The unbearable difficulty of buying a lawnmower

Web Profits' Jason May tried to buy a lawnmower. It didn't go well. Here, he shares his tale of confusion, regret and long grass.

Business has come a long way online, but a lot of brands are still missing the customer-centric mark with their digital experience.

Customers are giving up the fight to purchase online, battling a mix of jargon, too many options, and low contrast states which combine to frustrate users into ‘giving up’ on the online purchase.

This forces users into a physical retail environment to ensure they make a smart purchase decision with more confidence being able to speak with people in a conversation that is right for them, and that they understand.

Have you been in this position before?

I’ve never really owned a lawn mower but now I need to buy one…

So I jump online.

I don’t really know much about lawn mowers except for a couple of brand names, so I start with those names in search, and away we go.

At first, it’s fun, right?

Exploring something new. I have five or so tabs open having a quick flick through. But it soon dawns on me, there are a lot of options I don’t understand that all look the same!

Uh oh…

And then it’s not fun anymore.



What happens next is that I proceed to lose three days of my life researching lawn mowers until my wife finally leans over to me in bed at 2 am, and demands that I turn off the computer!

Fun times.

In a ridiculous twist, I don’t really care that much about my lawn. I have a need man, and I’ve got long grass!

I just want what everyone else wants. I want to make a good purchase decision and not waste my money. And you know what, I want to buy a lawn mower and feel good about it.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s out there.

Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is. It might be easy to physically buy something these days, but I tell you…

Making a confident buying decision is tough for many people, including your customers.

After my experience researching lawn mowers online I eventually gave up and went down to a local physical retailer to get some advice.

30 minutes later I walked out with a lawn mower that I was happy with and a genuine dose of satisfaction.

You know, that’s all I really wanted. To make a smart purchase decision and feel good about it afterwards.

So what went wrong online?

First up…

There was too much information I didn’t understand.

When I started my search, my knowledge of lawnmowers, the brands, the features etc. Was pretty much zero.

I really needed a website to hold my hand and tell me what I should buy. But you know, not one website or brand asked me who I was as a user.

Was I a weekend garden warrior, or a commercial professional?

As a novice, it felt like every brand expected me to understand what I was buying. I had no idea what a Briggs & Stratton U.S. built OHV 163cc 725EXi QPT Series Engine was.

I had no idea if I needed one, if it was good, or if there was a better option!

Was I supposed to know these things?

Most of the lawnmower websites made me feel a little stupid, which was not the best way to begin a relationship. Every time I came across a new term I had to stop and learn what it meant which was really tiring.

By this stage I’m knee deep in features, engine types, cutting widths etc. With absolutely no context to my particular need.

Was the act of cutting grass that complex?

Talk about off track!


The other problem I had was…

There are a lot of lawn mowers to choose from

I had five websites open representing five lawn mower brands. From those five brands, I counted 60 lawn mowers.

I could cut my grass 60 ways!


Surely lawn mower brands have worked it out already. That magical combination of features that cuts sublime, every time, to then take that winning formula and make a few variations per application type.

And we’re done.

Seems it doesn’t work that way, because I’m three days into an online product search and I don’t understand what I would be buying, even if I could buy it.

But I can’t make my mind up on what to buy because, in part, there are too many options.

Could it possibly get any worse?

Most of the lawnmowers look the same.

There is very little contrast between my lawnmower options. This lack of clarity between like things is a killer as decisions flounder in low contrast environments.

How can you make a smart, confident choice, when all the options look the same?

It dawned on me that it was this lack of clarity, this low contrast position, that ultimately had me crack and that forced me into the physical store to make my purchase.

It was that ‘give up’ moment as I realised that, as a novice lawn mower consumer, I couldn’t see the contrast between the options, and without the contrast, I had no confidence in making a smart purchase decision.

And I knew that if I forced myself into the purchase… all I would be left with afterwards would be doubt.


So, how do we learn from this, making a difference to our own lives and that of our customers?

After all, this is a tale about happiness, and more sales, in amongst the tall grass…

Make sure your website has been designed for your audience and talks to them in their language

A lot of websites are designed and built based on what the key stakeholders or company wants. Designed based on what they like, or, based on how the company runs and structures their business.

Who are your customers?

What language will they understand?

It’s really ok if you want to showcase your ‘generous discharge tunnel…’

That’s cool, but if you’re talking to me, and a large portion of your customers who might not at first understand that jargon, you might need to speak and use language that has more common tones.

“We’ve made the opening at the back of the lawn mower larger so that the cut grass flows to the catcher more easily…”

Wow, really? That’s cool

Do you know what I wanted to read in the sales copy?

It goes a little something like this…

“We know you want to mow your lawn quickly and easily and get back to better, more fun things, that don’t involve lawn mowers. Our lawn mowers start easily, cut well, and virtually mow the lawn for you. You don’t need to wash them or buy them dinner. They are well priced and we’ll guarantee them for five years”

That’s the one I want!

I still see website designs that talk in jargon, and I’ve spent 15-20 minutes sometimes on a website reading every line of copy and would then still not understand what they do.

This is a problem.

Do you get customers calling you up from your website to learn more about what you do?

If yes, then your website copy almost certainly needs a rework.

If they call you up to discuss options and how they can engage you. That’s awesome. The website has done some of the work for you.

Run your eyes also over the UX design of the site.

If you have different types of users with varying degrees of education on your offer, then you need a website that gets the right users through to the right content for them, with the appropriate content and sales copy to suit.

Get this right, and you’re on your way.

Reduce the number of choices your customer needs to make

Research has shown that there can be too much choice.

The result?

Dissatisfaction and frustration.

Barry Schwartz from the Harvard Business Review notes: “Increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs.”

Too much information and too many options. In this scenario, people find it hard to make a decision, and in extreme cases, may simply abandon the purchase altogether.

Take a look at your analytics. Find out which products or offers people are buying more and consider your range.

You might find that 80% of your revenue is being generated from 20% of your stock.

And if that’s the case, you might work to clean up your product range, or at least, reorganise the presentation of the lower converting products to place them on the back shelf.

Great options that are clearly presented are the way to go.

Always strive for a high contrast position

If you sell lawn mowers, and you work in a lawn mower sales business, you’ll end up sounding, looking, and smelling like a lawn mower salesperson.

Ah, the smell of freshly cut grass!

But this happens for all of us naturally as the environment we’re in and exposed to begins to shape our look, feel, and behaviour. It doesn’t matter if you sell lawnmowers, insurance, or charter yachts.

After a while, the exposure to these specific environments will see you naturally slot into the jargon, look, and feel that others around you have.

Or in other words, you will have a low contrast state or position as compared to others around you.

If you have a high contrast position people can more easily see the differences and value between your offer and the rest. And when there is a clear winner, in our mind, we are much more likely to make a more confident purchase decision that we’re satisfied with.

But you have to work hard to gain that high contrast state as the natural fall is into a low contrast state.

Take a look at your imagery, your colours. Look at your copy. How can you sound a little different?

Review your competition and find creative ways to present your offer differently.

When I purchased a lawnmower I also had to buy a little jerry can for fuel, and some oil for later down the track. Doing a bundle as a lawnmower company that included those things would have been an amazing drawcard for me, but you know, not one single lawn mower brand was offering that. This would have been an easy way to get some contrast into the offer.

If you can design a website for your customers, present a great, curated range of products or services that you have worked out the customer wants, to then present the whole package of your business to the market with contrast, enabling customers to really clearly see the difference in value proposition that your business has over the competition, then watch out!

You might just snag me as an edge cutter customer… because dammit, now I think I need one of those things too!

Jason May helped start the digital growth consultancy Web Profits in 2006. He brings perspective, creativity, and experience to the table to help validate digital decision making.


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