Executives and scientists in the food industry have come under fire for producing cheap, addictive, and nutritionally-vacant food products. But they’re not the only ones selling ’empty promises’ – there’s a similar strategy at play in the online marketing space.

Is your e-Commerce strategy high in …


  • Salt: an over-reliance on best practices.
  • Sugar: the expectation that personalization and/or testing will produce long-term results.
  • Fat: Too many widgets and apps.

The art of getting people hooked on junk food

In his best-selling book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss describes how corporate scientists have amalgamated salt, sugar, fat, and artificial flavors in just the right proportions to create junk food that keeps you coming back for more.

Similar to the tobacco industry in the late twentieth century, these food giants are now feeling the pressure of public scrutiny from nutritionists, the media, and (in some cases) the federal government. But while these exploits are becoming more well-known, there are many more vague marketing tactics at play that don’t get noticed. Just like the rest of the world, e-Commerce professionals are getting hooked on to “junk food” of a different kind.

Salt: the sudden influx of best practices

It’s well-known that the taste receptors in our mouths are very sensitive to salt. Add to that a neuronal superhighway that drives these strong impulses straight to your brain, and you have a craving sensation that can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to control.

From the outside, it appears that a similar brain sensation happens with e-Commerce best practices. e-Commerce professionals – regardless of experience – simply crave best practices. Just like salty treats, these best practices are often delivered alongside promises of improved revenue or performance against arbitrary goals. Throw in some proof – a few case studies – and most professionals are hooked.

Our inboxes and social media feeds are inundated with an endless stream of these best practices:

  • Three ways to …
  • Top 10 …
  • 7 must have x for y …

These best practices are difficult to resist, and many industry professionals struggle with the difficult task of figuring out which to implement and where. The problem is that e-Commerce best practices are generally very context-specific and not all will work for your site.

In fact, the probability that you might be doing more harm than good is very high.

Sugar: an over-emphasis on testing & personalization

“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

— Steve Jobs

In Steve Jobs’ famous pitch to John Sculley, Jobs downplayed the importance of soda and its mainstream impact. True, most would consider Apple’s role in people’s lives is far more important than that of Pepsi, but don’t underestimate the economic impact of the soft drink industry. These companies continue to do extremely well because of our inability to resist our ‘sweet tooth’.

When it comes to enterprise commerce, online testing and personalization are a virtual ‘sugar high’. Simply mentioning the ability to present different offers to different audiences garners an “I want it” reaction.

Unfortunately, just like the effects of sugary soft drinks, outcomes gleaned from online testing and personalization are short-lived.

Fat: too many web applications and widgets

Cake, cookies, and other foods high in fat don’t just taste great, they also elicit feelings of happiness in our brain. So if there’s salt and sugar in e-Commerce, what constitutes the “fat”?

Web applications and widgets.

With so many web apps and widgets, management can prove difficult – if not impossible. Independently, most of these apps are designed to enhance e-Commerce in some way: from social, product reviews, chats, and trust badges, these apps all have the potential to make a positive impact on revenue, but together they add unnecessary heft to your page. What starts as a promising ‘silver bullet’ often ends up as something that just clutters the page without delivering a measurable impact on your overall performance.


A healthier approach to e-Commerce management

Our food analogy originated one day after a new client implementation call. The client services team related that our methodology was akin to teaching the masses about the benefits of a healthy e-Commerce lifestyle. This approach includes a more balanced take on each of these important groups:

  • Best practices (salt): Industry best practices are important, but cannot be considered a means to an end. Rather, they are a good starting point in your optimization journey.
  • Testing and personalization (sugar): To effectively deal with changing customer expectations and behavior patterns, you need to replace traditional testing and rules-based personalization with intelligent optimization.
  • Applications and widgets (fat): High-quality web applications and widgets, like “good fats”, include product review, social media, trust badges, and more – but they represent a significant investment, so in order to insure that you get directly-measurable ROI from each, you must use customer experience optimization solution capable of showing the revenue impact of each element (both isolated and in conjunction with other elements on your page).