Beware shiny things
October 15, 2022
After a round of meeting great new vendors, exploring cool new tools & tech, I always think about how much room my clients have in my budget for these fun, experimental things. We’re all attracted to fun, shiny things. But as business leaders, are these always the panacea we want them to be? When we’re thinking about how to allocate precious budget $ to improving our websites, there’s push-and-pull between the foundational and the fun.
There are always new tools that promise better engagement, conversion or order value. Innovations that will increase brand value and improve the customer experience. Some of these are truly a value add.
But what good is a fun or beautiful front-end, if the underlying experience is bad?
The same is true in our personal lives. That shiny new buy isn’t going to change your life, though it may make you feel great in the moment. When the excitement wears off, you still have the same issues to deal with.
Last summer, I was planning a few home renovation projects. Not my favorite thing to do, but I love the result. It’s so much work: the planning, the product, color, and materials. The contractors. The coordination and disruption. Whenever we’ve talked about these bigger projects, I joke that I’d rather buy a new house that someone else already fixed up.
After two years of work-from-home, and daily visibility to the deficiencies of our laundry room, the main entry to the house from the garage, I was ready. Picture old, low-quality cabinets peeling at the edges, no longer flush, unpleasantly aged beige particleboard- yuck. It was dated, ugly and in disrepair. Our downstairs bathroom also needed an upgrade- tiles that keep pushing out the caulk, ugly striped wall-paper, and out-of-date everything.
But then while gardening out back, we noticed a deep foundation crack. One that used to be a hairline. The crack extended 15 feet, and was big enough that you could see sunlight from inside our furnace room, and feel outside air if you put your hand up to it.
For context, we live on a hill that descends into a creek. To protect the house, it’s a constant fight to keep erosion at bay. And after 25 years, the house was showing the wear.
We had to deal with it.
So we fixed the wall. It took 4 weeks of back-hoes, concrete destruction and reconstruction, leaving deep trenches through our back-yard and dust everywhere. During the tear-down, they told us that moving our old A/C units was a risk. Since they were ancient, decrepit, and inefficient, they recommended we buy new. They couldn’t guarantee that they would work if disconnected, moved and reconnected. But in light of the fortune we were investing in the foundation, we had little appetite for replacing those NOW. Let them hang on for one more summer.
When the work was finished, neither of the A/C units could be saved. One had been dropped. The other needed repairs so expensive, it wasn’t worth doing. So now, two days before the first 95 degree weekend of the year, we needed new A/C units. That was fun.
All in, we spent $20K on the foundation, then another $12K or so on the A/C’s. My renovation budget was gone- and then some. I really wanted that updated entry for the house. We were going to tear out a closet and make a more modern mud-room with a bench. And nicer downstairs bathroom.
But what good is a beautiful entryway to the house, if the house might slide into the creek? When we try to sell the house, what’s going to drive more value? A solid foundation, or a nicer mud-room? Shoppers might love what they see walking through and make the offer, but when the inspection is done- the foundational issues come to light, and many shoppers opt to simply back-out.
The same thing happens on your website.
Consider this as you plan your commerce & technology budgets. If you keep investing primarily on the superficial- the entry-ways, the cosmetic and feel-good moments, your technical debt gets bigger and bigger over time. Eventually, you’ll feel the pain. Conversion will stay flat or down. Only your most loyal or sale-conscious customers will persist.
We all love a little bit of fun. Branding matters. But customer experience is everything, from the beginning to the end. If a shopper loves shopping your product, but has trouble signing-in or checking out, your brand value takes a negative turn.
If your underlying foundation is cracked, all that good will just opts out.