3 Reasons Marketers Should Continue to Allow Guests on Their Sites
For Nationwide Candy, getting helpful information from anonymous site visitors is like finding the prize in a box of Cracker Jack. In fact, sometimes the guests' product reviews are specifically about the molasses-coated popcorn and peanut treat.
"On product reviews, we've had people share stories," says Ken Hanson, general manager of the Albuquerque, N.M., wholesale candy and snack provider. "How they grew up with Cracker Jacks [sic] ... going to the game with their grandparents or whatever it might be. They can tell a real touching story. It reinforces with customers that it's a good product."
Those product reviews—good and bad—can come in anonymously, thanks to Needham, Mass.-based customer feedback and e-mail marketing firm RatePoint. RatePoint knows the reviewer's e-mail address, for instance. But Nationwide Candy may never know the person's identifying information. Still, many in the e-commerce space advise marketers to continue allowing visits from people they may never know by name. This may be difficult for marketers to hear, considering a report Forrester Research released in July, US Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2009 to 2014, reveals that interactive marketing—that is, actually having conversations with consumers—"will near $55 billion and represent 21 percent of all marketing spend in 2014."
Here's why many e-commerce professionals think it's so important to allow guests, instead of requiring site visitors to register or otherwise instantly volunteer data about themselves:
1. Allowing guests permits marketers to build a foundation of trust and steadily gain permission from visitors for further interaction. Plus, there are many ways to allow guests—from Nationwide Candy's experience of placing product reviews on its site to Columbus, Ohio-based Victoria's Secret's practice of accepting guest purchases. Sara Ezrin, senior strategy consultant for Experian CheetahMail of New York, says what she likes about Victoria's Secret's process is the company also provides guests with the opportunity to store their data, or register, toward the end of the purchase cycle. She also suggests that "pop-unders," or smaller Web pages that show up under viewed pages, also could ask for future contact when a visitor leaves a site.
"We agree with the analysts and most of the best practices for online checkout that we've seen out there, which is to allow guest registration," Ezrin says. "Mostly because there still are reports of significant percentages of consumers not having confidence in shopping online and storing personal information online. So to allow, or in order to not inhibit purchases online, guest registration allows people to make their purchase and feel confident that their information isn't going to be stored."
People also are accustomed to being anonymous on the Internet, says Neal Creighton, RatePoint's CEO and co-founder. If new visitors think they can find goods and services of equal quality elsewhere while maintaining their privacy, they're probably going to leave a site that won't let them be anonymous until they trust the brand, says Erick Mott, communications director for Emeryville, Calif.-based e-mail and Web marketing software company Lyris.
One way to know how much revenue a site is losing by not allowing guests, Ezrin says, is to look at how many people abandon the site when asked for personal information and then calculate that figure against the average order value.
2. Marketers often can capture enough data about guests to personalize their Web experiences. Cookies aid in this pursuit, Ezrin says. "They don't gather personal information; they use their own identifiers for returning and new users. But they can also generate the personalized product recommendations to a returning visitor."
Analytics also seem to aid the cause. E-commerce software company ATG, with North American headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., elaborates that marketers can personalize homepages for guests by "leveraging customer history, the referring Web site, adwords used, Google search term[s] used or banner ad[s] clicked. Dynamic homepages can be served up with content most likely to interest and engage a given customer." Personalized product recommendations at checkout can enlarge orders, too, says ATG.
3. Getting user-generated content from guests also can help a marketer improve products and services. "I don't think anonymity is the answer," says RatePoint's Creighton. "But I do think there's a place in between, where consumers will come in and they will give you some great information that you would completely miss if you tried to register them and then ask for that information, because a lot of them would drop out [before providing it]."
For instance, according to Nationwide Candy's Hanson, not only are the reviews helping provide him with high search engine rankings, they helped him realize that once, he had the wrong product picture matched to a completely different type of snack. "That costs us sales," he says. "I know, because a lot of customers shop based strictly on what they see."
Marketers also can ask guests, through nontransactional surveys, what they'd like to learn more about in order to meet customer needs, Mott says.