Online Campaign Contributions Keep Clicking

Ever try to purchase something online, only to be frustrated by how much time it takes to get through the process?

One company says that is exactly the experience facing web-savvy users who want to donate money online to the 2008 presidential candidates.

"Speed is the main issue," said Matt Poepsel, vice-president of performance strategies at Gomez, Inc, a Massachusetts-based company that evaluates the performance of web sites.

The company usually evaluates web sites for banks, credit card companies and online retailers such as eBay, Amazon and Best Buy for profit. But they recently used their software to test the '08 campaigns' donation process.

Campaign Cash Finds a Need for Speed

"When we saw candidates flocking to the web, we thought this will be interesting to see if they're delivering experiences that are on par with the commercial industry and they're just not," said Poepsel.

The 2008 presidential campaign website of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. is the fastest place to donate online, while the website of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. is the slowest, according to Gomez's test of the campaign websites.

"Barack Obama's website takes ten times longer than Hillary Clinton's website to go through in keep you waiting for that donation process -- that's a big difference," said Poepsel.

The study found that, on average, the online donation process took 3.3 seconds for online contributors to Clinton's website, but took 33 seconds for contributors of Obama's campaign.

That thirty second difference hasn't seemed to hurt Obama online.

In the first quarter of presidential fundraising newcomer Obama raised an astonishing $25 million, $6.9 million of which came in online. Senator Clinton, by comparison, raised $26 million for both the primary and general election, $4.2 million of which arrived via the Internet.

Nevertheless, Poepsel insisted, "They're just not consistent. These are not complicated sites compared to what we see in the commercial world."

"What is new to the candidates as far as going online, it's not new to us," he said, "we have the same expectations on those candidate websites as we do when we go anywhere else on the web," said Poepsel. "It should download quickly, should be highly available, consistent performance, don't keep me waiting."

By comparison, Poepsel said, online shoppers take, on average, about six to nine steps to get to the point where it's time to pay. Donating to a campaign only takes an average of three steps but Poepsel insists, "The retailers are outperforming the candidates' websites even with the additional time it usually takes to complete a purchase online."

One of the fastest "full retail experiences", as Poepsel calls it, is on the website of JC Penney, which had a March average of 6.29 seconds -- taking users from downloading the homepage to the point at which they enter their personal information and credit card number. -- the popular online book retail website -- had a average of about 16 seconds. The Gap had one of the slowest response times, averaging almost 31 seconds in March, according to Gomez, Inc.

Obama's campaign questions the findings of the Gomez study, using those impressive online totals as proof the Illinois senator is connecting with voters on the web.

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