Business Models That Fail

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My account is about to expire on FetLife, the Facebook for Kinksters, and I wanted to renew it – after all, like LiveJournal, even though I have issues with the site, I’d like it to continue being alive.  I’m a webmaster, and I have sympathies for anyone trying to make a living off of a site.
But when I went to renew, I discovered they had no online option.  Nor did they have anywhere to mail a check to in America.  Instead, to renew, I had to:
1)  Get an International Money Order in the amount I needed to renew my account, in Canadian dollars.
2)  Mail it to Canada.
Now, this isn’t entirely Fet’s fault; they used to have credit card processors, but being a site that discusses all kinds of sex, they’ve been dropped.  Nor will PayPal process their payments.  So I dig it’s a tough row to hoe.  But I posted an entry saying that while I liked Fet, I am at heart both lazy and forgetful, and this sort of inconvenience to renewal will ensure it’s forever on my “to do ” list without ever getting done.  So I encouraged them, difficult as it may be, to find a way to reconnect with the credit card processors.
At which point I was berated by folks who said, “Well, twenty minutes out of your life isn’t an inconvenience!  You should do it out of duty!  Here’s tears for your white people’s problems!”
These are stupid people.
See, when you’re running a business, your whole goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money.  You’d be surprised by what factors will cause people to walk away, on the Internet; if a page takes more than seven seconds to load, a double-digit percentage of people won’t stick around.  Amazon fought with its developers to create”one-click checkout,” because reducing the number of steps in your checkout process from five to three can double your sales.
It seems insane – but particularly online, people get bored and walk away.  Give people a chance to say, “Do I really need to buy this thing?” and often, they will.  Or they’ll get distracted by something else.  (This also applies at retail, where a long line at the checkout register or being unable to find the thing you wanted in a few minutes will cause folks to wander off.)
So if you can lose 50% of sales from a slightly-lengthened checkout process, what percentage of sales will you lose when you have to go outside for a money order?
I can always tell when a business is about to fail, because the main thrust of their advertising shifts from “Here’s what we can do for you!” to “Support local businesses!”  And yes.  We should support local businesses.  I do whenever I can.  But when your main argument shifts to a desperate attempt to guilt me into purchasing because you know you’re not as good but you want customers to subsidize you for not being a chain, well…
…even if I buy, enough people are gonna walk that you can’t subsist.  I’ve tried.  You can’t be substandard – maybe you shift to carry different merchandise, maybe you focus on customer happiness, maybe you do outreach programs.  But “Buy Local!” can’t be your hotpatch to try to prop up a failing business model.  You have to be genuinely good in some way, because this isn’t a civic duty I’m carrying out by purchasing from you; it’s my optional money that I’m giving for services rendered.
Sure, maybe I should inconvenience myself out of obligation.  That’s not the question: the question is, “Even if I do, how many people will do it?  Will it be enough to sustain the many servers and infrastructure needed for a site?”  And somehow, I doubt it.  And you can berate people all you like, but when resubscribing for an optional service involves remembering to go outside and run an unfamiliar errand, well, that’s a craptastic process.  It’s perfectly rational to worry for the future of FetLife when they’re relying on that.
Like it or not, one of the rules of the universe is that if you want people’s optional money, you make it easy for people to give you that optional money.  Claiming that getting a money order isn’t really an inconvenience is fooling yourself.  And maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t – but Lordy, if someone sympathetic to them has been meaning to get around to it for a month and keeps forgetting to hit the bank, then FetLife’s gotta be suffering.

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