The power of inertia

recently added this quote to my website ( “Put inertia on your side whenever you can – it’s powerful force”. It’s by John Audette from, and it is so very, very true.
Audette in his Adventive Report gave an example of newsletter competitor who switched his readers across to receive an HTML version without asking them. After few grumbles, and small number of people unsubscribing, he now produces an HTML newsletter to 100 percent of his readers.
Audette, however, asked his subscribers and ended up with only 20 percent receiving the HTML version, despite surveys that showed that more than 40 percent would rather receive newsletters in that format. Why? Simple inertia.
It is even more real for things internet-based because the ‘net is so new. There are many reasons why new technologies fail but one of the most important and frequently overlooked is inertia. Why should someone try your new product or service?
Many dotcom failures can be traced to the fact that these new companies, many of them with great new services, couldn’t convince enough people to change their habits. Take Webvan, the online grocer as an example.
The online buying and home delivery of groceries makes sense and saves time for those living time-starved lifestyle, and who isn’t? Our household actually signed up for Webvan-like service (Woolworths) but never activated it, why? Pure inertia.
Inertia is Microsoft’s friend and Bill certainly knows it. Microsoft produces user-friendly software that integrates well with other Microsoft applications and at reasonable price. So it’s bloated with features that hardly anyone uses, but why buy elsewhere when Microsoft does it all?
Internet Explorer and the MSN websites are other examples of Microsoft using inertia to best advantage by making it harder not to use their services. So how do you use or beat the power of inertia?
* If you’re company with good size user base and you want to upgrade customers to new service or product make it so easy that it is completely painless. Extra resources spent in the testing and usability phases will be paid back many times; there will be fewer helpdesk calls and next time users won’t hesitate to upgrade or change.
* New offers must be compelling otherwise inertia will be too strong. High profile ads don’t count as evidence of compelling offer. Perhaps bundle the offer with something of real value to your target market or try the ideas below. What can you do to lift your offer above the rest and how can you communicate that it is great offer? Flying Pig was probably the best known New Zealand example of failure in this area – selling books online at slightly cheaper prices just wasn’t enough of an offer to motivate buyers.
* Most software vendors now offer free trial as way of getting users to at least try their product. Once user is hooked the sale is an easier one. This is good ploy with any digital product, as the freebie doesn’t actually cost the vendor, and the internet makes it easy to implement.
* Can you use someone else’s market position to further your product? Witness the number of vendors that offer toolbars, skins or other features that can be added to Internet Explorer. Collaboration and/or partnerships are often great way to get market foothold.
* Get down and personal. Nothing beats personal contact so why not channel some of your advertising money into getting salespeople on the ground or on the phone with potential clients? If our local online grocer had offered to visit and show us how easy their website was to use, we would have probably been customers year and half ago. When you are approached to donate to charity, which approach do you find hardest to refuse: the letter, the telemarketer or the collector at the door?
The next time you want to change the way that people do something, think about how you can break or use the power of inertia.

Alex Garden is the Net Guru at NetInsites Ltd, Internet Consultants.
Email: [email protected], Website:

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