Leaving Web Surfers Out in the Cold

Pop-up ads are annoying. There’s little question about that. But they are also telling in what they say about the Web surfers that advertisers are trying to reach.

Whether it’s the X10.com ads for wireless cameras — the ones with the scantily clad women — or the offshore casino ads, the target is clearly young people and mainly young men.

It’s not an accident and it’s not discrimination. Web marketers have done their homework, and the people who pay for the ads certainly don’t want to aim for people who aren’t going to respond.

But the ads symbolize what has happened on a larger scale to the Web and e-commerce: Its a club that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

Bull’s Eye

No doubt it’s not malicious. However, when the pop-up advertisers are left to their own devices, the zeitgeist of the Internet and e-commerce swirls around young, technology-savvy people.

Of course, survey after survey has found that people fitting that description, be they men or women, are the biggest online shoppers.

But there is a chicken-and-egg riddle here. Why are so few older people, to focus on a single group, shopping online? If e-commerce did more to lure them, would they come out and spend?

Paying Attention?

Ironically, it’s a question that might go unanswered, given all the fanfare that has accompanied the shifting demographics of the Internet.

Question No. 1: Women have become a powerful force, if not a majority of Web users. But has the Web changed as a result?

Question No. 2: The U.S. population as a whole is getting older, and more older Americans are finding the Web useful and not as scary as they first imagined it to be. But are any e-commerce leaders responding in a meaningful way?

Big Niches

Only in some narrow ways. For example, dozens of sites aimed at older people sprang up during the dot-com heyday. However, the array of offerings only adds to the confusion.

Meanwhile, the trustworthy bellwethers of e-commerce that have emerged — names that everyone can recognize — have done little to welcome the underdogs.

No one is saying it’s easy, and to be sure, e-commerce has plenty of difficulties to deal with. Remember when the Digital Divide — the disparity of racial representation online — was the hottest topic in town? That was when things were going so well that everyone wanted to share the wealth and good fortune.

Now that things are a bit rockier, the Digital Divide is all but forgotten — although it surely it hasn’t been solved.

All for One

Nevertheless, some niche markets are practically crying out to be addressed and included on the e-commerce bandwagon going forward.

The Internet continues to expand every day, and yet at the same time, the commercial center, the shopping hub, the downtown, gets smaller and more easily defined. The best-known companies are where the bulk of the commerce will take place.

And it’s there that the door of inclusion should be opened.

Measure by Measure

More friendly Web design would be a start. Less noise-addled pop-up ads. Indeed, fewer pop-up ads in general would be nice, since they take control away from the surfer.

More navigation options. Maybe some more large-print, large-icon Web pages for the senior crowd.

And more reassurance. Posting privacy policies became the rage for a while, but then receded. But information is power. A big, unmistakable link from a Web merchant’s home page to the shipping FAQs, complete with pricing, would be a coup. As would a plain-English summary of what exactly will be done with the credit-card information of shoppers once they turn it over.

A Wider Net

It’s all common sense stuff, it’s true. But the small steps are a place to start.

E-commerce has the potential to be a community that excludes no one. It’s not too late to make it happen. And it’s time to start.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


1 Comment

  • I agree – more information = better results. There is continual talk about how many people abandon their shopping carts. I think if Retailers posted the shipping cost of the item before the point of checkout…those that got to the checkout point would be less likely to abandon their purchase. It’s the “sticker shock” that keeps consumers from buying the impulse purchases that come with browsing.

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