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Mama and I Shop the Web

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
The time had finally come to replace my waterproof boots. One trek too many into the countryside and a jaunt across a creek which resulted in the horrid sensation of wet socks compelled me to realize it was time to say goodbye to the old, faded, mud-stained boots that had served me well for the past 3 winters.
Unfortunately, as my mother warned me in advance, I had left it until too late. If I’d wanted new waterproof boots, she said, I should have gotten them in November, not January. Mama was right, of course, and not one pair could I find in all of the stores in town. Thank goodness for the Internet.
Why am I betting I’m not the only person in the world who shops on-line with their mother, another family member or friend? The 10 miles that separate my mother and I are easily bridged by the telephone, and I have to say, Mama has become one smart shopper over the past 5 years of her Internet use. I tried to manage this shopping task on my own at first, but simply could not find the boots I was looking for: waterproof, flat-soled, with a fluffy faux fur lining. I’d tried Amazon.com, JCPenny’s, Kmart, Payless and all of the big shoe sites a Google search yielded. Absolutely no luck…until I called Mama.
As I followed her peregrinations around the web to places I’d never even heard of before, I was amazed by how well she knew the inventories of stores she’d visited a couple of times. As I obeyed her commands to type in various URLs, I simply couldn’t help remarking on how she expresses admiration of and loyalty to certain websites, while others she hates. Her criteria for whether a site is good or not seems to be based on 3 main factors:
The site has something really hard to find elsewhere
She’s shopped with them before and had a good experience
They offer a good deal on something valuable to her

I have never heard Mama say she likes a site because it looks cool, or even because it’s easy to use (all of the usability experts groan here). In my boot quest, I went to some sites with Mama that were so incredibly cluttered and disorganized, seeming to rely on the back button as the main species of navigation! But Mama doesn’t care. She’s willing to dig deep if she wants something badly enough and knows it’s buried in there somewhere.
We finally hit on a site she really likes: Dr. Leonards. Never heard of it? Neither had I. From a web designer’s standpoint, I had to hand it to Dr. Leonard’s webmaster after going through the site (especially as they had MY BOOTS!!!). This is one plain website. The utter lack of frills wins a vote from me. The simple menu up top takes me to any of the various sections of the site in 1 click, and though Dr. Leonard’s is slated as a Health Care supplies specialist, their inventory includes apparel, housewares, and home furnishings. The siloed format of going from broad to narrow is essential here with such a diverse offering of products.
How Dr. Leonard’s Meets Mama’s Criteria
1)Not only do they have cold weather boots still available after Christmas, they have other wares we have found to be notoriously difficult to locate; cotton dresses, full length coats, flannel nightgowns.
2)She shopped with them once and her package was promptly and correctly delivered to her.
3)My boots cost $30. Thirty bucks!!! That’s a deal!
How do I think Dr. Leonard’s could get Mama and her friends to spend more?
My key gripe here is going to be photos. The on-page product photos are not big enough. They are a size that makes you think you’ll be able to click on them to see an enlarged view, but no such luck. Though it’s smart not to overload on images, we know from field experience that a good, clear, big photo can really sell a product. I’d be especially concerned about this if I was Dr. Leonard, as I’m assuming many of my customers for health aids are going to be seniors whose vision may not be perfect anymore. Please, Doctor, give us something big to look at so we can see detail.
On this same note, I think their main text should be larger and black, not smallish and grey. I’d up the font size by a couple of pixels and eschew the need to look silvery due to a lack of contrast between this color and the white background. If you’re trying to look cool and selling products that rely on ‘cool’, you can probably risk the grey font, trusting that your demographic will have better vision simply due to age. But, if you are selling canes, orthopedic shoes and back supports, chances are you are trying to appeal to elder folks who will really appreciate clear, legible type.
But, overall, I’m in favor of the straighforward layout and presentation of this website. When I see sites like this, I wonder one of 2 things:
A) It’s homemade, and the designer doesn’t know how to make a fancy site.
B) A bright mind is behind this and they are in on the secret that plain sites make more money.
Either way, I was thrilled to find this website still had waterproof boots, and you can bet that, just like Mama does, I’m going to remember their name. I think it’s a pity the company isn’t putting more into their SEO and marketing efforts. My Google search would never have brought them up, and I’m positive better rankings for this company would lead to more new visitors becoming loyal shoppers.
My main reason for blogging about this is to help you get brainstorming about how you:
1)Find a niche so that you’ve got that RARE thing we’re looking for
2)Turn first-time customers into lifetime shoppers
It seems that the Vermont Country Store has really capitalized on delivering rarities to shoppers. I admit, they have some neat things and have almost developed a monopoly on nostalgia. I’ve purchased from them a couple of times, but always with the feeling that I got a really bad deal. I consider their inventory to be incredibly over-priced. $55.00 for a flannel nightgown is really over the top, in my opinion, especially when I can get virtually the same item at Dr. Leonards for $12.00. The same issue applies to most of their products. I want to like the Vermont Country Store, but I’m never going to enjoy feeling ripped off and I’ve heard many people express this same sentiment. They’ve got their customer base over a barrel, because they do carry many things you simply can’t find elsewhere, but I don’t think it’s ‘nice’ to overkill on their profits from this fact. The image of being a ‘family-owned company’ disappears for me when I look at the numbers.
Mama and I are going to continue to find the best places to shop on the web to find that hard-to-find item. It could be your business that wins our dollar and our loyalty if you get the formula right.