The mystery of online shopping is nothing like The Stig

So, Ben Collins IS “The Stig”; which is very strange because my 10-year-old son has a T-shirt which says “My Dad is The Stig”. If you don’t know – “The Stig” is the mysterious test-driver on BBC TV’s “Top Gear”. He appears in all-white and has never removed his racing helmet. For ages, it has been a mystery as to who was behind the mask – but now we know. And that’s a real shame.

Part of the excitement, the fun and the enjoyment of Top Gear is NOT KNOWING who The Stig is. We love mysteries – we love knowing there is some kind of secret that only a select few know the answer to and that we can try our hardest to find out. Mystery, detective work – it’s all part of human nature. Indeed, as children grow up they engage with the world as mini-detectives – working out the clues that surround them, connecting all the mysteries together so that they can begin to make sense of the world. We are all brought up trying to solve the mystery of the world around us, so is it any wonder we like a mystery?

Knowing that “The Stig” is a professional racing driver has destroyed the mystery and made the program less alluring for many of us – a point well-made by a rather angry producer of Top Gear…!

But is mystery really something we can utilise on websites? In some situations, it seems we can. YouTube videos that purport to be one thing, but end up amusing us by being something different – they are amongst the most loved video clips online. Similarly, people enjoy “surfing journeys” where they click on links, wondering where they will be taken next. Indeed, Google exploits this mystery dimension of our behaviour with its “Feeling Lucky” button beneath its standard search box. And we love exploring and finding new things out on the web – new services, wonderful products – the excitement of uncovering that mystery is something which people love.

However, there are times when we detest a mystery. For instance, how often do you want to know the price of something on a web page but cannot find it? Some marketers will explain that the mystery of the price is what is alluring and keeps people connected. Wrong. When we have made up our mind that we are really interested in something our immediate question is “how much?”.

Similarly, when you have bought something do you want the mystery of knowing when it is going to be delivered? Even knowing it will come in the next 24 hours is sometimes too much of a mystery. Will it be morning or afternoon? After all I have to plan my day – so I need to know; I don’t want the mystery.

Being mysterious can help in marketing – but it can also lead to a reduction in engagement if you take it too far. Indeed, new research published by The Royal Mail today shows that companies are losing almost £3bn a year in online sales because of the mystery of delivery for many shoppers. Shopping carts that don’t explain that there will be a delivery charge – keeping it a mystery until the last minute – are a bugbear. So too is the mystery of not knowing where the products you have bought are – have they left the warehouse or are they still waiting for someone to get off their butt to process the order?

When we buy things online, mystery can help – it makes the products and services attractive as we explore and increase our desire to purchase. But once we have made that decision to buy, all mysteries must be removed. When we want mystery, we love it; when we don’t want it and we get it, we depart quickly. Maybe many websites which don’t get the sales they want are using mystery in the wrong places?

Which only leaves one mystery to be resolved…how will Top Gear replace The Stig…?

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