It’s January and the holiday season is over, which means I am spending less time online buying gifts. Yes, that is a good thing.
This was the first holiday that I bought most of my gifts online, and it looks like I wasn’t the only online shopper, as Black Friday reached $1 billion in e-commerce sales.
As I was making my purchases, I noticed a number of interesting tricks e-commerce sites were using that government could adopt. With billions of dollars at stake, these companies know that every detail can affect sales, so they know what works.
Here are my nine ideas from online Christmas shopping that can be replicated to increase revenue.
1 / The upsell. At the end of each purchase, each e-commerce site tried to upsell related books, warranties or something else. Why doesn’t government do this for citizens? Done buying a hunting license? Maybe you want to register your gun right now too.
2 / One-click shopping. Amazon mastered one-click buying (it has a patent for it). But I noticed that all of the sites I used made the buying process as frictionless as possible to avoid losing customers. The purchase flow was great — great front, quick, great progress bars. On government sites, however, it is often labor intensive to give government money. The process should be simplified.
3 / Great photos. Most e-commerce sites have great photos. Clothing sites like Gilt have mastered this with beautiful models in 10 different poses under good lighting. How can government use photography to transform the process? Perhaps show citizens great photos of areas that are impacted by the purchase.
4 / Personal thank you. When Hurricane Sandy happened, Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg wrote a personal email to all of its subscribers updating them on the status of the company and their hard work to get packages out. It felt personal. It would be interesting to get a personal letter from the head of the hunting commission after a year. The key is to speak in human language.
5 / Mobile first. Twenty-three percent of individuals shopped on Black Friday or Cyber Monday via mobile, according to a recent survey by online retailer Bizrate. How do we enable government payment via mobile? It’s still really difficult to purchase government services on mobile devices.
6 / Don’t charge me a credit card fee. It’s amazing that government still charges the user the credit card fee. Has that happened to you in your personal life in the last five years? It’s reminiscent of two decades ago when you’d walk into a store and they’d offer two prices depending on whether you used cash or credit. It simply doesn’t exist anymore — government shouldn’t be adding a surcharge for credit card transactions. Nobody else does. Stop it.
7 / Special days. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday. It went from just Black Friday to a whole slew of well marketed days. Why don’t we use special days to promote government services more? Perhaps use the first day of hunting season to promote sign-ups or back to school to get items in order.
8 / Speed. In e-commerce, it’s a well known fact that every 100 milliseconds of latency costs Amazon 1 percent of sales. Just a few milliseconds can cause people to abandon their shopping cart and not make the purchase. Yet very few government websites are optimized for speed. Many are still unbearably slow — how can you make your government commerce process as speedy as possible?
9 / Retargeting. Have you ever been shopping at Amazon for a new sweater and decide not to buy it but then notice it tracking you across the Web? You see that sweater on a banner ad on another site. You get an email about a sale on that item. E-commerce knows it’s important to remind folks. How is government reminding folks?
In times of budget austerity, government agencies should look for ways to increase revenue. Every dollar not collected — whether an unpaid parking ticket, unrenewed hunting license or uncollected tax dollars — is real money that could be used to provide better services. By optimizing the lessons of e-commerce, agencies can increase their revenue and delight their customers.