The Golden Rule Builds Better eCommerce Sites

Process MapAutomation applies not just to the recent spate of B2B tools, but also to ecommerce sites of all types. When you build your business the Golden Rule way, everything you build must be how your audience would want to be treated.

I took a look around the web and found some interesting examples of how people use Golden Rule thinking to improve (or worsen) the experience of their audience.

The Golden Rule Builds Better eCommerce Sites

How often have you visited a site to buy something and then left without buying something? How often did you leave the site because of the way the site treated you, even if they had what you wanted to buy?

If you run an ecommerce site, these bounces and dropped shopping carts are the biggest impediments to higher sales (conversions). You can use all the analytics you want to discover choke points or bounce pages, but ultimately how your site treats people is why they stay or why they leave.

Let’s take a look at some common ecommerce situations as they relate to the Golden Rule.

Automated Emails

Automation emails should be transparent and as friendly as possible.

Everyone already knows an automated email is coming their way when they place an order. What they don’t always know is if the email is information or a delightful welcome. Or something else altogether.

I do not believe automated emails from a real person’s email address with unsubscribe links builds trust or your list quality. False relationships and poor mail merges are more likely to end up on a list like the Email Folder of Shame.

My preference is for automation emails that provide a temporary replacement for a human interaction in the same way a FAQ replaces and deflects 80% of common questions. When I set up an autoresponder system for the Economist Intelligence Unit, my goal was to help people who knew they were not real buyers find the information they wanted. My other goal was to avoid personally answering those emails because it wasted huge amounts of time for little return.

What I wanted to avoid was giving anyone a bad “brand experience.” People do not forget how you treated them, even electronically. In five years, one of those inquirers could be in a position to buy.

I wrote the autoresponders with appropriate links and pointers. These emails, at least initially, had very high open and CTRs because (1) they had requested more info (2) they received it. I invited them to contact us again for a more serious conversation while the automation worked behind the scenes to flag those people who should receive a call. After a month of use, I never saw a single complaint from Sales or from the people receiving the emails.

First Email from

I recently purchased shoes from While the number of emails I received for one order is a bit much for me, they are done so well, the team at Zappos clearly thought about what their target audience (bargain shoe shoppers) would enjoy. The system and emails were very clear about how to unsubscribe and why I was receiving them. The copy was in line with their brand, but also human. I really do believe I made their day with my purchase. Even though I unsubscribed to their automated two part welcome series, I appreciated they gave me the option to do so and explained what they were doing in a friendly way. They want to help me and offer me “special deals,” but also gave me an easy way out.

Guest Shopping Carts Abound

Remember 10 years ago when all shopping carts required registration to buy? Yet another account? Some places I will only buy rarely from and then forget my account. This happens to me at the major bridal registries since such purchases are sporadic.

When a few places such as Pottery Barn, Williams & Sonoma, and Bloomingdale’s decided to offer Buy as a Guest options, I was relieved. I wasn’t in another database forever or committed to a website account I would rarely use. Registration only slows me down on my way to buying that lovely glass set for my friend, which means a longer “on site time” as well as a higher chance of a dropped cart.

For regular shoppers at Pottery Barn, a registered account makes sense. The web developers there also had to account for an important audience: the wedding present buyer. Know whom you are selling to just as much as their friends who will also visit you one day.

Even when I am not in a firm’s primary target market, I appreciate when a firm makes it easy for me to buy.

More e-commerce Order Processing

I believe that if many of the major ecommerce sites were considering how their customers would want to be treated, they would have included many common features much earlier in their development. Here are a few examples of why these features are Golden Rule or Not.

  • Ability to opt out of emails is not only law, but makes sense. Why irritate people who aren’t interested? Golden Rule!
  • Abandoned shopping cart emails. Touted by marketing experts as ways to entice people back, these are terribly irritating to many other people who had good reasons to click away. Not Golden Rule.
  • Calculate shipping costs before finalizing the order. You should always help people understand what they are buying and how their choices affect the costs. Never dupe people or hide anything, because you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you, would you? Golden Rule!
  • Be clear that I can review the order before it is complete. How many times do some ecommerce sites make it seem the order is done, when it is not? Or won’t show you the totals and summary on the last page? The last thing you want in a lean operation is someone calling you frantically because they thought they were not buying, when in fact they committed to a purchase over their spending ability. Not Golden Rule.
  • Ability to cancel or change order in the immediate moments afterwards. Occasionally I make a mistake or press OK and then change my mind. A few sites, such as Amazon, allow you to find your order so you can change it before it ships.  Allowing people to change orders helps them avoid a major problem, lowers shipping costs, and lowers return costs. If you allow changes to orders in the automated system, then you save human time as well as treat your customers the way you would want to be treated in the same situation. Golden Rule!
  • Not allowing order changes. While I enjoyed’s experience, they did not allow me to change my order after it had been placed. Clearly their shipping system is very fast and cannot allow such changes.  Exception handling is where Humans sometimes become involved. Firms should offer both automated and human options for fixing an order, because some of us are fine with the website, while others want to speak to a human who will better understand the nuance of what we want. Not Golden Rule.
  • Wish Lists and bookmarks for registered accounts are fantastic ways to treat people well while encouraging them to return to your site for repeat visits. Even a cookied shopping cart is appreciated sometimes in spite of privacy issues. Amazon and a few other stores do this well so I can come back to buy when I am ready. I would want someone to help me remember potential purchases in this situation. Golden Rule!
  • Golden Rule automation provides all the details you would want to have when you order something online. Some storefronts still insist on burying shipping details, sales tax, or product details. To be a Golden Rule ecommerce store means over sharing information. You should make it clear where a buyer can find those details even if you decide not to clutter the page. Golden Rule!
  • Have a FAQ. It helps you, it helps your customers, it is what you would want to read in the same situation. Golden Rule.

In a Golden Rule World, automation is perfectly fine, as long as

  • It treats people the way they want to be treated as as you would want to be treated in the same situation.
  • You handle exceptions or unusual situations the same way you would want to be treated. That might mean having more complex systems to anticipate exceptions, or it just might mean having a human to help create a solution. You can develop any system you want as long as it meets the needs of your customers. That can also mean you will not take on certain kinds of people because you would be unable to treat them in the same way you want to be treated in the same situation.
  • You are up front about who you are. If you want to build an ecommerce solution that requires no sales people and doesn’t take special orders because that is how you run your business, then you also have to align your product, site, and process around that. You also have to make it clear to people that you are doing this, including recommending other places for a different experience. It is ok to have a barebones system and offer because some people need and want that solution.

Marketing Automation tip: ask “Is this how I would want to be treated by a store owner?” If not, design a better site. – Click to Tweet

Use Golden Rule Questions to Stay Focused on Your Audience

Your automation processes should have the Golden Rule built in from the start. When developing your ecommerce site, use Golden Rule Questions to keep your target audience in focus at all times.

Ask the Golden Rule Question: 

If I were to buy something on my site, is this how I would want to be treated?

If you want to learn more about building a better business using the Golden Rule, please sign up for my newsletter updates!

Image: IvanWalsh and Josh Hill,

1 comments on
“The Golden Rule Builds Better eCommerce Sites”

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