How do you let your users know about your site's particular benefits?

We get this question all of the time from designers. If you offer something that is unique to your organization (and chances are that you do--that's why you're in business), then how do you make the users aware of these benefits?

We compared two web sites: and Part of the objective of each site is to sell expensive products. In the case of Sears, they sell appliances, such as refrigerators and washers. Dell sells desktop PCs and laptops.

When selling expensive products, financing is always a factor. Both Sears and Dell offer financing for their customers. Customers can, at the time of purchase, apply for credit and then, assuming they've been approved, pay for the product using their new account.

Financing is important to these companies. For example, while scanning the Sears site, we found a webcast of a financial report by the CEO, Allen Lacy. In his webcast, he clearly stated that a major contributor to Sears' success is that they offer financing on their major appliance sales. This is a way for Sears to get more people to spend additional money on Sears' products, not to mention the income from interest, finance charges, and late fees.

As we compared the sites, we examined how both entice people to finance their purchases. The day we visited the site we found a huge square advertisement dead-center on the home page, featuring an image of a dishwasher, an image of a refrigerator, and large words proclaiming the availability of zero-percent financing on the purchases of select major appliances.

With this large ad on the home page, it seemed to us that Sears was trying to educate users that they could get financing on major appliance purchases with no interest. This probably appeals most to people who would like to pay for their purchase over several months, but are leery about how much they'll get "socked" on the interest payments.

Clicking the ad on the home page activates a pop-up window that explains the details of the financing plan. It's a small window, with just a few paragraphs of text--but what caught our attention was the "Apply Now" button. (To view an example of the Sears page on our site click here.)

If someone were coming to the site interested in buying a refrigerator, what would they most likely want to do first: (1) apply for credit or (2) find the right refrigerator? It struck us as odd that there was a way to apply for the financing, but no way to explore if the refrigerator they might want was eligible for the offer.

The Power of Seducible Moments

In watching users on web sites, we've seen that they're typically on a specific mission. So, while our refrigerator shopper wants to learn about all of their purchasing/financing options, we've found that most shoppers would be far more interested in this information *after* they've found an item to purchase.

This is where the notion of a seducible moment comes into play. By watching shoppers, we've seen that there are specific moments when designers are most likely to influence a shopper to investigate a promotion or special offer. Most of the time, these moments come *after* the shopper has satisfied their original mission on the site. If we identify the correct seducible moment for a specific offer, we can often see over 10 times as many requests.

So, is the home page the right place for Sears to be advertising this offer? Well, for our refrigerator shopper, it is relevant to their task. But at the time they hit the home page, what are they more interested in, the credit offer or finding the right fridge?

Since our experience tells us the latter, we'd want to watch shoppers on this site to see if, when they click on the ad, they are excited or disappointed by the information provided. We could ask people right before they click what they hope to get from clicking on the ad. If we're right, most of them should tell us that they expect to see all of the appliances that qualify for the no-interest offer.

Now, it may not occur to someone that they would want financing on their appliance. For example, if our refrigerator shopper was a first-time purchaser and didn't realize how expensive they can be (a fact that still shocks us), they may not realize they want financing until they are either at the galleries--the pages that display a selection of products--or at the product pages--the pages where users see the details on a specific product. Both of these locations would be prime promotion opportunities for the special offer.

However, when we looked at how Sears displays its appliances at the gallery level, we noticed that each product has a price associated with it, but no mention of financing. Compare that to how designers at Dell listed their computers. You'll see that next to every total price, there's a blurb about how much the product would cost if leased. (Click here to see a side-by-side example of the Sears and Dell gallery pages on our site.)

The same goes for the product page. Sears had an opportunity to show customers how much the appliance would cost when financed. They actually do display the financing cost, but it's at the bottom of the description, below the "fold"--the bottom-most point of the page before a user starts scrolling. (This example shows how Sears and Dell both display prices on the product page.)

In our testing, we'd want to see if customers leave this page understanding their finance options. If they don't, we'd want to possibly make the credit information more prominent on the page, possibly putting it right next to the price. Again, Dell has done a nice job of highlighting options on their product pages.

The shopping cart is another opportunity for to seduce the customer into financing. Again, we'd want to see if moving the promotion for a Sears card and making it a more prominent feature would encourage additional people to explore the option. Here Dell's designers made a conscious choice to emphasize the financing right above the checkout box. (Here's a comparison of the shopping carts for Sears and Dell.)

Even at checkout, Sears had another seducible moment that they didn't take full advantage of. Looking at Dell, we see how they focused the payment page of their checkout process with a huge promotion for their financing, whereas Sears only has a single link that looks like it's more of an afterthought than an earnest attempt to get customers to sign up. (Here's a comparison of payment pages at Sears and Dell.)

It's rare when we get a situation like we have with these two sites. They are basically the same, offering high-priced products with available financing. In this analysis, we can see how two sites handle seducible moments. Sears struggles to convince users to apply for financing, whereas Dell has an easier time. The difference between the sites is not in the content, but in the design.

When looking at the opportunities for seducible moments on your site, is your design more like Sears or more like Dell? Are you giving users the necessary hooks to entice them to explore your content at the right moments in their process? Or does your design bury your important content by hiding the links and diverting the user's focus?

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Jared M. Spool is a leading expert in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term "usability" was ever associated with computers. He is the Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering (, the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world.