Saturday, October 13, 2007

Internet Retail: Painfully slow still nets you $100K per hour

I'm buying some birthday presents for my nieces and nephews, so I did separate orders on Lands' End today - one package per kid. My first order, ID number xxx1398, went through at 12:31pm; my second order, xxx2206, went through at 12:51pm. That's one order every 1.4 seconds. If you assume an average order size of 40 bucks, mid-day on this particular Saturday, Lands' End has an Internet cashflow of about $100,000 per hour.

If their site didn't suck, they might be doing 5X that.

The reason I'm on the Lands' End site at all is that my sister (bless her) directed me there for appropriate gifties, and it's alluringly easy for a time-swamped entrepreneur to follow through on such highly targeted suggestions. I'm not there because the LE brand springs first to my mind; I'm not there because they show up highly in a Google search; and I'm certainly not there because the shopping experience is pleasant.

I would rate the functionality of their site as 'high' -- for the particular gift I got (monogrammed bath towels) they have a highly interactive AJAX configurator that shows the particular color, pattern, monogram, etc. But the responsiveness is HORRIBLE - so much so that I read several New York Times articles in another Firefox tab while waiting for basic tasks like the switch from the item page to the shopping cart to.... load. And it's no coincidence that it took 20 minutes between my orders -- that is the total start-to-finish time I went through on executing the second order. 20 minutes!! I could drive downtown and buy something in that time... and if I were buying for myself, I just might.

They've got to be losing customers in huge volume, who either abandon during the search process, or abandon during the ordering process, simply because they get frustrated with the lag. It genuinely feels like dial-up.

As GigaOm noted earlier today, Silicon Valley is all excited about Web 2.0 and consumer, advertising-focused businesses right now, but there's a fortune to be made by some smart new startups building modern, effective Internet software for enterprises like Land's End.

Update: Lands' End actually owns the #1 organic spot for 'embroidered towel' on Google, apparently thanks to smart use of GoogleBase catalog upload. That kind of prime distribution makes their execution even more frustrating -- all those people showing up, and each one having a crappy experience.

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