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Listen To Your Mother: Advice For Making The Sale On Your Website

By February 22, 2012June 26th, 2015Website Design & Marketing
Listen To Your Mother: Advice For Making The Sale On Your Website

This series of tips and practical advice was born one evening some months ago during a phone call with my mother. As she complained about the umpteenth thing that had irritated her that day (the price of milk, the guy in line at the grocery store, the unsolicited sales call during lunch) she digressed into chatter about her attempt to buy a gift online. Said attempt didn’t go very well, because it turns out websites can be very annoying things to someone who has never understood how “they” can be so stupid and un-common-sensical.

This time “they” had really done it. They had built a website that defied all logic and made it impossible for her to decide on a gift and therefore make a purchase. But now she was talking my language. “They” do build some pretty horrible websites, and if my mother had been unable to make a purchase, chances are that other mothers everywhere were also unable.

I share this with you now because my mother could have been your customer.

Mother Says: “I Want To See What I’m Buying”

“Do you know what’s very extremely annoying?” My mother asks.

I grab my pen and notebook. We’ve been down this road before, my mother and I.

Here. (Where she gets annoyed by page numbers)

And here. (Where she gets bored)

And even here. (Where she teaches us a thing or two about customer service)

“I hate when they tell you to click on a picture to enlarge it, and it opens in another window and it’s STILL THE SAME SIZE!!”

My mother is personally affronted by this, and I completely understand. Popups can be annoying, but useless popups are definitely annoying. It’s as if the website owner knew he was wasting our time and just didn’t care.

“I mean, really. If you give a person an option it should do something. If you’re going to spend money on something, you want to see it.”

She is absolutely right on both counts.

  1. If you (the website owner) give a person an option, it should do something. “Click here to enlarge” is something, and it should do what it promises.
  2. If you (the shopper) are going to buy something, you probably want to see it. Squinting at a tiny, (often fuzzy) photo is not really anyone’s version of seeing.

My mother never did make a purchase on that site, because tiny photo after tiny photo with mockingly inadequate “enlarge” functions drove her away. But the next site, the one with nice, clear, large photos? That one got her money.

If You Make Her A Promise, You’d Better Deliver

There are many reasons that an online sale falls through. Maybe the price was too high or the shipping too expensive. Maybe the delivery time was too long or the “Add to Cart” button was too slow. Maybe the baby cried or the phone rang and your shopper got distracted. There are so many ways to lose a sale without trying that it’s critical to turn the odds in your favor where you can. Offering someone an option and then failing to deliver is something you can avoid and improve your odds of making the sale.

Missing, broken and too-small photos are unfortunately common problems on ecommerce and other product-centric sites. But it’s pretty inexcusable in a time when there are zoom, rotate and enlarge functions that can be used to great effect with minimal effort. If you want to sell something or showcase something then you need good photography. No excuses, no exceptions.

Sometimes, business owners simply don’t have the photography.

You’d be surprised by the number of people I speak with who can’t find/don’t have/never had good, quality digital photos of their products. Do you know what I have to say about that? Get some! If you can’t hire a photographer, at a very minimum get yourself a decent digital camera and take some decent high-resolution photos. Keep those decent high resolution photos because you will need them for your photo zooms and enlargements. Downsize as needed but never, and I mean never, overwrite or delete the originals.

Sometimes, someone just messed up the website code.

So when you “click to enlarge” you actually get a smaller version. Yes, I’ve seen this, too. Lucky for me, my mom hasn’t yet, or that’s another half hour on the phone. Do you know what I have to say about that? Fix it! There are no excuses for a broken website image. No exceptions. Not if you want to sell something.

If you want to make a sale on your site, you’ll need to invest in designing and developing a site that works. Nobody said developing a good ecommerce store was cheap or fast and no, a good photographer isn’t free, either. But if you want to run a profitable online business then you need to pay attention to the details. Because my mother will.

Lesson Learned: If She Can See Your Products, She Will Buy

If I were you, I’d take a look at my website right now and pretend you’re my mother, ready to spend some money on a gift. Are your photos up to snuff? Do they show the detail necessary for someone to identify and appreciate your product?

Nobody has ever lost a sale because their photos were just too good. Show your products up close. Show your products from multiple angles. Show them in multiple colors. Shopping online takes a measure of trust that the item you see is the item you’ll receive. It’s going to be hard to develop that trust if someone can’t see your product in the first place.

It may seem like a small detail and a nitpicky complaint from one shopper. But the fact is that details are everything.

There’s a lot of competition out there and it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to click away from your site and move on. The smallest gripe, grievance or inconvenience can send a potential customer off to a competitor. Why take that chance? When so many unforeseen and uncontrollable things can go wrong, it would behoove you to seize every opportunity at your fingertips to make the shopping experience on your site productive, enjoyable and repeatable. Pay attention to your photos – and to all the details of your site. If you do, my mother just may become your next new customer.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Alexandria says:

    Very thought provoking article Carol – nice to have some ‘real life’ feedback to see what people want more/less of! Thanks!

  • Amy says:

    Hear, hear! If you’re going to lose a sale, at least have it be over a crashed computer or a ringing phone or crying baby. Don’t lose out on business because of your own silly mistakes!

    I’m enjoying this whole series. 🙂 Tell your mom thanks, and to keep the complaints coming!

  • Ken Pickard says:


    You mom has some great advice and I love this story. Those who go out of their way to make a purchasing transaction the best experience possible wins..flat out period end of sentence. Ok lets add to that. When you also offer good customer service or even a  thank you as Gary V says…your customers will even come back to buy more from you.

    We can and should learn from your mom! One
    think website owners should do and do often is check their links, put
    themselves in their customers shows and evaluate the purchasing process.
    Getting feedback like “enlarge the image” should do just that is
    priceless. Hopefully more website owners will get the “bigger” picture.
    Pun fully intended.

    Ken Pickard
    The Network Dad

    • It’s one of the easiest things you can do – sit someone down in front of your website and say, “ok, what bugs you?” Sometimes we forget we don’t have to think of everything – let our customers tell us what to do! I’m sure there are moms everywhere who would be happy to outline every annoying thing that happens on a website. Smart businesses will pay attention!

  • Adrienne says:

    Hi Carol,

    This is my first visit to your blog and I love this post.  I love my Mom and can relate to a lot of the issues she has online with some sites so as I was sitting here reading your post I was shaking my head going, oh yeah.  That sounds like my Mom too.  Mine gets on the computer but leaves all the purchases up to me.  She can’t figure her way around the majority of these sites.  Just like you mentioned here some of these sites don’t make it easy for people like yours and my Moms.  Oh and Carol!  She’s 86 years old but she’s no dummy.  I’m so proud of her!Thanks for sharing this with us and you tell your Mom she’s not alone!  :-)~Adrienne

    • Wow, 86 years old – good for your mom! I would love to hear about her frustrations, too… it sounds like they would make some more good articles. It’s really easy to get caught up in dos-and-don’ts, best-practices and all kinds of design theories and forget that there are actual people out there using our sites who just need to find their way to the checkout! 

  • Hi Carol Lynn, Reading this story, I can relate very well.  My mom is 80 and does give me the same feed back (so does her gang of friends).  The wise words from your mom are the typical words of any person that is trying to purchase something on the internet.  We must realize that most of the people out there are typical buyers.  Typical buyers want things easy.  I must agree with her about those “larger” images.  I get off those sites myself. 
    It all brings to light how we, as bloggers and merchants, must write and present our stuff for the reader. 
    A great thing to do is to create an avatar:  A picture of your typical person coming into your niche, dress him or her, write down what they do, what they need, what they want in life, etc.  Then you write and advertise to them.  It’s a little tip I’ve learned that works very well.
    After reading this, I think I’m making my Avatar older lol

    • That’s a great tip, Donna. It always helps to put yourself in the shoes of people who will be using your site and ask yourself what THEY want instead of just assuming you know what works. 

      It’s funny that you said you’re going to make your Avatar older because I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people with older parents who go through the same things. It makes sense though – younger people are probably used to fishing around on the internet so it might not bug them as much. But older people (and not much older, I’m talking 40+) just want to get to the point and get there easily. Plus they’re the ones with the disposable income so they’re the ones you want shopping on your site! 

      Thanks for your input!

  • Andi-Roo says:

    Laughing sooooo hard at your use of “they”… because my mom complains of what “they” do so often, we have nick-named “them” around these parts as “mystical-magical-they”. And, boy do “they” get a lot of things wrong! LMAO!!! 🙂

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      It’s a habit I had to try really hard to break…. you know, “they” said and “they” did. Whenever I say it anymore I have Ralph who helpfully says “who are they?” Glad to amuse 🙂