Amazon has spoiled me for brick and mortar retail. For a hundred bucks a year, I can buy almost anything with free two-day shipping. With “one click” checkout, I don’t even have to wade through a series of confirmation screens. I can go,”Yeah yeah yeah, Blah blah blah…the usual address, the usual credit card, just ship it!”

Returns? Free. Price? Either pretty darned good or the very best. Surprises? None. Risk? Zero. It’s almost too easy to buy. For Prime users especially, Amazon has a friction free digital sales funnel – something I’ve always envied and worked to replicate in my work as a digital marketer and e-commerce director.

But I’m not sure that I fully appreciated a good sales funnel until I tried to buy a poster bed for my daughter from my local conglomerate furniture store. The experience was such a debacle – so riddled with rookie level transgressions – that it made me wonder: what happens when you apply basic e-commerce sensibilities to a live sales funnel? What happens when you dwell on every instance of friction? Can you identify where you’re getting your bounces, exits, and abandonments?

What follows is a blow-by-blow account and analysis meant to answer the question, “Does brick and mortar retail need a lesson from e-commerce?”

The Opening Salvo – Due Diligence Not Permitted.

My wife and I park, liberate our wonderful, energetic children from their safety harnesses, and walk into our local furniture store. A young woman in five-inch heels greets my wife and me near the door. We say that we’re checking out little girls’ beds. She is pleasant and helpful, points us to the back of the store, and we commence herding our children through a minefield of breakable objects toward the bedding area.

After wandering for a while, we find one we might like, but questions remain. Is 400 bucks a good deal on this bed? We have no idea. We’d done a little research online to see what everybody else was charging beforehand, but our friendly neighborhood furniture conglomerate has developed proprietary brands, and builds its showroom to combat “show-rooming.” I don’t necessarily blame them, but I’m not a furniture expert and I’d like to read some reviews on this bed. My wife and I like a little community feedback to either incorporate or ignore. Also, while we were researching earlier, we saw several beds that looked either nice or similar and were less expensive. Is this one special? We both hop on our phones, but the signal is no good and we can’t find anything anyway.

With no detailed product description, no star rating, and no comparatives, we’re left with faith.

 Abandonment Opportunity #1 – Where’s the checkout button?

We power through our deficit of information, and decide that we like the bed enough to pay the price. It may be a little high, but is mostly in line with other similar beds. And it’s right here in front of us. We could load it in the back of the van right now, I assume.

But, in order to start the process of buying this bed, I’m forced to leave my 36-week-pregnant wife and my two wonderful, wildcat children at the back of the store and walk a few hundred feet to retrieve the sales woman who’d earlier greeted us. I find her and we walk back so I can show her what we’d like to buy. My children have crawled under a bunk bed, and are pretending to be mice.

Total number of steps to push the “add to cart” button? 104.

Abandonment Opportunity #2 – Fee-Free or a Fee Spree?

The young sales woman is pleasant enough; she asks a few questions, writes down the SKU number, but then tells us that, regrettably, they don’t actually keep any product on site – something about a recent remodel and a full storage space. This isn’t my problem but it quickly becomes my problem. I didn’t want to pay for delivery, and that just became impossible without some sort of special waiver or exception from a manager.

Lack of free shipping is the number one cause of cart abandonment in e-commerce, but somehow the brick and mortar crowd missed that memo. The bottom line remains: we’ll buy the bed for the price on the ticket and we say as much. The sales woman indicates that she’ll see what she can do with her manager regarding a delivery fee and disappears. She indicates that the delivery fee is ordinarily $100. So the “usual” fee is equal to 1/4 the cost of the bed? Have these people even been on the internet?!?!

My wife is prompting me to leave – to close the proverbial browser window, abandon the order. But I’m somewhere between tired of looking for beds, and holding out hope that these people want to sell furniture badly enough to put together a reasonable deal. We like the bed – we really do. It’s a charming intersection of price and preference, and we’d like to have it set up in time for the arrival of baby #3.

So my heavily pregnant wife and I, our children darting this way and that behind, traverse the few hundred feet to the sales area, where our sales woman and her sales manager are in conversation behind a counter. I present myself at the counter, and the sales woman nods and smiles. Without looking up, the sales manager continues a conversation I shouldn’t be privy to. “I don’t want to do that on a small ticket item. Do you think they’ll still take it if, blah blah blah.” I’m standing maybe ten feet from the sales manager, but I can’t get even a nod out of him and now I’m feeling a little stupid for sidling up to the counter with a big wide grin on my face. I smile at everybody in the retail and service industries. I’m polite and thankful; I act like everybody is doing me a “solid” and I believe that because of it, I get great service everywhere I go. Against my better judgment, I keep grinning. I give it a minute, but my cheeks are getting tired and it becomes clear this guy isn’t going to address me directly. So I retreat to a nearby queen poster bed with a bedspread made to look like burlap.

Abandonment Opportunity #3 – So Who Are You Again?

After sitting for a few minutes, the sales woman comes over and asks us where we live. I tell her and she re-enters conversation with her sales manager. After another minute or two she returns. “Is there any way you could come by and pick it up tomorrow?” I say sure, I could do that, and she re-enters conversation with her manager. After a minute looking at a computer together, the manager (who still has not acknowledged us) nods to the sales woman, and she emerges and says, “Great…let’s get you checked out.”

I’m almost moderately happy, which in the modern retail world is equivalent to “overjoyed.” Sounds like mission almost accomplished. Sure, I can’t get the bed today, but I can pick it up tomorrow and get to save the $100 delivery fee, maybe.

“Oh, so there’s a $20 transfer charge – we have to bring it in from Fort Lauderdale.” Huh? I thought we’d established that I don’t want to pay any extra fees. I look at my wife and she gives a shrug. The shrug is grudging permission to proceed.

I nod to the sales woman and agree not to blow the deal up over the $20 super-secret surprise fee, and she says, “Great, have you bought here before?” Yes, I say, expecting a little positive regard once she sees my purchase history. “Okay, what’s your name?” *Sigh* We’ve arrived here without an introduction. I give her my name, but she can’t find me in the system. “Maybe a phone number?” No luck. “Address?” Still no luck. “Have you bought in the last six months?” No. “Oh, well we did a system change and if it’s been six months it isn’t in here anymore.”

This elicits all kinds of warm feelings of welcome and regard. I’m a ghost. “Okay, so I have to start over. I have your name, just need the address and phone number again.” Of course. I don’t mind repeating myself. Why would I?

I imagine an accordion checkout expanding before me – endless, detail hungry boxes and no progress bar in sight. Am I at Step 2 of 3? Or am I caught in a maze with no promise of escape?

Abandonment Opportunity Number “Last” – Every Order Comes Standard With a Complimentary Side of Uncertainty.

My wife, ever the planner, asks, “What are the dimensions of the box? I want to make sure it’ll fit in the van.”

The sales woman answers, “I can find that out, but I should warn you that there’s a good chance the bed will come assembled.” What? Is it a floor sample? “No, it’s new, but they assemble it before they send it out most of the time. Will it still fit in your van?” No. In fact it might not even make it into our condo assembled. “Oh. I’ll try to put a special note on it so that they don’t assemble it, but I can’t guarantee anything.”

I can feel my right hand reaching for a big imaginary mouse, course set to the big red “X” in the upper right hand corner of this conversation. I look to my wife. Our brick and mortar checkout screen is riddled with secret fees, special instructions, and a daunting gauntlet remains still. I can’t remember anything about the little girls’ bed we’d picked out. Couldn’t tell you what it looked like, what shade of white it was, or anything we may have once liked about it.

“We’re doing a lot of gymnastics to get this done.” I say to my wife. “Do you want to just wait?”

“Just wait” is of course code for “leave and probably never come back.” I hover the mouse over the big red “X.”

She replies in the affirmative instantly. (Click)

“Okay, “I say, “We’re going to wait on this one. There’s just way too much uncertainty in this deal. I mean, you did fine – It’s not your fault, don’t get me wrong – but shipping, no shipping, transfer fees, assembly, deadlines…I just can’t keep up. So thanks.”

My wife and I – with our wonderful, lunatic children tear-assing through a slalom of vase- and glass-topped tables behind us – leave the store, grumbling. We grumble a little more in the car, then “let it go” and drive to Target and have one of those shopping trips where more than half of what you buy is stuff you didn’t come for and don’t really need. I’m convinced that they will one day discover that the orange stickers at Target are also a mild aphrodisiac.

Epilogue – The Bed We Finally Bought.

Just this morning I poured myself a cup of coffee and jumped onto Amazon. In our “Wish List” we’d saved an affordable day bed that looked perfect for our daughter. Sitting at the kitchen table, with the sun starting to peek up over the oaks, with our children peacefully sleeping, we gave the community reviews of both the product and the seller one last scan, confirmed free shipping, and pulled the trigger. The day bed cost half of the version at the furniture store, and will be here in just a few days. By the time the order confirmation was delivered by email, my coffee was just the right temperature, and my wife and I enjoyed a good hour, just talking.

About Brad Zimmer

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