Bad ideas

Saying sorry is no way to get started

Estate agent letter

I am not a fan of pushy estate agents. But if you are in that line of business, here’s some advice: if you’re going to go to the trouble of sending letters to home owners asking if they fancy renting their flats, don’t start by saying sorry.

Here are the first couple of lines from a letter that fell through my door recently:

“I apologise for this direct approach however we have seen a great demand this past summer with prospective tenants looking for properties like yours to rent.”

Even if you can disregard the questionable punctuation, admitting that your ‘direct approach’ may be inappropriate is hardly the best way to snag a new customer.

To anyone already put off by the impersonal letter, the apology simply confirms that the estate agent knows they should know better. And why apologise to anyone who actually doesn’t mind this out-of-the-blue communication?

There are many different ways to run a successful direct mail campaign, but opening your message with an apology is not one of them. If you’re confident your message is right for the people you’re sending it to, there’s no reason to say sorry.

Why more choice isn’t always a good thing

I’m a bit of a fan of Bristol-based Chemical, a self-proclaimed ‘music lifestyle store’ offering music, clothing, CDs, vinyl and more to its customers.

However, I’m not convinced the fashion-and-more retailer has quite got its online checkout process licked. Just have a look at this bemusing range of delivery options:

(See this image full-size in a new window.)

It reminds me slightly of the Trainline’s bonkers ticket selection screen, which I wrote about way back in 2007. In any case, the options presented are confusing and unnecessary, particularly if you want to get your order in a hurry.

With six next-day delivery options to choose from, how do you tell which is best? This comparison chart is less-than-helpful, because each of the options has exactly the same columns ticked.

Rule number one of creating an online checkout process is to keep it as simple as possible. Adding complexity makes it harder for people to complete their order, meaning fewer people manage to get to the end of the process.

Sure, it’s good to offer some choice of delivery options, but too much choice creates uncertainty: how do you know which is the best option for you?

I think Chemical would do well to chop their bemusing range of delivery services down to three: standard, guaranteed next-day and guaranteed Saturday. If they did, I bet they’d see a decrease in the number of visitors dropping out before completing their online orders.

Group buying: great or grating?

70 per cent off sign

I signed up to Groupon a couple of months ago. Everyone’s been talking about it (if by ‘everyone’ you mean the always-watching-for-the-next-big-thing Twitter crowd), so I thought I’d better give it a go.

A deal a day

The idea behind Groupon is simple and appealing. They send you a different deal each day. When you see one you like, you buy it. But the twist is in the ‘group’ nature of it. Each deal requires a certain number of people to commit to it. When it hits that number, the deal is on.

It’s all about harnessing group buying power to secure big discounts. ‘Up to 90 per cent discount,’ proclaims the site.

It works, but I don’t like it

Groupon works as a concept. It’s huge in the US. It’s been rumoured Google wants to buy the company. In short: it’s successful and people like it.

Yet something about the site has rubbed me up the wrong way. I think it’s all to do with the high proportion of beauty-related offers, and the super-low proportion of stuff I actually want to buy.

In the three months I’ve been signed up I haven’t clicked ‘buy now’ once. And yet my inbox has been crammed full of beauty-related offers that I find completely irrelevant. Here are a few samples:

Then there’s wrinkle reduction, next generation nails, reflexology – I could go on.

Enough is enough

I was promised great deals that I’d love. But I’ve ended up with a weird hotchpotch of beauty products, none of which are likely to ever appeal to me. As my email was overflowing with stuff I don’t want before I joined Groupon, I’ve decided enough is enough and have unsubscribed.

But I’m still intrigued by the concept. Am I just outside Groupon’s target market, or am I doing something wrong? Have you had a better experience? And if you’ve ever bought from the site, was it something you really wanted, or did you just click ‘buy’ because of the savings?