What drives you to purchase something?
There’s a general notion that in this spend-shift economy purchase behavior is driven by a dollar (or price) vs. quality debate within your average person. That person identifies the most they’re willing to pay for the most possible comfort/quality they perceive the item is worth. In most companies, the department that determines the retail price of a good or experience is NOT the same department that describes the good or experience, and the store shelf that displays that good or experience is determined by a wholly third department. Then there’s a fourth department that drives eyeballs to your properly priced, properly described, properly displayed good or experience.
It’s very simple to evaluate the relative price of an object. Let’s say you’re pricing ceramic penguins. Your Aunt Martha loves ceramic penguins, and you have to get her one for Christmas, because if you don’t she will retaliate on your birthday with socks, and you rarely wear pink argyle knit socks. Ceramic penguin, then: you price them out at Target, at Amazon, at Macy’s, and at Overstock.com. You then discover that, generally speaking, ceramic penguins are $10. In some stores, though, there are ceramic penguins that are $12, and in others there are ceramic penguins that are $8.
You have thereby evaluated the price strata of a ceramic penguin. Go you!
Now, you know you can afford $8 or $12 for a ceramic penguin just fine, and you may be able to even buy two, if it will get you out of argyle pink socks. Your next step, then, is to evaluate the quality of the penguins, right?
How do you do that, on the other end of a computer? All you have to go on is the content on the site. The photos, the videos, the description, maybe there are user reviews of ceramic penguins. Chances are, though, you instantly evaluate off of the photo FIRST: does the penguin look cheesy? Does it look more like a seagull? Is the paint in the right spot? Is it attractively lit? This is done in a split second.
Now assume they all have decent photos. Maybe there are only 3 ceramic penguin manufacturers who supply the online stores you’re looking at, and they all have the same photographic style. Fine. Now you are going to read a bit about the description: oh, this penguin is only 3″ tall. This other one is actually RESIN, not ceramic, that was a close shave. That one uses the word “durable”… I don’t know if a good quality penguin has to list itself as “durable”, do you?
Note: all of these things are HIGHLY subjective. There is no facile way to quantify the quality of the content you are seeing outside of being in your head (or polling you, which by the way isn’t very accurate: most people polled on merchandising decisions often behave contrary to how they say they behave).
At this point you’ve whittled it down to two ceramic penguins. They’re mostly the same price, they both look good, their descriptions are free of warning words like “sturdy” or “robust”. What’s the kicker?
Welcome to web 2.0 (finally): you are not going to trust Big Brother, you are going to trust your Fellow Man. And there you find it, buried amongst the 2 and 3 star reviews of your ceramic penguin options: the ones from Store A consistently arrive broken. You had to dig quite a bit to find the four user reviews that mention it, though.
And now, my dear readers, how do you quantify THAT? It’s all in someone’s freetext upload somewhere. As the SELLER of ceramic penguins, how do you know it’s your user reviews tanking you? How do you know it’s not the photo, or the text description?**
As a company, you can benchmark your pricing against other companies; you can even attempt to benchmark your content (number of photos, relative sizing, what they capture; number of words, etc.). It is however the quality of the Store, and the Product, and the Content that will determine the actual purchase behavior. Great SEM and SEO will drive eyeballs to your ceramic penguins: you need to also have a reliable brand, a good product, and shiny, shiny content to get someone to press “Add to Cart” — and even then you’re hoping that that trifecta garners you the User Reviews you need to keep it going.
**PS yes there are ways of doing it — evaluate time on given pages, relative clicks, etc. — but it’s not as simple as a price evaluation. And humans are so not simple!