We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for 2010

Simon Says…Happy Holidays

We’ve made it a tradition to share a puzzle or brainteaser as Ai heads into the holiday break each year.  We close the office between Christmas and New Year’s and wouldn’t want our brains to atrophy without the rigorous challenge of a quality puzzle.

This year, I stumbled across a pocket version of everyone’s favorite 80’s game, Simon.  The cacophony after the gifting ceremony was overwhelming, to say the least.  Pocket Simon joins the ranks of past favorites Rubik’s Cube, Terrible Rubik’s Knockoff that No One Understood and Couldn’t Do, and Interesting Twisted Knot Made of Plastic.  We’ll hold a competition in January for the longest string of blinking lights.  The pre-holiday record stands at 22.

Wishing all of our co-workers, friends, family, clients, and colleagues the very happiest of holidays and a terrific New Year.


“What’s wrong with my conversion?”

Scott Porad put up a terrific blog post last week about conversion rates and a lack of true averages.

While a global conversion rate of sorts exists–apparently, it’s 2.4% these days–benchmarking site conversion is a futile task due to the variables that impact sales.

Porad mentions Starbucks’ 99% conversion rate in his post. To expound, consider the stores in a shopping mall. Brookstone and Spencer Gifts, for example, probably have a lower conversion rate than, say, Old Navy or Radio Shack, due to the mindset of shoppers who enter (try vs. browse vs. buy vs. fix). But that doesn’t mean Brookstone has a problem. Differences in pricing, margin, and foot traffic expectations all play into the relative success of each store.

Instead of focusing on benchmarks for conversion rates, look at consistency of purchase patterns, and identify points in the browse and checkout processes where barriers can be minimized and revenues maximized. Not every site can convert like ProFlowers–and not every site has to.


12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the following Thursday are just days away… Holidays are right around the corner. We’re not looking to change the world here at Ai, but we do want to play our part in making this upcoming year a safe, secure and profitable one. That being said, have a look at an article I recently wrote which was published in the B2C Marketing Insider.

12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

“84% of polled Internet shoppers don’t think that online retailers are putting enough effort into protecting customers” (Forrester Research, Inc)

The E-commerce holiday shopping season is upon us and online retailers are busy implementing new shopping features, social campaigns, analyzing their test results, and redesigning their funnels from browsing to checkout.

The experts are out in force: Focus on usability! Optimize your product page! Come up with brilliant holiday promotions! Study the shopping trends! Yeah! Yeah?

No. Don’t waste your precious and ever-dwindling time focusing solely on usability and Ui improvements. Bottom line: If you don’t have your customers‘ trust and confidence, you won’t convert–regardless of all the improvements that your testing results indicated you should make.

This holiday season, make it a priority to ensure that your site is providing your customers with the sense of safety and security they are longing for in their shopping experience. Use our tips below to ensure your customers spend their precious time deciding which product to buy from your site, rather than then if they should even buy from you at all.

Prominent Contact Information

Contact information should be prominent and in a consistent place within your header and footer so that your customer knows where to go when they have questions or encounter issues. Display both phone number and email address so that your customers can contact you in the manner of their choosing.

Privacy Policy

Include links to your privacy policy on all transactional pages. The ubiquitous footer link is a good place to start, but too often overlooked. On transactional pages, make sure you have it prominently called out in the body of the page, above the fold. Spell out pieces of your policy as needed. For example, when asking for an email address, state your email usage policy right next to the field. Best Buy says this perfectly “Best Buy does not sell, rent, or trade your personal information to third parties”. Clear, blunt and to the point. As it should be.

Don’t Hide Costs

Transparency in shipping costs and delivery times is key – especially come holiday season. Be sure to provide all of the actual costs up front, including shipping, handling, and sales tax. These can have an enormous impact on the final price. According to OneUpWeb, 95% of customers want to know the exact cost of the order before proceeding into checkout. There is no better way to put the kibosh on a potential sale than to withhold additional costs until later in funnel.

When the user can expect to receive their package is enormously important as well, especially to shoppers cutting it tight during the holiday season. Show this information as early as possible as well. This is actually a deciding factor when it comes down to those final few days. Shoppers are willing to pay a premium as long as you can provide them with the security that it will arrive on time, as promised.

Return Policy and Shopping Guarantee

Shoppers want to know what their recourse is if their item arrives and is damaged, the wrong item, or just simply not what they wanted. Be sure to clearly spell out your return policy so there won’t be any surprises later. Do you have a shopper satisfaction guarantee? Nice! Again, place this prominently above the fold, and inspire your shoppers with confidence that they can’t make a wrong or irreversible decision.

Anticipate Their Concerns

Be mindful of the various sensitive touch points throughout the purchasing process.  Address concerns before they even arise. If you expect your customers to share private and personal information with you, you need to address the reasons why you need the information at the appropriate times.

  • A “We 100% guarantee your safety” link right next to the checkout button, and in checkout header that leads to a DHTML popup with your 100% satisfaction guarantee inspires confidence and keeps the user in the funnel.
  • “We will not share your email with anyone.” next to email field lets user know you aren’t going to sell their email address.
  • “Shipping details” tied with product, in cart and checkout, makes user aware of costs and availability early and often.
  • You can always change your order later” when tied to a call-to-action removes some of the hesitation associated with doubts on whether to commit at that exact moment.
  • Don’t be afraid to invite phone calls. A sale is a sale. Including “Prefer to checkout over the phone? No Problem. Call us at…” at the top of your checkout give shoppers a sense of security even if they don’t plan on calling you.

Apply the Human Touch

Ten other sites may sell the same product, at the same discounted price, and have the same safety features in place. Differentiate yourself by emphasizing a personal touch and telling your shoppers that you completely understand their concerns. Give them that warm and fuzzy feeling that they are in good hands by hitting the emotional aspects of shopping.

Using the right tone and personality makes a difference. It is comforting for a customer to see “Please don’t hesitate to call us with any concerns or questions. Your security is our sole priority.” compared to a simple link to the Help Section. Instill confidence in your customers by speaking to them like human beings, rather than unique visitors, throughout the shopping process.

Your “About Page” and Value Proposition

Part of converting the customer is making them feel confident that they are in good hands. The ‘about page” is an often overlooked part of creating a secure shopping experience.

Are you family owned? Are you quirky? Are you a huge company that started off with two people in a garage? Do you donate a certain portion of profits to charity? Don’t let “About Us” be one paragraph of fluff about commitment to selling great products. Shoppers will see right through this. Be yourself. Shoppers have a greater sense of confidence knowing that they are at a real store run by real people.

Make a Good First Impression

Visual design has a huge impact on new customers feeling safe. Shoppers will form an opinion of your company within five seconds of seeing your home page. Want them to feel safe, and not think you are a fly-by-night outfit? Invest in design. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be award-winning, gorgeous visual experience. The site’s design need to give an instant sense of credibility and trust to visitors. Even though customers may not be entirely conscious of it, good design inspires confidence.

Performance & Stability

A slowly loading page, a site that’s down, or obscure programming error messages can raise instant doubts in the shopper’s mind. It is likely they are in comparison shopping mode, so if they were to leave one site and arrive at a site that loads slowly, or not at all, then the experience comes to a quick end. If they see errors and messages they don’t recognize, they will doubt your professionalism and whether their information is safe on your site. A solid technical implementation is as important as a great design.

Badges, Tigers and Seals Oh My

Seals of approval from TRUSTe or Better Business Bureau Online are widely recognized, but remember that a seal is only a graphic; it can be counterfeited. To be sure, make sure you link to the certifying agency’s site that profiles the merchant information. Also, avoid the Times Square approach putting eight different seals on your site. It diminishes the effectiveness. If you really feel the need to bombard 8 seals on there, all I ask is that you use the animated graphics. At least your savvy visitors can get a laugh.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Be sure your site has been thoroughly reviewed and that there are no misspellings or grammatical mistakes. They may seem tiny, but they will immediately cast your professionalism in doubt.

Security Through Social Validation

Social validation is a proven factor in influencing how people purchase products, and it’s no different when it comes to influencing why they should shop at your site for these products. Customer dialogue, reviews and interactions (regardless of what is being discussed) brings instant credibility to your site. People want to know that other people shop at your store. They want to see activity and not just take your word for it.

Now more than ever, privacy is a huge customer concern. Between Facebook privacy issues, Google ego-searching, and countless ads aggressively targeting hackers and screaming identity theft shoppers are only getting increasingly more sensitive and aware of the how, why, and when their sensitive personal information is used.

As online retailers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable shopping environment for the customer, both online or off. The most successful businesses are able to instill confidence in their customers, and adding a relatable human touch. They develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with their customers to ensure repeat purchases and loyalty.Look folks, lets not forget – it’s the holidays! Do your customer and your bottom line a favor by letting them focus on giving rather than worrying. So you better be good for goodness sake.


Game bird with a bald head and a rich, creamy exterior

Retain moisture… maintain texture… portion out fairly… There is more pressure on the ‘carver’ than there is on the ‘cooker’.

Uncle Wertheimer was elected house carver this year and gosh, did he take this bird to town. We couldn’t be prouder. It was a flawless execution. An absolute pleasure to watch.

Oh, what a festive afternoon it was. We give thanks to oversized, chocolate game birds and we give thanks to our dear friend Joanne for bringing this domesticated mocha creature into our lives.


What does Walmart’s free shipping mean to the industry?

Last week Walmart announced free shipping on for the holiday season. The scope is staggering: the offer covers more than 60,000 products and comes with no purchase minimum.

The move is a maneuver in Walmart’s price war with Amazon and Target, coming just days after Walmart lowered prices to compete more fiercely with its competitors. In the level-playing-field world of ecommerce, Walmart is making a compelling case for many consumers not to shop anywhere else.

So what does this action mean for the rest of the industry, not just the billion-dollar behemoths at war? Several things.

1. Expect heavy price wars this season. Indeed, they’re already underway, what with campaigns and discounts starting in October this year, in part to offset the sluggish economy. (Then again, this happened in booming 2007, too.) Every store will be watching its competitors’ prices, and consumers will, too.

FREE SHIPPING no minimum order2. Look for the spread of no-limit free shipping. Already, some larger retailers (like LL Bean, whose promo is shown here) have chosen to match Walmart’s offer. Amazon hasn’t budged yet, in part because its $25 hurdle is fairly accessible. If Walmart chooses to extend its offer past the holidays, though, watch for shipping costs to rapidly become an albatross on mass-market sites.

3. The small-business end of the online CPG market may be in trouble. Walmart’s promotion allows consumers buying $9.88 toys to shop for value–good for consumers, bad for small competitors, who may spend $7 on average on shipping. Expect startup retailers to shift focus away from small-ticket items unless they have access to favorable postal arrangements.

4. Don’t expect this to hurt the specialty stores. Bloomingdale’s has free shipping on $300-and-up purchases, Nordstrom $100: this isn’t about them. Nor is it about niche brands whose distribution relies on the digital channel. Those retailers can still charge fair shipping costs, because people are seeking out specific products. Walmart may encourage an expectations shift, but those expectations may or may not extend to every corner of the online retailing industry. (Yet.)

Check in January to see if free shipping sticks around or if it’s just a market-share maneuver for the holiday season. That pending decision by Walmart may permanently alter the industry.


Chromium + instant = predictive page loading

We’ve been recently sending in our predictions for the next 15 years as a follow up to yesterday’s blog post by Alex.  I was going to send in “Google will predict the page you want to go to and automatically load it”  However, to my surprise, since I had enabled --enable-match-preview as a parameter of my Chromium startup, I started experiencing just that.  When I type in “j” it automatically loads Jira in the background (see image).  I didn’t tell it to, it just figured it out based on my history.  With Google instant saving 2-3 seconds per search and Chromium bypassing search completely, we’ll have more time to make awesome websites!


Ecommerce predictions

This morning I enjoyed re-reading Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Newsweek piece, Why Web Won’t Be Nirvana.  While 15 years later most of his observations on information overload and the lack of content curation abound, how delightfully wrong he was in predicting the failure of “cyberbusiness.”

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

It appears our industry has done a fine job addressing all of Stoll’s concerns, save for thankfully not making stores obsolete (and arguably positioning great multi-channel retailers even stronger because of their web businesses).  We certainly can point and click for great deals.  I don’t remember ordering an airline ticket in the last 10 years and not doing it online.  OpenTable can almost always snag a last minute reservation for me at the latest NYC hotspot.  While their usability leaves a great deal to be desired, web-based contract negotiation tools drive billions in global procurement.

And speaking of a “trustworthy way to send money over the Internet,” while we haven’t yet found nirvana, in 2009, $209.6 billion was spent by consumers typing credit card numbers into a white box on a website.  People trust sending their money over the Internet.

Sure, we lack nuanced salespeople in our digital world.  That saleswoman who tells me I look fabulous in that suit will never lose her job to ecommerce.  But we sure do come close to the same results.  On more than one occasion we’ve all experienced that bizarrely efficient and shockingly accurate “others who purchased” recommendation, and went for it.  Dynamic personalization is the salesperson of the future, and she’s being implemented today in almost all of our modern ecommerce work.

It sure is easy to criticize Stoll with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and most unfair not to offer ecommerce predictions for 2011 and beyond of my own.  Stay tuned to this page in the coming weeks.