How Do You Buy?

Earlier this week, I had an experience that got me thinking about where and how people buy. I've come to the conclusion that buyers in all walks of life put up with things online that we would never tolerate in a retail store.

I received a “personal” email from a leading printer manufacturer telling me it was time to replace my ink cartridges. The vendor was right: I've been getting “low on ink” alerts for several weeks now. The retailer where I usually pick this stuff up hasn't been on my errand route this week, so I figured I'd order ink online. After all, this company is smart enough to know my ink is low, so ordering it will be a snap.

I've ordered from this site before, so they must already know what I need. I like that: One of my fatal flaws is numbers, and, although I can remember weird little facts such as ingesting silver nitrite will turn your skin blue, I couldn't tell you what make or model my printer is unless I'm looking at it. This company was making my life easier by allowing me to skip that step.

Wrong. I got routed to this company's home page. It asked me my printer make and model. If I didn't know, I could search a list of 100 or so options. Once I got to the right option, I had to register and create an account. (I'd already done this.) Only then did the site give me a list of cartridges, with another dozen or so choices. I could buy black only; magenta only; yellow only; or blue only. I could buy black and colors together in a standard package; I could buy double the black ink in a package with the standard quantity of colors; or I could buy double the black ink and double the colored inks separately. By this time I was so annoyed that I closed the site and vowed to go to Staples.

I understand this vendor is a business and its goal is to sell as much stuff as possible. I understand it is losing money on its hardware and makes its profit off of cartridge sales. I understand it is a competitive environment out there and it wants my business. I also understand that, ultimately, I'll end up buying its cartridges either way because this is the only vendor that sells them. But I am not going to buy them from this vendor's Website.

Why? First, they gave me the false impression that they knew me: “Barbara, it's time to replace your ink.” If this company is smart enough to track my ink purchases, they must be smart enough to know what printer I use and what I ordered last time. They didn't.

Second, they interrupted the buying process by making me stop and register. I already have at least a dozen user names and passwords registered on online shopping sites. I wasn't in the mood to create another user name and be told my password must have more than eight characters; a capital letter; at least one numeral; no repeating characters; and that a user has already been registered under that name.

That was me, by the way.

I recall something an electronics catalogue distributor told me a couple of years ago about its business model. It didn't participate in an industry practice called “design-wins,” in which a distributor is rewarded for getting a component designed onto a circuit board. That process requires customers to register and share a lot of information, and then follows up to see if the end-product is being built. The president of this company told me they do not want to create any barriers between them and their customers. This is a particularly gutsy call because suppliers really like design-win information; yet, this company says “no thanks.” And guess what? It's the leading catalogue distributor in the industry.

If I had gone to Staples in the first place, I'd still have to know my printer's make and model. But I wouldn't need a password to enter the store; I wouldn't get asked a dozen different questions before I even walked in the door; and my choices would be laid out for me in a single space. Even though I still have to hop in the car, it's easier than shopping online.

Purchasers of electronics components face the same situation every day with a lot more complexity. Some of their relationships are automated: When they are out of something the system triggers a purchase order. But more often than not, they have to hunt something down. The Internet has become a great tool for comparison shopping, but it has a ways to go when it comes to purchasing. If it's easier to hop into a car than to buy online, your suppliers are doing something wrong.

56 comments on “How Do You Buy?

  1. mfbertozzi
    May 18, 2012

    @Barbara:well, in a such way, we could outline buying on line allows bad and good; in addition to your personal story about retail and virtual store, on line resellers are in condition to advertise easily, people abroad. Each one assists for example to spam's blasts, every day. But at the end, on line resellers allow for endusers a realtime benchmark on the products they would like to buy. That said, I believe “bad and good” could potentially summarize the picture !

  2. bolaji ojo
    May 18, 2012

    The message is clear. Keep it simple. Keep it direct and don't try to con the buyer. Of course, sellers offer you more than you want because they want to maximize the sale and grab more of your dollar. In this case, they lost.

  3. ITempire
    May 19, 2012

    From the marketing point of view, the lesson to be learnt is that if you promise more and under-deliver it is going to hurt your brand. Pretending to remember the customer when you dont, gives customer the feeling that he has been victimized by marketing shootout. When it comes to large-scale sales such as thousand units of component which are being re-ordered by the customer online and you tell him the same thing which Barbara was told, you might loose the business.

  4. Adeniji Kayode
    May 19, 2012

    Sometimes, its seems the bigger a company grow the lesser they improve on their customer relation

  5. mfbertozzi
    May 19, 2012

    That's right and I am sharing your perspective; but at the end, one of the dimension for buying online was also the way for allowing savings and cut costs due to customer service that instead can really  be provided a tangible by a real shop retail. Am I wrong?

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    May 19, 2012

    I agree with you Bolaji, In their attempt to make more money, they lose more customers and eventually lose more money.

  7. Adeniji Kayode
    May 19, 2012

    You are right, Saving cost is suppose to be the advantage but does it really save cost and time?

  8. ITempire
    May 19, 2012

    @ Adeniji

    Smarter Customer Relationship Management systems and culture of treating customer as a boss is a basic ingredient to remain in an organization if it wants its customers to avoid the feeling that they are not valued as the organization grows bigger and customer-base grows. Whether it be electronic component industry or the most-discussed retail industry, the enterprise should learn to give respect to customers that were there since the premature phase. This is how you gain customer loyalty.

  9. Adeniji Kayode
    May 19, 2012

    I totally agree with you on that, on the other hand could it that managing a customer relationship data base is a bit tedious because I feel every company that must sell well should know that.

  10. ITempire
    May 19, 2012

    @ mfbertozzi

    Well you are right. The enterprise can cut costs in online business which were saved due to non-existent physical outlet. But its important to relocate those saved costs to managing customer information better as in online business, customers are more sensitive to leave the website without shopping than they would be when they are in an outlet. Its important to make customer feel that the basic characteristic of internet of remembering the data is present in the enterprise's online business. 

  11. SunitaT
    May 19, 2012

    Even though I still have to hop in the car, it's easier than shopping online.

    @Barbara, I agree with you that shopping online is not easy but then I would prefer buying online rather than visit the shop because in shops most of the times you dont get the items you want to purchase. Moreover strategies like “Cash on delivery” is attracting more buyers towards online shopping.

  12. mfbertozzi
    May 19, 2012

    This is a good point Adeniji and honestly I don't have right answer. I can also report to the community that I've collected bad and good experiences about buying on line. I've learned the quality of on line retailer is the key and usually, feedbacks coming from users from forums, could describe in a such way, how is realiable the seller. My suggestion is to deeply check feedbacks before to proceed in buying.

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    May 19, 2012

    You are totally right, but in a situation whereby you changed your mind on the delivered item, what is the consequence, yet i,m still willing to buy from the shop?

    Does it happen that what you ordered for on the internet is not the same that was delivered to you.

  14. _hm
    May 19, 2012

    @mfbettozzi: Yes, I agree with you. but next time your mind is prepared for it and you may not be so much disturbed.

    I also like to visit store and get accessories.

  15. elctrnx_lyf
    May 19, 2012

    Thisis the kind of situations what generally designers will get into. But most of the times distributors will come to your rescue. If you are a bigger customer it's more easier to get the direct information from suppliers without much hassle.

  16. itguyphil
    May 19, 2012

    A wise man once said when you stop chasing money, money will come to you. Maybe big business should try this approach. Focus on great products and services and customers will come to you!

  17. Nemos
    May 19, 2012

    I didn't get it how the company knew about your need for print oil but didn't know about your printer model?

    Furthermore, the confusion of the existence of all these different types of cartridges has been made by the printer's manufacturers. That fact makes the on line buying process too difficult.

  18. Nemos
    May 19, 2012

    I know the same but instead of money with luck. Companies should always chase their customers (with the proper respect to their privacy) if not, the customers will fly away ….

  19. Susan Fourtané
    May 20, 2012

    Hi, pocharle, 

     “Focus on great products and services and customers will come to you!” 

    Very well said! Plus, great products and services don't need millions spent in marketing and adventising to attract and retain customers. 


  20. Susan Fourtané
    May 20, 2012

    Hi, Barbara 

    There is something I don't seem to understand. If you already had a user name and password on that site, why didn't you log in with that user name and password at the beginning? It seems to me that you were trying to register again instead of logging in, that's why the site said the user already existed.


  21. ahdand
    May 21, 2012

    Buying pattern should be designed and based Oma good strea Lined process. I feel digital signs are the key and it's the future for buying pattern decisions

  22. tioluwa
    May 21, 2012

    I think retail sites like that should do frequent surveys and find a quick and easy way to get feedback from their customers to know how well they are serving them.

    Websites are getting very personal these days, but most of it is just superficial, automated stuff just intended to make the computer look smart rather than really serve the customer.

  23. Adeniji Kayode
    May 21, 2012


    I feel the companies don,t really trust that their customers will remember their user names and passwords and then since printer cartridge is not what you buy until you have exhausted the privious one, so they might be careful of keeping so many passwords and user names when they are not even sure if and when you are coming back.


  24. Adeniji Kayode
    May 21, 2012

    @susan, I agree with you that it will not cost a futune to make customers and to keep them coming back.

    It only take a system, a working system that will follow-up customers even if you have not heard from them for some time

  25. Adeniji Kayode
    May 21, 2012


    probably because they are only concerned with the sales of print oil and not printers,

    on the other hand, it may be a way to correct having to sent wrong printer oil for a wrong printer and moreso ,m most customers don,t know much about their printers as long as its working fine.

  26. Susan Fourtané
    May 21, 2012

    Hi, Adeniji 

    Companies keep a record of all their customers, especially those who have used their Website to make online purchases. This is part of their marketing startegy. Also part of their marketing strategy is to send reminders to customers, like this company sent to Barbara.

    An ink cartridge lasts for X amount of time, once the date of purchase has been logged into the system an automated reminder will be sent to that customer at about the time the cartridge runs out of ink. Unless the customer deletes his/her account, and unsubscribe from the mailing list the company will retain and use the customer's login information, again, for marketing reasons. 


  27. Adeniji Kayode
    May 21, 2012


    you are right, any business that chase money at the expense of the customers will eventually lose money and customers. Actually, the customers are the custidian of the money, it will only become your on the table of exchange -products and services in exchange for the money.

    Retaining customers is a major part of any business that must survive.

    May 21, 2012

    Sorry to hear about your experience.    For that kind of stuff I love Ebay.  I click on my ebay link, type in my password, search for HPxxxx replacement ink, click buy, type in my paypal password and 2 days later ink appears.  Whole process takes about 2 minutes and is quicker than me trying to find my car keys.  Some suppliers can do it well.

  29. Himanshugupta
    May 21, 2012

    I have limited experince in online shopping because i like to go to a shop to get a feel (both visual and sensory) of the product, which is usually missing when doing shopping online. I also have someone to talk to about the alternative products and offers in shops. So, the human touch (or experience) is somehow missing. 

  30. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 21, 2012

    One of the advantages of on line shopping as I see it is that we can visit and revisit and revisit an on line shop as many times as we wish till you are satisfied that you have got all the information.

      Try to do the same thing at a physical shop  and you sure are going to get a different look from those sales people at the counters. At the second or third reepat of the same question and they will surely get irritated.


  31. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 21, 2012

    Excellent point Susan, and for the most part, I do that. Some sites automatically lead you to the login box; this one did not. It was tucked away in a corner somewhere. At any rate, I have difficulty remembering my usersname and password for all the sites I use regularly and the ones I use the most have a “remember me” option. I don't use the same username or password for evey site I use–most don't allow that–so I have a mishmash of combinations. I write them down, but still, within my company alone I need three usersnames/passwords everyday; and a total  of 10 to access the company sites for things like expense reports and vacations. Other than my credit card #, which usually is not automatically saved, I'm OK with sites retaining username and password so I can click through to make the purchase quickly. So in the case, I'd say I use this site every 6 months, and I drew a blank on username/password.

  32. Mr. Roques
    May 21, 2012

    Very interesting case. They had great success with capturing your attention but they failed to deliver a great experience. It's probably a broken link between the marketing department and the web designers (etc.)

  33. Adeniji Kayode
    May 21, 2012


    That is a possibility and really a high one, moreover, i feel that may also be the side effect of online marketing.

  34. Taimoor Zubar
    May 21, 2012

    While designing a user interface, a lot of companies tend to ignore the concept of usability engineering which defines how the user is supposed to interact with your system in the most effective way. It's not enough to have the features on your website that the users can use. It's more important to organize them in a way that the user doesn't have to enter any redundant information and gets through with the process with minimal effort.

  35. Taimoor Zubar
    May 21, 2012

    I think if the system was smart enough to remember your name, email address and your ink cartridge status, there was no need for it to ask you for all these details again and create an account. It doesn't even make sense from a security angle as the system is not being expected to store any confidential info like CC number.

  36. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 21, 2012

    @Taimoor: I never really thought of the user interface being the thing that can ruin a shopper's day. Now that you point it out, though, it makes a tremendous amount of sense. I think on the back-end of things (tracking ink usage, prompting an order) this company is using its technology skills. But on the front end, not so much. Thanks for adding to my perspective on what can go wrong in an online shopping experience.

  37. Daniel
    May 22, 2012

    Barabara, in most of the online shopping websites we need to have a user id and password for placing an order. This is a onetime process and will help us to keep a track for our previous orders and store the default payment details along with shipping address. So every time we won't need search for to the printer type and cartridge number. From order history we can know about our previous or specified orders. Some websites are also offerings guest logins without any user id or passwords, but the problem is we don't have the provision to track our previous orders or for storing any info's.

  38. Daniel
    May 22, 2012

    Himanshugupta, that's right. if you need a feel of the product and to know how it looks like, then obliviously you have to visit the retail shop. But for that you have to spend more time and ofcource the pricing is also on little bit higher side. Online shopping provides you a comfortablty of shopping from your house or office or on the go.

  39. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 22, 2012

    @Jacob: thanks for the additional info. I will plead to user error in this case. It's not an isolated incident, however. I don't think I really do that much online shopping, yet, when I bump up against a password/username I haven't used in 6 months, I guess I must.

    It's not just shopping, either: it is access to sites to do stuff online (pay bills, get copies, check staus, etc.)  I need to find a differetn system to keep track of these things (handwritten on paper doesn't seem to be working) 🙂

  40. itguyphil
    May 22, 2012


    To add to that, with little marketing necessary you can find out if people really want your offering BEFORE you go all in…

  41. itguyphil
    May 22, 2012

    Agreed. But you must gain those customers before you have the opportunity to retain them!


  42. Susan Fourtané
    May 22, 2012

    Hi, pocharle 

    Yes! Fantastic add. 🙂 


  43. ahdand
    May 23, 2012

    How about adding some buying patterns towards this ? I feel it will help generate something productive

  44. Susan Fourtané
    May 23, 2012


    What kind of buying patterns do you want to add? 


  45. itguyphil
    May 29, 2012

    Thanks. Who knows, this might be the start of a new marketing career…

  46. Susan Fourtané
    May 30, 2012


    It's never late when there is still life. Just let us know. I am a fan of career changes myself. I believe they add so much knowledge and experience into your life. 


  47. ahdand
    May 30, 2012

    Any thing. Theres a lot but if you can add one then its obvious that the other pattern can follow suit isnt it ?

  48. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 30, 2012

    Tracking buying patterns is one of the things online companies do really well–it's easy to “capture” trends online. In retail, companies are giving out rewards cards for the same reason. I'm actually tired of pulling out two cards every time I make a purchase, but the savings are pretty good. That is, if they are savings: most of the time, the incentive is buy one get one free, and I don't need two…

  49. itguyphil
    May 31, 2012

    Some of my friends call me Mr. Pivot. Not because of sports  but I've tried so many different things just for the sake of trying. Some things have been fun and so far, IT is the king. But I am still experimenting..

  50. Susan Fourtané
    June 1, 2012


    Maybe marketing is the next one in the experimentation. 


  51. Susan Fourtané
    June 5, 2012


     “I have difficulty remembering my usersname and password for all the sites I use regularly and the ones I use the most have a “remember me” option. I don't use the same username or password for evey site I use-“

    It sounds really complicated. What about using the same user name at least? -this is possible. You should write down all your user names and passwords somewhere and keep them handy, too. 


  52. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 5, 2012

    Hi Susan–thanks for the sound advice! Here's the wrinkle: several of the sites I have to use won't accept the username or password I prefer to use: some don't accept repeating letters, some want one numeral, some want two…so I end up  using variables of my “universal” username and password for these sites. And I do write them down…and frequently misplace the master password sheet. I am actually an organizational nightmare in everything except my work (where I am able to appear organized in spite of everything)

  53. Susan Fourtané
    June 6, 2012

    Hi, Barbara 

    “And I do write them down…and frequently misplace the master password sheet.” For this, what about keeping your master password sheet in your favorite book? You can also pick a page number to have it always in the same place. 

    Time ago I used to have different user names and passwords for every different site. The problem became when the sites I log in started to be too many. Then it was when I simplified everything. If you keep it simple you have less chances to forget your log in info. And keep all that info in your favorite book. 🙂 


  54. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 6, 2012

    I am all for simplicity.  A favorite book is a good idea.

  55. itguyphil
    June 12, 2012

    I won't dispute that. I have a few app ideas that should do pretty well if the marketing is done right.

  56. Mr. Roques
    July 11, 2012

    Well, sometimes programmers try to do more than asked and capture every single bit of information without noticing that users really don't want to, or have already entered it somewhere else.

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