The Economic Logic of (some) Amazingly Awful Websites
Or why LINGsCars looks like it does. (Warning: turn down everything first).
First, a little preamble: I'm increasingly convinced that people don't understand themselves how they succeed. Which is to say: Ling presents a story around her website and business. I don't know that she believes the story, but she acts as if she does. I think she's wrong about the why, but that doesn't mean she isn't on to something.
And for the record, I can't stand looking at her site. At all. I pulled up the URL from a former post of mine to spare myself the pain. It's not that bad, it's far, far worse.
Ling at the Future of Digital Marketing explaining her rationale:
In her presentation (above) Ling reveals is that there's a whole lot of smarts behind the site. Ling spends a lot of time detailing how engaged her sales team is with site visitors -- behind all the dazzle and annoyance are gimmicks and interactive toys. There is also a live-updated monitor in the office with audio alerts when someone comes to the site. Repeat customers (those who've bought cars in the past) bring up a profile and purchase history. In general, they try to engage with someone (live chat) within minutes.
But for the whole presentation (which is fairly impressive and interesting), I think she fails to recognize one point. And, perhaps, gives an insight to why car shopping in general is such an annoying experience.
All that engagement is expensive.
One of the costliest elements for a car sales outlet is tire-kickers: people who come by, look at vehicles, tie up a salesperson's time, and don't buy anything. More to the point, they never planned to buy anything.
Cars are not high-volume items. A dealership might sell 129 cars in a month. That's 4.3 cars per day. See This American Life's "Cars" episode.
Take a look around the supermarket next time you're in it and do a quick mental calculation as to how many transactions it's completing in a day. Say an average check-out is three minutes, that the store runs six registers on average, and is open for 8 hours -- that's 960 transactions, and, if they average $200, about $192,000 in sales per day. The precise numbers don't particularly matter. The key is this: The grocery store is geared at maximizing flow rates ... and putting impulse items on end-caps and check-out stands.
(I fact-checked my assumptions, not bad: median weekly sales per market are $482,160, which puts daily sales at $68.8k. My estimates nearly 3x that, but it's based on a larger (and busier) than average store. Source: Food Marketing Institute.)
The auto dealership (online or off) wants to sort out the tire-kickers as quickly as possible. If you aren't currently and really shopping for a car, you're a liability. And the chances are the salesperson's missing out on one of the four people who might actually have a real interest in buying that day. The goal is to sort you as quickly as possible.
Ling'sCars.com is optimized for driving away people who don't really, really, REALLY want to buy a car.
The question I've got is whether or not Ling knows this consciously. Her site is designed to maximize this effect, but whether that was intentional, accidental, or just sort of evolved, I don't know.
Nigerian 419 scammers (and other fraudsters) employ similar tactics -- their methods are intensive on the scammer's time, so the pitches they make are so obviously bogus that anyone with half a brain (or more) realizes they're bogus. Automatically selecting for those with less than half a brain. (Phishing and identity fraud scams rely on volume and are typically far more sophisticated.)