Sunday, April 5, 2020

Making Sites Hard to Use - On Purpose

They call it engagement.  If you can get someone to "invest" time in the buying process, they may continue with it, even if the prices are not very good and the service shoddy.

It struck me as I was trying to buy vitamins online that some of these online portals are damn hard to use.  The Eyebuydirect site is slow to load and hard to navigate.  Once you get the hang of it, it isn't so bad, but you still spend a lot of time on it, particularly the first time you use it.

Many of the "Vitamin" sites were similarly confusing - with coupon codes, introductory offers, memberships, and a plethora of products.  Why would you make a site hard to navigate and use?

Then it struck me - the same reason car dealers take five hours or more to sell you a car.  Once you've "invested" three or more hours in car shopping, you break down and say, "Fine!  Bend me over the desk and rape my wallet!  I just want to go home!"

And they know this.   If you have "invested" a lot of time and energy in exploring one site, loading stuff in your "cart" and whatnot, you'll be less likely to start the whole process over again on another site, which will take just as much time to navigate and find product.

And once you are "hooked" on one site, you'll go back again and again, rather than face the painful learning curve of learning a new site.  Amazon thrives on this - with "Prime" and "one-click checkout" that don't always offer you the best prices or best shipping options.   "Screw it!" you say, "I'm busy!  So what if I pay a few dollars more!  Convenience is worth it!"

Convenience, indeed, but convenient for who?  Certainly convenient for Jeff Bezos!

Of course, I am not sure there is an easy way around this.  Sites and apps which claim to "compare prices" and find the best bargains turn out to be little more than lead aggregators, which sell your interest in a product to a particular website as a referral, and take a small piece of the action in return.  No one works for free.

But again, as we learn in economics class (or in law school) in a perfect market, each player pays the maximum price he is willing to pay for a product - at least in theory.   Theory says, the rich person pays more for the product, as their time is too valuable to dick around with coupons, discounts, or other cost-reducing strategies.  They value convenience over cost.   The poorer purchaser is only willing to pay so much, so they bite on coupon deals, rebates, discounts, and other time-consuming practices to seek discounts.  The idea being, that their threshold of pain is higher, and they are willing to invest more time to obtain the goods at a lower cost.

That's the theory, anyway.   In reality, the poor or middle-class are often snookered by coupons, discounts, rebates, BOGOs, and other offers, to the point where they pay more for a consumer good than the rich person.   The middle-class schmuck leases a new Mercedes and pays top dollar for his ride.  The really rich person writes a check for the same car - perhaps even the same car off-lease from the middle-class schmuck - and rides for a lot less.  Economics is a dark art, and a lot of economic theories are hooey.

And the reason for this is simple:  Economics involves more than theories in the abstract, but real-world reactions and human psychology.   College professors come up with economic theories, but companies selling products to consumers learn firsthand what works - and what doesn't.   Car buying didn't become a painful, protracted process because of some economic theory, but rather, car dealers realized that the worse they could make the buying experience, the more money they could make.

I'll bet right now that those same car dealers might be a little more friendly, given that they can't keep you locked in the showroom for five hours (with your trade-in held hostage at an off-site lot, and your deposit check "locked in the safe" and the only person with the combination has "gone home for the evening").    But then again, I won't take that bet.  As these online sites illustrate, you can fuck people virtually through the internet - as I noted long ago.  Every car company has an elaborate, slow-to-load website dripping with videos and animation and all sorts of data and information, that is, other than the price of the car.

Hide the real price has always been the main idea of retailing - and even moreso on the Internet.  Get 'em engaged, and pretty soon they will pay anything, just to get off the computer and back to real life!