Quantipulation: The Impact Of Website Errors

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According to an eConsultancy blog post:

Website errors seriously undermine the user experience, erode trust and confidence, and impact return on marketing spend. When asked what these errors were likely to include, respondents cited a range of issues, including inconsistent branding, spelling mistakes, poor usability and accessibility compliance errors. The group of website owners polled estimated that, on average, errors of this kind put 18% of their company’s revenue at risk, a figure that’s hard to ignore, especially in today’s economic climate.

My take: Quantipulation at its finest.  To refresh your memory, quantipulation is the “art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.”

You really want to tell me that Walmart is in danger of losing $73 billion in revenue because of spelling mistakes on their website or because of “poor usability”?

According to the US Census Bureau, as a percentage of all retail sales, the online channel accounts for 4 to 5%. So even if all of your company’s revenue were at risk from speling mistakes and inConSisTenT branding, then — on average — we’re nowhere close to 18%.

Now, I’m a big believer that the online channel influences offline sales. Positively influences, that is.

The “18% of revenue at risk” statement is one of those claims designed to support purveyors of site design and customer experience services who can’t tie their efforts to bottom line (i.e., ROI) impact. So they resort to quantipulation like this in order to…to what? Scare executives into hiring them to check the spelling on their websites lest they forego $75 billion in revenue?

Beyond the math, there are a couple of qualitative reasons why the claim doesn’t hold up:

  1. People often miss spelling mistakes. How do spelling mistakes on web sites come about in the first place? Somebody makes a mistake, and misses finding it when (or if) they proof-read the copy.  So, if they miss it, isn’t it quite likely that site visitors will miss it as well?
  2. People don’t care that much about it. Scenario: You’re shopping online for an Xbox (pepper spray in hand), you find the best price online at Walmart’s site, but there’s a typo on the product page. You really abort the purchase and go to another site to pay more just because there is no typos?

Did you stop reading this because of the grammatical error in the previous sentence?

Here’s the point: If “poor usability” prevents a site visitor from accomplishing their interaction, transaction, or goal, then yes — it might have a revenue impact. But when customer experience transformists use the term “poor usability” they’re referring to lots of things, including inconsistent color or navigation schemes — which may be a minor nuisance, but don’t necessarily prevent site visitors from accomplishing what they came to the site to do.

Bottom line: Spelling mistakes and typos on your website aren’t going to put 18% of your revenue at risk. Poor usability will have more of an impact if it prevents people from doing what they’re trying to do (or if it significantly adds to the time it takes them to do those things). But the reason for fixing that poor usability can’t be justified by “saved sales.”

I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the online customer experience or usability — just the quantification of it. Asking 20, 100, or even 1,000 execs to pull a number out of thin air (and then averaging that number) doesn’t legitimize that number or give it any credibility.


For previous posts on Quantipulation, see:

Quantipulation in Action: Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing

Quantipulation in Action: More Likely To Purchase

Quantipulation: ROI Vs. Success





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