A building code for Web stores

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With the average price of a "world- class e-commerce site" soaring into millions of dollars, nobody can afford abandoned shopping carts.

Still, your B2C customers probably assume you're high-balling them when you propose costly "amenities" that spell the difference between success and failure. Now you can show them a Web Store Building Code authored by an independent third party. That independent party is yours truly.

Analysts and investors finally acknowledge that B2C e-commerce sites are, for the most part, abysmal failures. But consumers have long known that few Web stores are worth their time and sanity.

Shoddy—even stupid—design and construction often are to blame for a Web store's un profitability. The survivors of the B2C shakeout won't be those with the most "mind share," but those who build stores for shoppers instead of their own in-house executives.

Rule 1: If animated content is used, a "stop-this-nonsense-now" button must appear in the upper-left corner of the first screen, not coyly hidden below the browser's taskbar.

Rule 2: A real-time inventory check must be performed before any item is added to a shopping cart. Sorry, Port Supply: Inadequate bandwidth is no excuse (see SP, "Clear Sailing," July 10, p. 48, www.smartpartnermag.com/issues). Same to you, MarthaStewart.com, and everyone else who thinks consumers will go all the way to checkout only to learn that what they came to buy isn't in stock.

Rule 3: Information that does not exist must never be offered. Are you listening, HomeDepot.com? Why have a "products" button that leads to "We do not currently sell merchandise online"? You've been "working on it" for at least two years. Who do you think you're kidding?

Rule 4: Price, lowest shipping charge and their sum must be displayed together. Given my ZIP code, anyone can calculate UPS ground or Priority Mail charges. So should Web stores. And they don't need my Visa number or marital status to calculate shipping.

Rule 5: Customers must be notified via e-mail of all shipment delays greater than 24 hours. We know it's doable. The guy at EBWorld.com figured out in seconds why my PC game was a week late—but I had to call him.

Rule 6: All customer e-mail that goes unanswered for 48 hours or more shall be forwarded to the company's president, who will answer it all before receiving morning coffee.

Rule 7: High-resolution (minimum 800 x 600 pixels) photos of every product offered must be available on demand, by clicking on a thumbnail of a photo.

I'm sure our readers have a lot more suggestions that their clients will never take. Let me know about them, and we'll add the best ones to the Web Store Building Code.