words were lovely. McClintock and his staff agonized over writing the site’s copy.

“We probably spent an hour or two crafting this little paragraph,” McClintock said, pointing to the text as it appeared on the site a year ago. “The reality is that 99.9% of people never read it. They don’t care.”

There were other things: Though some of Desert Steel’s items were quite large (think impressive steel saguaro cactus), the site didn’t make it easy to figure out what shipping was going to cost a customer. The products were metal objects that would live outside. And though designers had figured out how to use materials that would not rust, the site didn’t convey that, nor did it lay out the retailer’s liberal return policy.

McClintock said Desert Steel’s site did achieve that magazine look-and-feel that he was going for.

“We accomplished that, but at the same time nobody knew they could buy anything,” he said. “We didn’t look like a shopping site.”

The site told a lot of stories, but didn’t necessarily tell consumers what they wanted to know: Not the rust prevention, the shipping rates, the return policy. And although all the art pieces were designed in Kansas and almost all of them were made in the United States, the website said not a peep about any of that.

You need to ask the question in order to find the answer

When McClintock approached Kincaid, Kincaid started asking questions. It’s how he found out about the made-in-Kansas. It’s how he found out that Desert Steel gets tons of customer photos touting the artwork the retailer sells, pure gold for someone marketing to consumers.

Kinkade’s advice: “Capitalize on the freaking awesomeness that you have.”

McClintock said he realized that having a great product was only about 20 percent of the equation. There was so much more to do that they hadn’t done. McClintock discovered that design was incredibly important — and not just looks-pretty design, but design as in how the website worked and how consumers moved through it.

It’s all about not creating hurdles, not creating barriers that prevent your customers from purchasing your products, he said. The same holds true for the entire customer journey — from discovery to fulfillment and support and beyond.

Listening to customers and advisors and accepting failure by failing fast and correcting course made a big difference in Desert Steel’s business. McClintock shared figures from before and after the web redesign.

Site traffic was up 350 percent, he said. Orders were up 260 percent. Conversions increased by 67 percent. And revenue increased 225 percent, year-over-year.

So, yes, it was heroic for McClintock to acknowledge with humility and some humor, his missteps along the way. Especially because by sharing he quite likely helped someone else — or maybe many someone else’s — who also have a vision for their ecommerce business.

Visions that are equally flawed and equally fixable.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].