Internet retailers work hard to get prospective buyers to visit their e-commerce websites. Hard earned dollars are spent on marketing, promotions, search engine optimization, and advertising to bring the targeted customers to the website. Site design is improved to provide ease of navigation and to display the offered products to their best advantage. Often forgotten in the shuffle is the lowly shopping cart.
A badly designed and difficult to use shopping cart will undermine all of those other efforts to increase visitor traffic and improve sales. All too often, e-commerce website owners shrug their shoulders and either dismiss the problem as being trivial in the total amount of sales lost, or believe that little can be done to solve the abandonment problem.
The cost to an online business in lost sales resulting from leaving the shopping cart in mid-transaction is not trivial. Industry estimates vary, but many e-commerce insiders believe that approximately 75 percent of all shopping cart transactions are not carried through to completion.
In other words, only one out of four customers who want to purchase a website’s products and services ever complete the purchase process. Even a minor improvement in the conversion rate to 50 percent abandonment represents a doubling of total sales completions. The problem is definitely not a trivial one.
The other concern is that little can be done to change or improve the shopping cart buying experience to increase the sales completion percentage. That fear is without foundation. The good news is that many low cost and highly effective improvements can be made to an e-commerce site to enhance the level of sales completion.
The techniques might not represent huge changes individually, but when taken together they can double or even triple the total sales volume of an online business. Each improvement represents a slight incremental increase in sales transaction completion. As each technique saves another sale from abandonment, the effect on the business bottom line becomes very noticeable.
Perhaps it’s time to take the lowly shopping cart a bit more seriously after all.
Many e-commerce site shopping carts are not very easy to use. Completing a buying transaction is often a slow, complicated, and entirely illogical process. Only the most determined customers stay with the process to the very end. Unfortunately, the determined ones are in the minority. Those potential buyers who got lost, or simply gave up, represent revenue that just clicked away to someone else’s site.
Making some easy and low cost improvements to the buying experience in general, and the shopping cart in particular, will pay off handsomely with increased business income.
One of the most obvious shopping cart improvements is to let the customers know, every step of the way, how far along they are in the buying process. Include a progress indicator to prominently display how far along the customer has advanced in the checkout process.
Each step of the way to completion should be clearly numbered. For example, if a customer understands they have reached step three in a five step process, she will be less likely to click away from the purchase. The problem of time concerns and of process length uncertainty are solved, as the buyer knows that only two more steps are required. If a customer knows where they are at all times, the probability of completion improves.
It’s important for the user to know when and where to click and advance to the next step in the process. Be sure to include a “Next Step” button, or a “Continue With Checkout” button on each page, where they can easily be seen. Be very careful to widely separate the “Remove From Cart” button from the “Continue” button to prevent clicking the wrong one, causing a full or partial emptying of the cart. Such problems of use will almost certainly cause immediate cart abandonment from frustration.
Adding to, changing, or removing articles from the shopping cart should be made as easy as possible. For articles available in different colors, sizes, or with any other options, the ability to make changes is especially important.
Be sure to include a link back to the product being purchased. Many customers are uncertain if the often complicated product number is the correct one. Linking the catalogue number back to the product page reassures the buyer that the entered product code matched the desired purchase. Simply knowing that the right item was entered into the order form will reassure the customer.
Adding a thumbnail image of the product to the shopping basket will also improve the rate of completion. While in the middle of the buying process, the potential purchaser has another opportunity to see the product and visualize ownership. The availability of product photos is a powerful completion tool for all shopping carts.
All too often, products are not easy to buy. At first glance, the process would be a simple one, but there are many types of customers, often with widely different needs and requirements. Helping the user to make the right choices often involves listening to their personal preferences.
Provide more than one payment option. Not every customer has credit cards, and many people are very reluctant to provide their credit card information over the Internet. Provide a toll free telephone number or a fax number where the information can be sent without being entered online. The choices of using voice or fax for payment information should be made readily available and easy to find on every checkout page.
New visitors and first time buyers require special care and ease of purchase. Don’t create difficult registration and log-in requirements. Those procedures will only serve to drive customers away. Offline brick and mortar businesses don’t usually require lengthy registrations or log-ins for their customers, and neither should an online business. Difficult systems create an impression that the customer is not to be trusted. Indeed, the customer is more likely to mistrust the Internet business itself.
If your checkout accepts discount and coupon codes, make sure that a clearly marked box is available, or a specially noted line on the order form is easy to use. User errors should be easily corrected without loss of data, and the box must be well highlighted to avoid being overlooked by users.
Don’t forget to cross sell and offer more available options and choices to purchasers. Such offers are not usually viewed as intrusive, but are often seen as adding convenience. Think of the shoe store offering shoe polish or extra shoelaces to purchasers. Offering additional options works well, as many purchasers neglect to add them all into their order form. A handy reminder, built right into the shopping cart order form, will help to assure a satisfied customer.
As an online business, lacking the face to face advantages offered to brick and mortar companies, it’s essential for the e-commerce business to develop trust in the retailer and customer relationship.
Always make certain that company contact information is readily available, by phone, fax, e-mail, and the postal service. Strong customer service and quick response to questions and concerns will help to ensure current and future sales. Contact information should be clearly marked on every checkout page.
A good idea is to not hide unpleasantries. Be upfront about any additional shipping and handling charges very early in the buying experience. Customers want to know the total purchase price in advance, and will not appreciate an unpleasant surprise near the end of the process. Few things contribute as much to high abandonment rates as failure to inform the customer of additional charges.
Provide a reasonable time for the customer to expect delivery, and beat that date by as much time as possible. The customer will appreciate the unexpected early delivery. The methods of shipment should be clearly marked, along with the charges, right on the order form. Offer more than one means of shipment, as many people have distinct preferences.
If billing and shipping addresses are the same, provide a check box to save the customer from providing the same information twice. The gesture will be appreciated. If any information is missing, provide a useful and easy to follow return page that asks for a specific piece of information. Don’t make the buyer fill out an entire form all over again.
If one of your products is temporarily out of stock, be certain to inform the potential purchaser of that fact. If possible, provide a date when the product will return to the sales inventory. As with shipping, providing expected times enhances sales.
Along with the usual credit card payments, offer customers the choice of PayPal, checks, or money orders. Debit card payments are also becoming popular for online purchases. Don’t limit your customers. Help them to buy from you.
Offer a guarantee. If a customer is not satisfied, offer to accept a return of the merchandise and provide a full refund. Offering a “lowest price guarantee” is another option. While a few people will attempt to cheat your system, the vastly increased number of sales, directly resulting from the guarantee, will more than offset that small loss.
Offer an exit survey to customers who still choose to abandon your shopping cart. The feedback and reasons for the abandonment, provided by the dissatisfied customers, will help to improve the system.
Test the system for usability. Bring in several people to test the checkout procedure. Have them go through a product buy for you, and keep careful notes of their steps. Their actions and choices might be entirely different from what was envisioned in the design. Test and retest changes until the shopping cart checkout system is operating smoothly; and then test some more.
Shopping cart abandonment is a widespread problem, faced by many e-commerce companies.
By closely examining your checkout procedures, and making changes where needed, you can vastly improve your sales completion percentage.
Don’t let shopping cart abandonment happen to you, and your Internet business.
Stop shopping cart abandonment today.