Imagine an athlete who trains round the clock every single day for four years and then right on the first day of the Olympics breaks her leg and is forced to sit out the greatest sporting competition on earth. Now multiply that by three and you realize how it feels when a user who has been identified, prepped and coaxed into visiting your site arrives on your site, browses for a few minutes and simply clicks away.
I know I’m being a tad dramatic. But it’s only a tad. Every e-commerce business spends nearly all their marketing budgets and resources on getting more users and getting them to buy more. An incomplete checkout or an abandoned cart is not too far from that athlete’s Olympic leg fracture. And the bad news is that trillions of dollars’ worth of goods just get left behind in ignored shopping carts – the ghosts of lost e-commerce potential.
The biggest fix for this chronic pain point is checkout optimization. Yes, we have talked about checkout optimization before. But the more time I spend online on different e-commerce sites; the more compelled I become to do something about the terrible, terrible checkout designs so many online retailers resort to.
Somebody has to stop them. I nominate me. So here goes.
Keep it simple, silly.
That’s the first and foremost rule of checkout design. The more bells and whistles you tag on to a checkout process, the more distracted your user gets and higher are your chances of a drop off midway through your checkout.
According to the data above from Smashing Magazine, the usability of a checkout process drops sharply with every increasing step that you tack on to it. Beyond eight steps, the user friendliness actually declines making these ripe candidates for abandoned shopping carts.
A good option to reduce drop offs is to create a one-page checkout process as against the standard multi-page processes. This one page checkout will ideally combine all the various stages of an e-commerce checkout like picking the items and their quantities, personal information, payment and shipping information etc.
Panic makes users complete their transactions in a single flourish by combining the three key sections of a checkout process into one seamless page.
2. Users are Impatient, Easily Distracted. Tackle these Hurdles.
Anyone who has shopped online will testify to how tempting it is to peek at a bunch of different sites at the same time. I won’t hold this against users, as it is in the very nature of the internet to keep things free and transparent. So how do you ensure that the fickleness that comes with the territory does not translate into dismal checkout conversions for your e-commerce site?
Well, play into the foibles of your audience and feed their impatience. A progress bar located at the top of your checkout process tells your shoppers exactly how many steps they can expect ahead and how close they are to completing the transaction.
Crate and Barrel has a clear numbered progress bar that staves off impatience in shoppers
The more clarity you offer your shopper, the lower are his chances of quitting and moving on from your site.
Another key feature of a checkout process that holds on to users like a magnet is a self-contained checkout design. With a checkout process that is clearly cordoned off from the rest of the site, the users have minimal distractions to pull them away from completing the transaction.
With an enclosed and minimal checkout process like the one above from Under Armor, the user has no other temptations to tear them away.
An oft-irritating hurdle that too many e-commerce sites build into their checkout process is the need to compulsorily register with the site in order to make a purchase. This is a little like saying you need to first plant a few bushes before you can stroll through a garden. While getting users to register with your site does have its merits from a long term relationship building perspective, enforcing it at the time of purchase is a risk you ought not to take. Leave absurd ideas like these behind with the option of a guest checkout like the one from Crate & Barrel below.
This checkout model meets a happy compromise of guest checkout and user registration by offering the user both options side by side. No prizes for guessing which the more frictionless choice is.
3. Money Matters. Flexibility Matters Even More With Money
How people spend on your site as well as how much they spend on it both have a lot to do with your attitude towards pricing and payment mechanisms.
A large majority of e-commerce sites show only the listed price of the item that a customer selects in the checkout section. It’s only when the user reaches the final payments section of the checkout process that a load of ancillary fees get tagged on to the original list price of the item. These ancillary prices include service charge, service tax, VAT, shipping charges and so on. The result? The final price the user ends up paying becomes almost 25-30% higher than what he originally saw. That’s an immediate trust breaker, right there.
Invest in transparency in your pricing across the site. As far as possible, show all inclusive pricing up front to avoid giving the user a nasty shock at the time of payment.
Men’s formal wear retailer Haggar Clothing does a great job of showing a clear break up of each and every cost associated with the purchase even before the checkout process starts.
Once inside the checkout section, the pricing does not vanish. It remains clearly visible with the amounts getting updated automatically to match any change in the cart items.
The information that Haggar provides regarding shipping costs, is a smart touch. It is estimated that close to 30% of users will simply drop off the checkout process when faced with unexpected shipping costs. Good save there, Haggar!
Take a look at some more ways to minimize drop-offs due to shipping concerns, while we’re on the subject.
Identifying the geographical location of a user is easier than pie these days. And yet, there are thousands of e-commerce sites out there that will only show prices in their home currency, irrespective of where a user logs in from.
Avoid this fundamental tactical error by offering prices in the local currency of your user. Most well-designed shopping carts, including ShopIntegrator can detect the user’s IP address and serve up prices as well as site content based on the user’s location. If your site is unable to automatically identify the country where the user logs in from, at least ask the user to choose their location from a drop down list of countries and set your site currency accordingly. Not only does this make for a frictionless user experience, with exchange rate calculations out of the picture, your users now have a higher chance of converting.
Payment flexibility is the final cog in the wheel of your monetary transactions with your users. The more payment options you allow your users, the easier it becomes for them to buy from you. Go beyond the regular debit and credit cards to offer users the chance of paying through unconventional methods like mobile wallets, PayPal or even Bitcoin; which safeguard the security of the user’s payment details much better than other methods.
4. Never Say ‘No Looking Back’
If there’s one advantage that the virtual world has over the real world, it is the ease with which one can ‘undo’ our actions compared to the real world. Imagine sending out a press release to your PR agency with the name of your product spelt wrongly. An email send-out can be rectified within minutes by correcting the name and emailing the respective people right away. On the other hand a press release that has been hand delivered or sent out via snail mail will take a minimum of 24 hours before any corrections can be made.
Allow your users this same luxury by allowing them to edit their cart at any time during the checkout process. The ability to modify quantities, colors or sizes at will without losing the data entered so far, makes the likelihood of the user getting frustrated and leaving your page extremely low.
If editing shopping carts is good enough for Amazon, it’s definitely something you ought to consider!
A corollary to the ability to edit carts, it the ability to retrieve an abandoned shopping cart within a certain number of days. This feature is called a persistent shopping cart, where an e-commerce site saves users’ session details and cart contents for a pre-decided period of one week or one month. This saved data allows users who dropped off on an earlier transaction to pick up right where they left off, thus avoiding a complete loss of your marketing efforts.
While a persistent shopping cart may not be a contributing factor to conversions during a user’s first visit to your site, it definitely aids conversions on their subsequent visits to the site.
Sometimes even the savviest online shoppers get bamboozled about specific items that they have their eye on online. While some people have no worries simply dropping an email or calling the customer care department to clarify any shopping related query, users who are first-timers or are flight risks in general are relieved to have someone they can speak to immediately and fix the problems right away.
For such cases and more, offer your users checkout assistance in the form of a Live Chat plugin. Customer care representatives can walk through the entire process step by step, thus helping the cause of the website owner spectacularly well.
Users who leave your site due to a payment failure or some other frustrating quirk can also be recovered by an instant call back mechanism to the user in question. Remembering the users’ login credentials for their next visit makes the process even smoother and helps grow the conversions even on subsequent visits.
5. Abandoned Cart Emails
Despite the best efforts by my team and me, not a single day goes by when we don’t join the ranks of the rest of the e-commerce world and suffer from abandoned shopping carts. But unlike a large portion of the e-commerce sites in the country, we don’t take the abandonment lying down. We give chase and pursue the user like a spurned lover in an attempt to remind them of our services and the items they left beyond in their cart.
An abandoned cart email does not have to be very fancy. Even a simple standard template with placeholders for the items still inside the user’s abandoned cart will work wonders. Just remember to include the following key pointers in every abandoned cart email
- A personalized greeting such as, “Hi Jack!”
- A snapshot of the items in the original shopping cart
- Pricing details
- A sense of urgency by reminding users that the abandoned cart will remain active only for a pre-decided duration
- A Clear Call to Action
What Do You Think?
I realize that I have rambled on about my own checkout conversion optimization methods. Are there any different methods that you employ to prevent users from moving on to your competition? Let’s hear it from you in the comments below right here!