Monday, April 16, 2001

The End of Stickiness

I spent last week on vacation in Amsterdam, completely cut off from the Internet. No Web, no email, nothing. First time I've done that since my honeymoon in 1998.

While I missed my usual dose of information, I couldn't help but be struck by the parallels between e-business and some of the practices that I observed in Amsterdam.

For example, in Amsterdam, restaurants and cafes take forever to take your order, bring your food, and collect your check. For some people, this might seem like a pleasant case of old world charm, letting you linger over mealtime conversation. For this busy American tourist, however, it was horrible.

The worst episode happened at The Pancake Bakery. For those who have never been to Amsterdam, the Dutch are huge pancake fans. Cafes all over the city serve pancakes that look like giant crepes, topped with every conceivable substance, from smoked salmon to chocolate (though thankfully not at once). They're quite delicious, though I'll never understand how the Dutch avoid being the fattest people on the planet. Maybe it's all the smoking.

Anyway, my wife and I stopped at the Pancake Bakery for lunch (a Norwegian pancake with smoked salmon and creme fraiche and a Dutch pancake with ice cream, cherries, liquor, and whipped cream), which was quite excellent. While we were eating, however, a massive crowd had built up, thanks to the popularity of the restaurant. There were at least 20 people waiting, and they spilled out into the street, despite near-freezing temperatures.

When we finished our meal, I went up to pay and was told to return to my seat, that they would come with the bill shortly. I thought, "Oh, how nice," and sat back down to wait. And wait. And wait.

After 30 minutes, they still hadn't brought the bill! Now mind you, this is with 20 potential paying customers waiting in the freezing cold.

Finally, I had to force my way back to the cash register and insist on paying! Needless to say, I stiffed them on the tip.

Nonetheless, this bizarre behavior isn't restricted to our European friends.

Think of all the times you've heard "stickiness" hailed as a panacea for web sites. Well, the problem is, having stickiness without actual sales is like having customers hanging around your restaurant without actually collecting checks.

The goal of a business is to make money. Yes, it's important to have all your tables full, and to keep your customers happy, but at the end of the day, what matters is what's in the cash register.

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