Jon Michaeli’s Blog

VistaPrint – Great Product, Awful User Experience

I admit I’ve used VistaPrint several times now for business cards, address labels, even invitations for my wedding brunch! Plain and simple, the quality of the product is excellent, the prices are very competitive (you can get 250 free business cards and only pay shipping), and there are almost always web coupons on couponcabin, retailmenot and the like. (If you’re a repeat customer, you’ve likely received these coupons directly with your merchandise).

BUT, if I were not a savvy internet consumer, I would be extremely frustrated (at the very least) and angry (more likely) at the overly aggressive cross-sell and upsell tactics used on the website. As I understand it, VistaPrint heavily relies on this for its success.

Don’t get me wrong, as a marketer I strongly advocate increasing transaction size while you have a visitor captive in the shopping cart funnel (and even before). But VistaPrint takes this way too far; they clutter the screen with tons of add-ons, making it difficult to differentiate between your selections and their recommended items. Navigating to the final purchase page takes way too much time. At one point they even force you to choose between 2 options, one reconfirming only your items and another with their selections added. And if I’m not mistaken, the latter is placed at the top of the screen, requiring the user to scroll below the fold to see his original order. It’s truly a miracle if you make it through with only the merchandise you intended to purchase.

And it doesn’t stop there. After you complete the transaction, for a limited time, VistaPrint offers a discount on additional quantities of the same merchandise and other related items. The first time I experienced this, I was really PO’d feeling as though I had paid too much.  Now I’ve learned to game the system and place half of the original order at the higher price, then add the other 50% afterwards at a lower price. (Note: it takes only one extra click of the mouse to do it this way). I’m assuming VistaPrint doesn’t want to encourage this type of behavior, but who wouldn’t quickly figure this one out?

I’m left scratching my head. How has VistaPrint been able to get away with this for so long? They appear to be the market leader, but similar services are available, so at least to some degree, competitive forces are in play. Are VistaPrint’s prices so attractive that consumers simply tolerate it? Do they have far more variety and customization options? Do they market better than everyone else? Do they primarily target SMBs who can often make use of their complementary product recommendations?

I have to believe that ultimately in targeting individual consumers, companies must follow the guiding principle – “Generating higher sales at the real detriment of user experience may increase near term sales, but will be unsustainable in the long run.”


5 Responses to 'VistaPrint – Great Product, Awful User Experience'

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  1. Awesome article. You’re absolutely right. You try to finish a purchase with Vistaprint and your last experience is trying to get out of their maze without purchasing things you don’t want.

    I also wonder if some of the small money charges on my credit card are from them. I’m almost positive that I get magazines that I never wanted because Vistaprint gave me confusing options, and even though I didn’t want the magazines, I ended up choosing an option that swindled me into one.

    Great article.

  2. ben said,

    Reminds me of GoDaddy…
    Their site is so cluttered with offers and promotions, that it’s a nightmare to figure out how to manage your existing products. (Sales & servicing options are presented together, so you need to find “manage my hosting account” from among a long list of hosting options, plans & features…)

  3. Caitlin said,

    Great post! I also was going to mention GoDaddy as an example.

    Are you aware of any studies that this bombard-the-user-with-marketing tactic ever backfires though? If there were a way to quantify that it eventually decreases sales, people would stop doing it.

    I suspect it’s one of those UX things that falls in the category of “can’t be measured, so don’t fix it.”

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      Thank you for your replies. I agree GoDaddy is another perfect example.

      As for Caitlin’s question – As I’m sure you have as well, I’ve observed many times through web analytics funnels how simplifying and clarifying the flows/registration/cross-sell/checkout processes greatly increases conversion and purchase. That said, because VistaPrint has so many products that when added can increase transaction volume significantly, perhaps it is more that enough to offset the % attrition/abandonment, at least in the short run. In addition, I suspect VistaPrint sells mostly to SMBs, which may be more inclined to buy stationery and envelopes that match their order of address labels…in which case both the potential increase in sales and tolerance threshold on the part of the user may be higher. As far as the impact on long-term retention, I’ve never personally measured it, but I think it would be very valuable to look at customer complaints and refund requests, success rate at completing a transaction, length of time spent in the checkout process, etc. as it relates to repeat business.

      Assuming individual consumers are a key growth market for VistaPrint (in this market I can easily see people scaling back on expenditures like this), I think VistaPrint would be wise to develop a separate and distinct consumer site (I’m telling you my wedding invitations were elegant and classy and probably a few % of the cost of “professionally” printed ones). This is a seemingly powerful differentiator and go to market platform VistaPrint should execute on.

  4. Ian said,

    An example that will resonate like a mournful , discordant church bell with anyone living in Europe is the budget airline Ryanair.

    They take the budget concept to extremes, and cut to the bone, charging for literally everything (they recently attracted attention for a plan to charge passengers to use the bathroom during the flight) and their planes are plastered with ads on every seatback. They spend a significant portion of the flight selling to you – they sell their own lottery scratch cards, for instance.

    The customer experience is shockingly poor. They’re not just bad at customer service. They treat their customers with contempt.

    And yet they thrive.

    That depresses me beyond words.

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