May 30, 2000
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We’ve seen the last of the UK's Boo.com –- in its most recent guise anyhow. We’ve heard how they wasted all that money on expensive ads before they’d even got their logistics sorted, and how they tried to be too clever with their site and ended up with something that was user-unfriendly, and painfully slow (when it worked at all). And we’ve heard all the doom and gloom from the media: this, they say, will be the first of many ‘Internet casualties’.
So, we decided to speak to Jan Selfridge (ex-retail marketeer for Marks and Spencer) and Ian Standing (ex-creative director of Abbot Mead and Vickers) of HotCustard.com, a new E-Marketing Agency with a simple goal: to take ailing dot-coms and make them work. They don’t have a negative attitude at HotCustard.com. They just have attitude. Full stop.
Q: What problems do you come across most regularly?
JS: Falling traffic. Abandoned shopping trolleys – traffic that doesn’t convert into sales. And non-returning customers –- people who buy once and never come back. Sometimes clients haven’t got a clue what’s causing it; others (especially the larger ones) know where they’re going wrong but have difficulty admitting that they’ve spent so much but still need help.
Q: You launched on 13th April. Who have you been working with since then?
IS: Let’s put it this way – we’ve got some big clients. I mean BIG clients, who’ve spent big money on e-commerce sites that are just not working. That’s a huge embarrassment for a company, and it hurts them to have to come to us and admit they’ve made mistakes. So they don’t want us to tell anybody. But they are coming to us –- we feel we’ve really exploited a gap in the market by offering a lifeline to dot-coms already up and running. When we were planning HotCustard we honestly thought there would be people doing this kind of thing already, but there weren’t.
Q: What mistakes are your big clients making?
IS: They treat a Web site like a company library, an empty space which needs cramming with as much information about them as possible. But that’s not true. If you go to a restaurant you don’t instantly arrive at a table covered with absolutely everything on the menu – someone takes your coat, you’re shown to a table, your chair is pushed in, you look at a wine list and a menu, and so on. Most of the sites we see have all the right content but presentation is the problem - it’s like this big impenetrable wall.
Q: Poor presentation? Sounds like you’re talking about Boo.com?
IS: Their site suffered from poor presentation and poor communication with users. As more and more people buy on line they’re going to want to be able to do it more and more quickly. Bells and whistles are all very well, but you need to give customers the option to bypass them. Web designers still look on the Internet as an entertainment medium. But e-tail sites need to be primarily about selling, not entertainment.
Q: You describe your company as ‘arse-kicking’. Why do you think such a hard-nosed approach to your clients is necessary?
JS: Because the level of complacency out there is huge! We can tell them what they’re doing wrong, but there’s no point being half-hearted. There’s no grey area – it
either works or it doesn’t.
IS: One of our clients said ‘Oh -- I thought you’d be younger!’ People seem to forget that experience counts – we know what we’re doing because we’re old enough to have made all the mistakes. A lot of money is spent in this industry without consulting somebody who has.
Q: You also offer your services to start-ups. What advice can you offer anyone thinking of launching an Internet presence?
IS: Do your homework! Especially when it comes to researching the customers you want to attract. It’s basic marketing stuff, but it’s getting overlooked. Having the money, and someone with the technical know-how isn’t enough – you’ve got to have a marketer on your team. You’d be surprised how many people leap onto the bandwagon without one.