Pricing on your website: Carts without prices

I want to jump back into the public pricing issue.

Suppose you can’t display your pricing? What you should do is address this issue up front, so the user knows what is going on and is not ‘tearing their hair out’, as Jakob Nielsen alleges.

Part of the solution is giving the visitor a clear path to getting the prices. Toll-free numbers in H1-tags and contact/guestbook pages are so 1999, as effective as they have proven to be.

One of my active commenters and fellow blogger, SEO Ruby, has posted one solution that her company ecreativeworks has provided:

RFQ Carts: Giving industrial companies an alternative to Ecommerce: “An RFQ cart will give the power to the buyer to simply drop the product into a cart with contact information and tell the business exactly what they would like.”

Makes sense…give the user a familiar shopping cart that fulfills my suggestion of a clear path to prices. Thanks for sharing, ‘Ruby’.

Pricing on your Website (Part 3): Case study: Equipment

First: I’ve had some great comments on this series of posts. I encourage you to go back and read them (links: Part 2, Part 3).

I figured before we make any more conclusions, we should look at some examples of how pricing is being handled by some companies.

The Case of the Network Analyzer

Suppose you wanted a cool new network analyzer, who wouldn’t? Agilent would seem to be a safe brand I like, so here is what I found:

1. No price here…
At Agilent’s website, their new E5071C model is highlighted, driving me to this page which does NOT have pricing. It does have a lead time and links titled “how to buy” and “request a quote”. A little further down it offers “Get a formal question with full pricing and options: Get a Quick Quote in 2 min.” linking to the same quote form.

2. I found the price!
Not content to fill out a form, I next find myself at TestEquity.com, which also highlights this latest model, too. Their page does have “TestEquity Price” for what looks like every variation of the model. Below the price is an “add to quote” button. Surprisingly, there are no caveats about the price shown. (It might be noted that my behavior in looking for the fine-print that goes with the pricing may reflect the same diligence that other shoppers may have.)

3. GSA pricing? Cool!
Well, now that I have a price, who else might have a better deal? I search for this new model and land here at Testmart.com which prominently displays a link titled “Get GSA Price”. (GSA is the US government price.) I click on the link, then ‘yes’ to the question of whether I am qualified for this price, whether I am or not, and voila, I now have the price for the rack-bracket set for the E5071C. Pricing…great, bracket…not so great.

The pricing is shown along with three sentences defining the GSA terms (and a GSA logo), plus enough other information to nearly be considered a firm quote. The pricing does show the MSRP, which is more than the manufacturer will display. A little more digging and I find Testmart does have prices for the network analyzers prominently displayed when you do a search.

B2Blog comments:
While Agilent is willing to address pricing, it doesn’t actually publish their prices, even though major online resellers do. It is interesting to find the GSA prices so publicly displayed, as it acts as a signal to the shoppers of how much discount they could ask for. And I was surprised that TestEquity’s website didn’t have any qualifiers for their listed price. That may be a subtle hint (along with the quote button) that getting a written quote would be advisable.

At least for this type of product, handled by distributors, pricing on the web is not an issue. Next, hopefully I can find time to do research on a B2B product that doesn’t have online pricing.

Pricing on your website (Part 2): Why we don't

Why don’t we B2B marketers put prices on our websites? There are three basic reasons I’ll explore here.

1. We are lazy.
The general lack of useful content on our websites is testament to our laziness. Our prospects have gotten more sophisticated and expect more content, including pricing information. This laziness also extends to not overcoming the other two reasons why prices aren’t on our websites.

2. We like to keep our prices a secret.
Yes, we’d rather that our competition didn’t know our prices. But this alone is NOT the reason why we don’t list prices on our websites.

A bigger benefit is that without published pricing information, we force the ‘website visitor’ to raise their hand and become a ‘prospect’.

Further, ‘visitors’ tend to lack any sophistication about what a price does or doesn’t include. Requesting a quotation gives the vendor the opportunity to fully explain what their price includes and what options there are.

And, of course, if your prices are highly negotiated, having published prices may cause all sorts of problems.

3. We can’t easily show prices.
This is the mother-lode of reasons why not. Since these reasons are internal to a business, they may not be that obvious.

  • Channel conflict:
    If we don’t sell our products directly, we aren’t in control of our prices, our dealers are. And different dealers may sell at different prices. You may just piss them off, too, thinking that you want to take the business in-house.
  • Geographical:
    The web is ‘world-wide’, yet trade regulations, local safety codes, and freight costs vary significantly. Warranty support in other countries can be more expensive. Or you may not want to sell to certain regions all-together.
  • Assumptions:
    Further to the ‘visitor’ being unsophisticated is the fact that they may quickly assume that your price does or doesn’t include things. It drives me crazy seeing ads for iPod accessories that include this statement: “Does not include iPod”. As stupid as this looks, how long would the text need to be next to your product price if it was in a Sunday circular?
  • Commoditization:
    We hate commoditization…if prospects could just shop online, how much would they focus on making price comparisons? How would that change what we sell and how we price things?

Ending thoughts:
Please don’t think I am just making excuses or trying to justify why prices *shouldn’t* be on our websites, I am just trying to show what the roadblocks are. It seems that too many people just assume that #1 or #2 are the primary reasons why we don’t put our prices on our websites. Hopefully, I’ve painted a fuller picture of the issues involved.

We’ll explore ‘why we should’ in our next installment.

Pricing on your website (Part 1): Dilbert

I’ve gotten some comments and discussions on last month’s post ‘Use it’ says ‘Price it’ regarding putting pricing on B2B websites. Thank you to those who have been involved. I’d like to study this subject in depth, so I’m going to start a series of posts.

Why put pricing on your website? How about a recent Dilbert cartoon to explain:

The cartoon is funnier because of how true it is. I’ve been chewed out by purchasing agents for sending pricing quotes to engineers: “All pricing goes through me!” Or had new prospects saying that our quoted system is “more than we put in the budget.” And of course if you’re just doing a budget fire-drill, who wants to call a salesperson for pricing and be subjected to a barrage of follow-up calls.

So if Dilbert were able to go to the vendors website, and it had pricing (or pricing guidelines), he might have a chance to work under his pointy-haired boss’s rules. And if the project moves forward, the vendor would have a good chance of being the selected vendor.

And that’s what we want to consider: Knowing that the customer and the vendor would benefit from pricing information being available online, how can we make it happen?

We’ll look at the reasons why not in Part 2.

SEO more important than Content? Duh.

Great horse-before-the-cart thinking from Mike Boyink:

Just a Thought…

…If the folks responsible for writing content for a website obsessed over their work like the folks worried about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) then the SEO guys probably wouldn’t be needed….

'Use it' says 'Price it'

It’s an annual ritual for webmasters: reading Jakob Nielsen’s annual Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design. The list seems very, very basic at first, but there are a lot of B2B marketers making these mistakes:

  1. Bad Search
  2. PDF Files for Online Reading
  3. Not Changing the Color of Visited Links
  4. Non-Scannable Text
  5. Fixed Font Size
  6. Page Titles With Low Search Engine Visibility
  7. Anything That Looks Like an Advertisement
  8. Violating Design Conventions
  9. Opening New Browser Windows
  10. Not Answering Users’ Questions

One thru nine are are truly mistakes. PDFs (2) and Non-scannable text (4) are good lessons that B2B webmasters should pay particular attention to.

But he hits us B2B folks squarely with number 10 (and this is not the first time he’s done so):

“The worst example of not answering users’ questions is to avoid listing the price of products and services. No B2C ecommerce site would make this mistake, but it’s rife in B2B, where most “enterprise solutions” are presented so that you can’t tell whether they are suited for 100 people or 100,000 people.

Price is the most specific piece of info customers use to understand the nature of an offering, and not providing it makes people feel lost and reduces their understanding of a product line. We have miles of videotape of users asking “Where’s the price?” while tearing their hair out.”

Where’s the price, indeed! We have a lot of reasons for hiding our prices, and for capital equipment like mine, the stakes are pretty high. Still, a price barometer might be an interesting tool to use instead. Something needs to be done, especially if you have 26 different types of the same product in your line. Maybe we should discuss this further.

BTW: Found an older post I did with sage advise from Jakob for B2B websites to create ‘advocate tools’. Conquer the price issue and make some of these tools and your website will be tons more effective and loved than the competition.