Does Your Site Hold Up to the Window Shopping Test?

girl wearing light pink rain boots and pink clothes with a pink polkadot umbrella

Window shopping can be a disillusioning experience.

A beautiful display pulls you in, only to lead to a store with a bad selection and lousy customer service. Which means you have to turn around and head back onto the street to continue your search.

Online businesses have window displays too — or at least a good counterpart.

If you’re doing business online, you may be surprised to know that your window display could be making promises that your store doesn’t deliver on.

Follow along as me and my daughter shopped for new rain boots, and you’ll discover what works and what doesn’t when you’re creating an online “window display” to entice your customers to buy.

We were looking for the same things most people do when they shop: good selection, quality products, an enjoyable shopping experience, excellent customer service, and a price point we could afford.

Lots of window displays seemed to promise those things.

Like that one over there. Are those the boots we’re looking for?

We ventured into the store.

Store 1: Anybody home?

As our eyes adjusted to the store, we noticed it was dark and a little hard to make out what they were selling. The place seemed abandoned, and no one came forward to help us.

We had seen a pair of boots in the window, but now that we were inside, we weren’t sure they even carried boots.

They had shoes, but there was no order to how they were presented. They didn’t seem to be organized by men’s and women’s shoes. They weren’t displayed by size or style. They were just placed around the store randomly, and there was nobody there to help us find what we were looking for.

We backed away, returned to the street, and kept looking.

Store 2: Accosted by a hustler

A few steps beyond the first store, we saw another window display. It was full of light, and featured boots that were organized by men’s and women’s styles. It was easy to see they had plenty of inventory.

We headed inside.

This store looked much better at first glance. But the loud music playing in the background was really hard to take. The store’s walls were painted with florescent colors. It was distracting, and tough to focus.

A salesperson approached. He strained to speak over the music, and loudly asked what we were looking for.

We said we were looking for rain boots, and he steered us over to a display of leather boots with 5” stiletto heels. He tried to convince me that these boots would hold up great in the rain, and besides that, my daughter’s legs would look longer.

I noticed the boots were $485.00, and wondered if that had something to do with his recommendation.

I pretended to need to make an urgent phone call, and we hustled out in a hurry.

Store 3: Our luck turns

At this point, we were a little frustrated.

The first two stores had made a promise with their window displays. We went inside expecting to find what caught our eyes in the window. Once inside, though, the shopping experience fell apart.

We were getting a little tired at this point, but we kept going, hoping to see another display that caught our attention.

And this time, we finally got lucky.

The window display looked organized and appealing. The boots were grouped together, divided into men’s and women’s styles, and organized by color.

A spacious, soothing atmosphere greeted us when we walked inside. There was plenty of room to wander the aisles and look at products more closely. We scanned the merchandise and found the boots section right away.

As we moved to that part of the store, a salesperson appeared. He let us know that all their boots were marked down 50% this week, and that he could help us find what we were looking for.

We started to feel lucky we picked this week to wander into this particular store looking for boots.

We found the style she liked, but they didn’t have them in pink. My daughter had her heart set on pink rain boots.

We asked the salesperson what we could do, and he had a great answer for us. They could special order the boots in her size, in pink. They would deliver them at no charge, and she would have them the next day.

I happily handed over my credit card. Victory!

Which store is yours?

If you think this is a lesson in e-commerce sites like Amazon or Zappos, think again.

Every site gives its readers an experience. And it’s up to you to make sure your site, particularly your home page, delivers what they want.

When people arrive at your site’s home page, which of these stores reflects their experience? Is your home page uninviting and disorganized? Is it bright, loud, and not terribly helpful?

Or does it make your offerings easy to skim, and enticing to sign up for or purchase?

Do you have help systems like FAQ pages and contact forms to make it simple for your customer to get their questions answered?

Have you made it easy to find great content that gives them exactly what they’re looking for? Is everything on the page geared to making sure they find just what they want?

Do you track what your customer is looking for so that you can be sure you’re displaying what they’re in the market to purchase?

Your home page makes a promise, just like a window display does. If it’s set up right, customers will click to enter and find out more.

Once they’ve found you, will they buy your boots?

About the Author: Pamela Wilson is Executive Vice President of Educational Content at Rainmaker Digital. Follow her on Twitter, and find more from her at

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Reader Comments (59)

  1. says


    Your post reminds me of the old three bears story.

    When Goldilocks went to the one bed, the mother bear was in it (i.e. first store) – with her morning look. It contains nothing good to look at.

    The second bed contained the papa bear – the hustler.

    But the third one was just right. Baby bear gave her a discount on what Goldilocks wanted – the right bed. In the case of you and your daughter, it was the “right” pair of boots. Good post!


  2. says

    Love the story! I’ve recently been completely overhauling how my site welcomes its visitors and just added a “your gain from this site?” peelie thingee on the upper right hand corner.

    It’s still definitely a work in progress, but so far, the reactions I’ve gotten have been most favorable indeed.

    Always work on making visits to your site *memorable*. That’s my current goal for 2011…..slowly but surely.

  3. says

    I guess this was a lesson in customer service for web sites. We need to pay attention to our visitor’s or customer’s needs and accommodate them in any way that makes sense. Usually people want much less than we think they do, and if we only spend the time to listen to them, we would find that out.

    On the web sites, I usually browse my server log information quite a bit to see where visitors are coming form, what pages they look at, how long they stick around, etc. for clues about what my readers want. I believe that doing so has led to a better experience for my visitors. That’s the hope at least.

    • says

      Brian, that kind of “spy” work can lead to some interesting information. I like being able to base my decisions on what people reallywant, rather than what I think they want.

  4. says

    Pamela, you hit it on the head. Recently I made an online purchase for an upcoming classing I’m taking. I feel like I ordered the class from the hustler and now nobody’s home. On the site, there’s all kinds of information about various things relating to the class, but onece you purchase you are pretty much on your own. The only communication method they provide is email, and getting a response is another story all together.

    Your analogy about a shopping experience translates to blogging, online stores, and other types of interaction with potential customers or readers. Thanks for your insight.

    • says

      Thanks, Hillerie.

      It’s important to deliver on the promise you make when someone lands on your site. If your follow through doesn’t jive with what you presented, you lose all trust.

      So sorry you’re going through that. I hope you get it sorted out soon!

  5. says

    I love your use of story to help us rethink the way we use our homepages. But there is something that I like your readers to consider too.

    Every page is a home page. Readers, for the most part, are not required to go through the home page to reach the inside pages. It is very likely that they’ll land on you inside pages and leave without seeing your front or home page.

    A story typically has one door. But a website may have many doors. It is important therefore that we make every page of our website the best page possible.

    Again, thank you for sharing your story. It was entertaining. And I learned a lot.

  6. Mike Korner says

    I’d like to add another type of store to the list: ones with stuff scattered everywhere.

    You walk in and are greeted with so many choices that you aren’t sure which way to go. You stand there with brain-freeze induced by visual overload until your fight or flight instinct screams … run!

    I just saw a home page that reminds me of that store. It had about 20 things to click or watch (flashy things), and no clear visual call to action (the key is “visual” since there is no way I was reading all of the “text” that was scattered about). I can’t tell you what they are selling as my mouse finger opted to remove me from the situation.

    p.s. I love how you always seem to find marketing lessons in everyday life Pamela. Very cool!

    • says

      Thanks, Mike!

      You’re right: disorganized pages with no sense of hierarchy tend to send people running. We’re already processing too much information, so when it’s scattered around and presented haphazardly it’s easier to ditch it than deal with it.

  7. says

    These are really good points. I sometimes wonder if my homepage is too bright and loud. I think it stands out in a good way, but I can see how some other people would be distracted by the randomness in colors. Hey, the theme is called “Threat to Creativity,” what do you expect? 😛

  8. says

    That’s a really great analogy using the different types of stores. I’ve been to all of those types stores and all of those types of blogs.

    It seems that there are all kinds in between the three that you mentioned. For instance one store that we shop at is bright, well laid out, organized, well priced, etc. The one thing that they need to improve in is being able to find someone to help you. It is very difficult to find someone if you have a question. That store reminds me of the blog that is perfect in nearly every respect but doesn’t have a contact page.

  9. says

    I’d suggest how important it is to take a walk in your customer’s shoes, but…

    It’s critical to approach your own website as if you were your a client. It has to be instantly appealing as well as useable, and that applies to every page.

    The minute your visitor has trouble finding her way around, she can shrug and click away. She doesn’t have to drive across town to another store, so she has little invested in staying with you.

    When you create an appealing mix of form and content *and* keep your promises, you’re way ahead of a lot of your competition.

    Nice analogy, Pamela. We can all identify with your experience.

    • says

      You’re right, Stacey: it’s much easier to click away than it is to walk away, so good presentation is even more crucial on the web. Thanks for the comment!

  10. says

    Pamela –

    Design, layout, customer service, navigation… sometimes us bloggers – who tend to be very content-driven – forget that presentation matters, too.

    The reigning mantra for bloggers being “content is king” doesn’t mean that other areas, like our “window dressing” as you so eloquently put it, should be ignored.

    I’ve got to keep this in mind myself when I’m blogging. As of right now I’m satisfied with my design, but I would love it if my readers stuck around for a little longer 😉 I know I’ve got some things to work on to make sure my promises match what I deliver, and I’m happy to keep experimenting and refining so my readers navigate away as happy customers!

    • says

      It’s a process, Lauren. Luckily it’s easy to refine things on the web. It’s not like print design, where changing your visual style can be very expensive and time consuming!

      And I agree wholeheartedly that good design is a tool to keep people from navigating away. If your information is clear and easy to read, there’s a better chance people will spend more time with it.

  11. says


    Great story to make a great point. Tell them what problem you are going to solve for them and make sure they know quickly and easily which product will solve said problem. Clean, well-organized, with the right amount and kind of information (benefits, not features).

    Something in what you said reminded me of a town hall I went to earlier this year where Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, spoke. He was telling us that they have two buy options on the site: Amazon and iTunes. They had experimented with providing more choices, but when they did, conversions dropped significantly.

    Clean, simple, to the point, solve a problem.

  12. says

    This article puts things into real life perspective. So true. Thank You.

    I’ve spent so much (too much) time/money trying to tweak this and that. I debated on “pop-ups”, didn’t do it though and tried organizing 100 different ways. It’s fun, but draining. I hope what I’ve got now works… it will be changed up again though, I’m sure.

    Thanks again,

  13. says


    Fancy running into you again today! lol

    Great take on the front page. I love the “window shopping” analogy. As I said before on your other post, although I would have to say that your front page is more like the experience after entering the store. Your ads and outside marketing activities would be more like your window display, outside with all the other competitors.

    Once they hit that front page, they need to be greeted and pointed in the right direction, they are already in!

    I know, I’m being nit-picky, sorry. :-) But this is a great way to point out how important your front page is. So many people make them overly complicated and not helpful at all (mine is currently totally guilty as it’s a bit too little).

    Good stuff Pamela. 😉

    Good seeing you here!

    • says

      Well, I do try to get around! 😉

      There are lots of ways to look at it, that’s for sure. The point I wanted to make was that it’s important to follow through on the promises you make “on the street,” whether that’s your outside marketing materials, web ads or your sales page. Deliver what your customer comes looking for, right?

      • says

        And a great point it is also Pamela, you made it well. I wasn’t trying to come come across as being critical (hopefully you didn’t take it that way), just trying to expand on your point. Great post Pamela! :-)

        • says

          Not at all: it’s fun to talk about this stuff, and I don’t mind turning it over to see it from another perspective. Thanks for all your comments today, Andrew!

  14. says

    Hi Pamela!

    Amazing post! Not to say that I am a shopper, perhaps my wife could really relate to you on that. I just find so much wisdom and wit in how you presented to us how we should be really marketing.

    I just wrote a piece on making effective landing pages and your article just nailed it! It’s what I’ve been espousing myself – enticing to make your customers really go beyond just hovering over your store or simply window-shopping – there must be something in our presentation that would make them really take that step in actually purchasing our products or availing of our services.

    I am glad I read this post of yours. Truly helpful and enlightening!

  15. Drew K says

    I couldn’t agree more with your story! Online shopping is supposed to be easier than actually shopping in person, but if the company lacks a decent home page, that completely defeats the purpose of shopping online!

  16. says

    I just changed my design to the new Prose Child Theme from StudioPress (yay!). I went with a more minimalist design: lots of white space and very little content on the sidebar (just the essentials). I didn’t want to overload the site with unnecessary items. I want people to be able to subscribe and dig through the archives, that’s it. As far as design goes, I’m hopeful that it’s an improvement.

    What I need to work on refining is my landing pages. I want a “Best Of” page on differing topics the way Copyblogger has done here. In addition, I also need to re-work my About page and get more specific in answering the “What’s in it for me?” when readers visit for the first time.

    It’s all a work in progress, but I think I’m getting close to where I want to be… :-)

  17. says


    What I liked about your story is the emphasis that it is depth that counts. So often what one reads is SEO (which, extending the analogy, is part of your window) is the thing, or content is king. A focus on one as the most important.

    With a focus on your readers from landing to what they experience, your emphasizing that it is the whole experience that is important.

    Even though a lot of what you say is common sense, it already gave me some ideas for some tweeks on my website.

  18. says


    It is funny, I never looked at websites as a store until I started blogging while ago. You are so right, in blog we are selling, maybe information, maybe products or maybe services.

    I have bought from sites where I have felt they are being “honest” and providing a “solution” to my problem, it is depends on how persuasive it sounds. I think I am better in person but over the web is hard, your wordings has to do all the work.

  19. says

    I love a good analogy!

    Nice piece well done, this is the kind of advice I like to give our clients.

    However we do have trouble making them believe it sometimes!!

  20. says

    I opted for a minimalist design for my freelancer website too.

    I feel overwhelmed when I click a website and suffer information overload just by looking at the first page. People see all those fancy gadgets on the internet and go crazy adding them all, just stick to the attractive AND useful ones, which will make life easier for the website owner AND future clients. No need to go overboard because ‘content is king/queen’ – a pretty website cannot replace an informative one.

  21. says

    Truly the nice and interesting stories. They hit readers; mind and force them to think on more and more. Well Done and All the Best for your future writings.

  22. says

    A great article and good metaphor. I’ll refer our own clients (which include many designers and marketing consultants) to it. I’ll keep in mind myself, as we’re beginning the process of redesigning our own site.

  23. says

    What a great way to introduce your concept!

    Especially the differences in the salespeople and how they treat the customer……..

    I admit I have to get more interactive with readers….

  24. says

    Thank you for this article!

    I’m about to redo the layout of my blog. My goal is to make it have a cleaner appearance and be even easier to navigate.


  25. says

    Great analogy and something I can relate to. When I’m shopping brick and mortar shops I definitely sort by my first impression. Same with web sites. Funny though, on my own ecommerce site I’m stymied. My site sells the skin care products I’ve used for years in my dermatology practice. I have a lot of content and no flashy distracting things, but I still think it overwhelms first time readers. I’m planning to add a page where readers can quickly see my top product recommendations based on what they think is their skin problem. It will be an interesting process to see if it helps.

    I would love to see your evaluation of a few sites just like you did for the brick and mortar shops. Do you have that anywhere?

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