The Impact of Shipping Methods and Policies on Conversions

Shipping methods and policies can have significant, measurable effects on ecommerce conversions. Design and site architecture tend to get more attention. But if you only change one thing about your ecommerce business, shipping could be the game changer.

Here are the top methods to drive conversions with the right shipping methods.

Free Shipping

Free shipping is one of the most effective ways to bump conversions. People really like free shipping, and it’s increasingly regarded as normal to offer it as stores get wise to how effective it is.

Free shipping sits at the point where our love of free things intersects with our dislike of additional charges. Psychologically, if we’re not expecting to pay for shipping (as online shoppers increasingly aren’t), we’ll experience shipping fees as a loss, and we all know how loss-averse customers are. If we’re offered free shipping, we’ll experience it as added value.

Free shipping eliminates one of the biggest hurdles in the ecommerce payment process. Asking people to pay is the hardest part of sales: without free shipping, you get customers over that hurdle – then immediately ask them to pay again. And you lose up to half of them doing it!

How to Implement Free Shipping

Time limit: Free shipping time limits are really effective. Offer a countdown to buy and qualify for free shipping: urgency is a powerful tool to trigger conversions by overcoming buyer procrastination.

Purchase cutoff: More than three quarters of shoppers have added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping. Lots of stores use a free shipping cutoff: Amazon offers free delivery on orders over $35 or small items, while JCrew uses intermittent free shipping on orders over a certain amount as a limited-time, urgency-triggering promo:

How to Implement Free Shipping
Free all the time: Bundling free shipping with everything all the time can be expensive, but it’s what customers say they want: most would prefer free shipping to a discount that’s actually worth more. There are ways to spread the hit, essentially by building shipping costs into product pricing. If there’s no way for you to do this try offering a flat shipping rate, or selectively bundling shipping costs with your least price-sensitive products while leaving the others unaffected. And remember free shipping drives conversions, so it should pay for itself in increased sales revenue

Shipping Time

Customers are extremely sensitive to shipping time, even when shipping is free. Shorter shipping times are perceived as a good, below a calendar week which is seen by most customers as a baseline.

Shipping time is perceived by customers as waiting, and as humans we are seriously averse to waiting. So offering shorter shipping times as a premium good has been done ever since there were two classes of postage stamp. E-tailers can leverage this to drive conversions.

  • 63% of consumers say it’s important that e-tailers provide estimated delivery times – the earlier the better in the checkout process.
  • 67% of shoppers want to be offered an expedited shipping service for an additional fee, but only about 16% of them will use it; 78% will use the standard shipping model.
  • 43% of shoppers have abandoned carts because of excessive delivery time.
  • 50% of online shoppers think tracking services ‘essential’ – and 71% prefer email notifications.

Shipping time intersects with free shipping: people will willingly wait longer for free shipping, but some will willingly pay extra for faster shipping. And even when they don’t plan to use it, customers want to be offered expedited shipping. They also massively prefer tracked shipping with notifications.

How to Leverage Shipping Time

Options: Customers like to be given choices. ASOS do this very well:

How to Leverage Shipping Time
Detail is important, and so is clearly stated value. ASOS win at this by showing exactly what each shipping option means to the customer, with crucial information bolded, and everything laid out simply.

Urgency: How can you make shipping times more urgent? By making them more concrete. Amazon does this well. Making the delivery date specific – ‘want it Monday, August 31?’ makes two-day delivery immediate, stating the benefit rather than the feature. Adding a countdown timer to qualify for two-day shipping drives urgency further.

Urgent shipping timesClarity: Customers prefer being told shipping options in detail, as early as possible and very clearly. Finding out they’ll have to wait ten days or more for their item could trigger abandonment! Popular methods of providing clarity are:

  • Flat rate shipping. Charging one flat rate for all shipping reduces friction and can be bundled with product prices the same way as free shipping, while letting you use free and expedited shipping as two contrasted ways of delivering additional shipping value.
  • Real time carrier times and rates. Link customers directly into carriers’ own offerings, generating trust and giving customers as much control as possible.

Tracking: Customers like tracking. Waiting for something indeterminate feels longer than waiting for something definite, so to provide a better customer experience offer detailed tracking, preferably via email. If you want to move to one of the high-accuracy granular tracking services now available that allow customers to track the van their product is in and offer half-hour delivery windows, be aware that the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out yet: early-adopt at your peril, but we’ll all be using those services soon.

Carrier

Choosing the right carrier can make a world of difference to your shipping. People often strongly identify certain carriers with reliability and will perceive your association with that carrier as a reflection of your own trustworthiness. Knowing exactly who will be handling their packages gives customers an extra layer of control too.

Leverage carrier choice

Carriers differ markedly in the way they approach their provisions.

What do the options look like?

USPS: Use set pricing for all their services, so what you see is what you get. A good choice if your products are mostly small – it’s far and away the cheapest option for items under 13 ounces in the USA. See their business shipping kit request form here. Customers can track their order on the USPS website. However, USPS has a bad reputation for reliability with consumers – the ‘lazy USPS guy’ who leaves the ‘you were out when we called’ note without even knocking is not a myth, sadly, and many packages used to arrive in pretty poor shape too. The company has made big improvements over the last four years but will your customers believe that?

FedEx: Their expedited 2-day service can be pricey but ground shipping rates compare well with USPS on larger items. You can qualify for online discounts simply by setting up an account. FedEx apply a range of surcharges depending on location, fuel costs and other factors, including residential delivery and Saturday delivery. That means it’s harder to offer flat-rate shipping, and you can wind up paying far more than the basic price to get your products to your customers on time. If you ship high volumes daily this is less of a problem. To find out more, visit FedEx Small Business Center.

DHL: Also use a surcharge system. Customers can track their order on the company website. One of the most innovative carriers – it’s working on an app to deliver to parked cars! – has a strong international presence so if you deliver to Europe and China, German-based DHL are definitely worth a look.

UPS: The biggest carrier in ecommerce. Very good ground shipping rates for packages around the 2lb mark help explain that – free shipping on midsize items is easier to arrange on those terms. They use a surcharge system just like everyone except USPS and there’s no free package pickup service. The other key to their success is that they take delivery reliability extremely seriously and seldom deliver inaccurately or late. To get a good result from UPS it’s essential to ‘build’ your own rates via the company’s Account Manager based on your delivery volume. To find out more, check out UPS Small Business Solutions.

Strategies:

  • Offer customers real-time carrier rates to demonstrate transparency and empower the consumer. The downside? Too many options cause ‘paralysis by analysis’ and consumers click away, abandoning the cart!
  • Select one carrier and get the best out of that carrier, building their pricing into yours ‘invisibly’ and offering free shipping for most products.
  • Use an app like ShipRobot, ShipStation or Shippo to handle shipping for you.

Returns

ReturnsReturns are important for online shoppers who can’t touch the products they’re buying. For those who worry their product might be delivered damaged or inaccurately, or who feel less secure because they’re not dealing directly with an individual person, it’s an additional layer of security.

  • 82% of ecommerce customers want to know returns will be easy.
  • Free returns can result in a 357% increase in consumer spending.
  • 20% of all items bought online are returned – and in 65% or more cases it’s the merchant or carrier’s fault, not the customer’s.
  • 41% of shoppers will make an impulse purchase if free returns are offered.
  • 48% of returned purchases are returned free.
  • 92% of online shoppers will shop again at a store with an easy returns policy.

Returns are clearly important to consumers. Why? They’re buying products they can’t touch and they have to rely on your measurements, your pictures and your product descriptions to know what they’re paying for. That creates insecurity – and people don’t want to buy from a store that ‘will let them fail,’ in the words of Dr Amanda Bower, professor of business administration and marketing at Washington and Lee University.

Speaking to NBC News, Dr Bower explains: ‘Consumers are not weighing fair versus unfair. They’re thinking, “It costs me $7 to get it here, $7 to get it back to you, I’ve just paid $14 for the privilege of finding out your stuff doesn’t work for me. And I don’t want to do that again.”’

How to leverage returns

The most effective returns policy is also the simplest: offer free, any-reason returns within 28 days. Opting for free returns, as we’ve seen, shoots consumer spending through the roof. Gains far outweigh expenses. There’s a psychological factor too: before the customer buys, the idea of committing to purchase is psychologically daunting.

The Takeaway

Free shipping and free returns are the best investments you can make in shipping for conversions. Keep all the information about shipping – time, carrier, tracking, price – clear at every step to increase conversions.

Make that purchase commitment-free, by offering free returns, and the customer is more likely to buy. But once they have the product, will they return it? “Probably not,” says Shopify’s Mark MacDonald, “they’re already committed.”

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7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.

Conclusion

We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

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10 Tips To Boost Revenue With Upsell And Cross Sell

Broadly speaking both upselling and cross-selling deliver the same effect i.e. increased profit.

Generally people require a genuine second person review or suggestion while shopping. And what if the seller himself performs this, in that case the customer would want to entrust even his future shopping assignments to him. A website cannot manifest a human touch, but if a site escorts a customer in his online shopping journey it would profit both sides.

And hence the entire objective of this operation should not just be manifold profit but to make the user’s experience expedient and comfortable.

To understand it better let’s take an illustration: Recommending accessories to pair up with your jeans might not just help you earn more profit by selling more products to the same customer. It will also resolve few hassles in advance which would spring up in the future.

10 Tips To Boost Revenue With Upsell And Cross Sell

What is Upselling?

Upselling is inducing a customer to purchase a product for which he had not shown any prior buying inclination. However it should not be taken as needless buying. As sometimes consumers do have a need which they do not acknowledge until they are made to.

You can upsell anything – a product, a service or an extended warranty contract (Terms and conditions as they are mostly provided in case of automobiles and electronic goods – it is nothing but an advanced coverage for repairs and periodic service).

Example: Amazon.com. Their persuasive course doesn’t end on completion of a purchase, it actually starts there. And it comprises regular mails with alluring offers and product images to customers. As the customers have already established a trade relation, making a new purchase all the more smooth (only if they had a positive experience).

Companies into direct retail associate bonuses with upselling and cross selling to employees in order to increase their revenue margins.

A few upsell tips that will swell your revenue figures

  1. A high end product which gets rejected for its high pricing can fetch a profitable sale if well promoted. The basic trick to upsell is learning about your customer and his background. This will help you figure out the utility-void for your product. If a customer comes looking for a smartphone and you suggest him a television, this foolhardy would not just irritate the customer but demonstrate ruthlessness at the same time. And this will also impact customer’s perception of your brand. A brand that is just bent upon selling products irrespective of its applicableness to the person concerned holds less value. And it would rarely bother about customer concerns after the sale is completed.  On the contrary a brand that takes account of customer clicks and search criteria before making a recommendation is perceived to be smart and stands to gain on account of relevant suggestions. Additionally, knowing customers purpose behind the buying decision will enable you to make more helping recommendations.
  2. Do not spin the customer amongst pages. Most of the time customers compare products before buying, and comparison rule implies that comparable products with their specifications share the same screen space. Therefore a customer should be provisioned to view other products alongside his current selection. And this can be worked up by presenting other products from the same category on the same page. Insert either a horizontal or vertical frame to carouse similar products without losing the sight of the selected product.
  3. Your suggestion frame should neither be flashy to project a nasty objective nor impede the current selection process. There can be two ways to go about it:

    1. Keep product suggestions at the bottom of the page (above the footer). Here the frame is noticeable even at a glance and at the same time does not obstruct a user in his selection process.
    2. Place the product recommendation after the first conversion step, which happens to be before cart confirmation. This would ensure the first sale and give user a last moment insight into other product range offered.

  4. Ecommerce sites usually suggest similar complimentary product options from different brands, that customer did not know existed. Nobody has the time to run over the entire product range displayed by a website. A customer always trims the product list according to his preference criteria. A productive way of recommending products would be – Displaying only the products that fulfill the chosen criteria and explicitly mention it in words. For example if a person comes looking for smartphones having 13 megapixel primary camera.  Additional product recommendations to him should be made based on the same criteria and be worded so – “Other smartphones having 13 mp camera”.
  5. Lastly, the only way to convince a customer for buying a more expensive product over his selection is by proving higher returns of the product. Invade the customer’s qualm about durability; nobody would want to buy a product that is irreparable and high maintenance. A refrigerator which is higher in cost but consumes less power being eco-friendly will fetch more savings in the long run than its economic counterpart. Effectively conveying this message to the consumer will coerce him into buying a product that is heavy on the pocket now but will alleviate the burden later. Such deals benefit both the vendor and customer, provided you deliver what you guarantee.

What is Cross selling?

A man goes to a restaurant for lunch. After noting the order waitress asks him politely “Sir would you like to have something to drink with it, we have some fresh seasonal juice you will like”. Cross selling is nothing but proposing additional products from different categories to the customer to up your sale amount.

Effective tips to smartly implement cross selling

  1. Couple one product to another for making more sales; most cosmetic companies cross sell using this criteria. A consumer intending to buy a hair shampoo is sold an after-shampoo conditioner emphasizing the need to condition hair after washing them. And since washing is a regular routine activity people do, the profit margin doubles for the manufacturer and retailer.
  2. There is a new product people are not aware about. Unless marketed people will never come to know about it. Simply asking the people to buy a new product is not enough for cracking a sale. It requires attractive embellishment to draw visitor attention. For this you can ascribe eye catching discounts to such products. This will fetch it sufficient recognition nearing purchase. You must have seen retail stores flaunting “Buy two and get 40% off”; clubbing discounts can also earn you more. And you can extend it to varied product quantities to provide an offer for everyone. Godfather’s famous lines “Make them an offer they cannot refuse” make the most sense when it comes to devising discount schemes. Various kinds of people visit online stores, some are thrifty while some are ready to spend lavishly. And then there are those that carry a flexible budget, and are ready to stretch it if they are getting a good deal. Consider all these types of people when you plan out your discount options.
    Overstock
  3. The recommendations you make should be well within the confines of relevance. The products could be from different categories but complementing the selection. If customer adds a pair of formal shoes to his shopping cart he might require extra laces, a shoe polish, or insoles. Suggesting such items which don’t literally but superficially fall into the category will induce the customer to add more stuff into the shopping cart to pair up with his purchase.
    Amazon
  4. This is possible when all the products follow at least 2-3 level categorizations. A high level view may categorize a shoe into footwear category, but it can be broadly classified into Men and Women’s shoe category, going further this shoe can fall into a formal or a casual shoe category. Therefore a detailed categorization of all the products that encompass your range should be done. So that the algorithms that regulate product displays on the webpage are fed in advance. And hence whenever customer selects a product, algorithm picks recommendatory products from its sub-categories. On the other hand, another retailer Costco.com posts other product recommendations based on previous user searches.
    level categorizations
  5. Never team a cross-sell that costs higher than the original selection. Probability of it being selected is dim. If customer takes a leap to buy an extra commodity, it should be well within his buying budget. And that budget is definitely not double the price of his purchase. In fact it approximates to 25% of the initial product price. Recommendations that bear a small price tag stand a chance in the shopping cart, as accommodating them does not distinctly inflate the cart amount. If you are suggesting accessories make sure they are not expensive enough to scare a user away as this might lead to cart abandonment, especially if the customer finds a similar pair at lesser price on another store. Although this might require you to apply more than one algorithms and a strong knowledgeable staff at the backside for suggesting relevant product. Price is the most important criteria that influence buying decisions.
  6. Bundle up free delivery with carts exceeding a particular amount. Sometimes paying for the delivery takes a toll on customers, which causes them to shrink their cart total. Incentivizing their purchase order by free shipping can relieve them of the pressure and induce them to increase their purchase limit. Just to waive off the shipping costs, sometimes friends join their wish lists and make a single bill. This can also be done by clubbing products from the same retailer. This would not just ease off the shipping issues, but will also smooth the return and exchange process.

Track the progress of every marketing campaign after its implementation. Conduct webpage analysis to monitor the most frequented area of the page, keywords, etc. If your strategy combines both cross sell and up sell techniques, it would be tough to identify which technique generated more sales. If you contemplate the outcome based on user clicks, there could be many unknown factors that influenced the result. Maybe the customer just clicked to check product specifications or maybe it was a joint order by two people.

Often retailer use an amalgamation of Cross selling and Upselling, adopting any one of the two will be losing a revenue opportunity. Well this also depends on your articulation at these coercive techniques. Ultimately the intention is to maximize profit margins.

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9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store

9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store
Trades and businesses flourish on trustworthiness be it B2B or B2C. Customer confidence and credibility are not acquired overnight; it takes consistent perseverant years of service to appease your customers and flag out your name.

Ensure your business entails all those ingredients that engender trust in your brand. Drawn from my experience as a consumer and marketer I share 9 upshots that will help you construct a trustworthy online store.

1. Fathom audience needs

Let your audience propensity take the center stage position in web store design. Site’s interface and interaction should orbit around visitor behavior – the navigation styles they prefer, shopping cart features that delight them, designs that instill confidence, page clicks and duration of visits. Audiences must perpetually feel elated coming to your site. Their interaction with the site should generate trust that eventually translates into revenue. And to attain this even if you have to inject bespoke elements into the foyer of site development, don’t dither. As a rule consumers share a fascination for extensive product information. Serving extra details on your store can take you extra miles in spawning customer’s interest for your site.

Another unspoken expectation from your website is effortless accessibility. It should have clear navigation links and an in place search functionality. Carousel format to showcase products is an intelligible method. Besides drawing user attention to product this style enables visual perception to grasp other recommended products with equal concentration.

2. Carefully word your sale

Never in your marketing campaigns criticize a competitor. Your ethics and values are substantially important in carving your image amidst customers. People don’t via for brands that demonstrate a callous image. Condemning other brands can be perceived as your brands incompetence.

Another way is to support social causes to enjoin your establishment with society’s concern. You can integrate some cause marketing program with your campaign. Toms Marketplace is one such eCommerce site that has enjoined diverse humane causes to every product purchase. The site navigation is clean and versatile to the extent that shoppers can make purchases affiliating to a cause of their choice through ‘Shop by Cause’ option.

Carefully word your sale
Your brand projects a personality. You need to get it just right enough to strike a chord at the right place; neither a subdued design nor a flashy one can make a mark. Unless you merchandise children’s items don’t select comic sans font. A font that matches your genre compliments your motive. Not all customers are discrete about a site’s appeal, but readability matters to everyone.

Every copy that floats on web needs to be exhaustively proofread, because a single grammatical glitch or an overlooked spell error can mortify you in front of your customers. And mind you, such lapses are not expected of responsible firms.

Few sites even sport user testimonials, popular magazine reviews and followership counts to trumpet their renown. And this is by no way against the rules. In fact fusing your social presence with the site will unlock the gates for traffic coming from social media. This idea provides us cues on significance of user reviews in shaping consumer confidence. As the customers get a real life account of products from people who have already used your services, their decision making is facilitated.

3. Product quality makes a difference

In a retail business, nothing except a good quality product holds the power to gratify consumers. Delivering what you promise begets trust in return. Although seasonal sales witness intensified conversions due to price disruptions, but this revenue upsurge mostly confines to discount periods and does not sustain longer. Apart from price cut another reason being the inferior quality of products that do not deliver their value for money. If you sell low quality products to get rid of that old inventory however much you succeed in disburdening yourself, you will end up disappointing a loyal customer, who will never contemplate returning to your site again. State honest product grade information on your site; refrain from deceiving tactics of optimizing products appearance by visual effects. Even sharing user reviews alongside products will be useful in purchase decisions. Some sites also use rating algorithms instead of direct user feedbacks.

Just like the neighbors in your new neighborhood coming to your home, people coming to your site for the first time are unmindful of your strengths. Acquaint them to your flagship products, latest stock additions and discount schemes. Moreover tool tip and field level response messages in forms also boost the user experience on site.

Sometimes people explore online stores with a specific product image in mind, but are not always fortunate to find it. And this inability can greatly benefit your competitors who are just an opportunity away to grab your customers. To avert customers’ migration plans to another site, register their item requests, this would also demonstrate your responsiveness towards needs of a customer.

4. About Us Page

Apparently people who desire to trade with you would want to know about your existence so far and the need that drove you to launch this venture. How long have you been in this business makes a difference when it comes to making buying decisions. People comfortably relate to long-standing brands compared to newbies. Old brands boast of their experience by mentioning their age in their taglines. For example, a popular tomato ketchup brand projects its age of establishment in the logo.

About Us Page

Further, a map showing your company’s geographic location also adds to your credibility certifying your existence. Also include a small contact-us section in your site. Allowing the customers to communicate with you manifests your accountability.

5. Managing product returns

The only spot where online retail lags behind a physical sale is the absence of a physical handshake. Here the trading parties cannot see each other face-to-face, which is a primary aspect of any relationship. But this deficiency can be overcome by modestly serving your customers. While bargain and negotiation cannot be allowed here implementing an exchange and return functionality can do the needful.

A clean trade policy endorses product exchange as an instrument to channel customer trust. Retailers with a friendly retail policy find themselves in consumer’s good books. However difficult it might be to manage returns, this encourages customers to connect with you often. In fact consumer behavior surveys predict consumers select sites with smooth return policy over sites providing higher discount margins. Therefore employing a convenient return of goods policy will win you loyal customers.

6. Be neat with money

Money is a crucial trust determining factor in trade relations. Quote clear prices. Use legible font size and style in displaying numbers. Coming to financial transactions, adoption of a transparent policy as far as product pricing is concerned wins you customer adulations. All the payment steps should furnish appropriate messages to prevent checkout errors.

Sites that ascribe hidden charges into customer bills lose out on customers, eventually falling into oblivion within a span of years. Throwing surprise charges at customers on grounds of shipping costs leads to cart abandonment in future. In fact moving a step ahead in this direction¬ – sites should show an upfront cost bifurcation chart displaying product charges, delivery charges, warranty charges, etc. before urging the customer for payments.

Be neat with money

The best way to cater a large number of buyers is to include varied price range products in your stores. Selling only expensive products may not get you those thrifty shoppers which throng e-stores initially to window shop but encountering a modestly priced commodity, end up buying. Ensure a certified shopping cart transaction that maintains customers’ data privacy. Also provide multiple payment options.

7. Offer detailed product information

There is no exception to people wanting value for money from their purchases. This is the reason people surf more than one eCommerce site before making that purchase. Comparisons are an essential ingredient of purchase decision. Rather than customer opening multiple tabs to compare, it would be very cooperative of the eCommerce site to incorporate product comparisons on the same page.

Offer detailed product information

Comparisons can only transpire between similar objects who have furnished similar information. For instance a consumer looking for 15’ laptop screen will compare only those products who have furnished their screen width. Products that reveal incomplete information stand to lose in competition.

Let the images be shot in-house rather than an online purchased image of the same product. Include real life images into your site that speak of your work culture and people behind the scenes that they could see and believe.

8. Allow a product search feature

Not finding what they want users leave the site and move ahead, but worse is when the product exists on the site, and the customer was unable to locate it. To bring the product to customers table equip your website with a notable search box (preferably at the top of the webpage). A search function brings the required product to users table. E-commerce websites enclose multiple commodities which are spread across numerous pages, scanning all those pages to find one particular product is impractical and time consuming.

There exist two types of search functions: 1. Simple Search and 2. Advanced Search.

Simple Search: Basic search functionality can serve your purpose if you are unable to provide an advanced level search. This type of search is ideally suited for sites that sell lesser items with less variety.

Advanced Search: E-commerce giants like Amazon, who sell almost everything from books to automotive parts, use this search type in their apps and websites. As the products range is diverse, for a customer to reach his desired item requires to cross multiple category filters.

A site that adapts itself to consumers and offers maximum convenience enjoys a privileged stature with consumers.

9. Ensure a speedy response

Monitor your website speed incessantly. If the site’s loading time crosses the accepted duration perimeter it makes your website appear flippant. This is almost like going to a shop where the shopkeeper is very slow to respond. What most people will do in such a scenario is move to another nearby store.

This is the first thing visitors notice on your site. Even the site’s look and feel follows next. And due to its high importance, page ranking algorithms take into account a site’s loading speed. Therefore it is advisable to parsimoniously deflate the size and weight of all those components that add to site load and inhibit response time:

1. Use compressed images as far as possible and optimize them before uploading.
2. Style your text using light weight fonts that are less cumbersome on server.
3. Store bulky scripts and stylesheet separately from the webpage. So that every time a page is refreshed, browser doesn’t have to refresh the css and scripts.
4. If you have a large number of visitors thronging your site everyday, using a Content Delivery Network may help you resolve your problem as it allocates the request to users nearest geographical sever location.

Even websites that include plenteous input parameters considerably ruin user experience. A clean and speedy cart checkout which is secure at the same time, leads the user to the end of the conversion funnel.

Finally

Remember, the faith that customers bestow in your store is your ultimate profit. Be true to your word. Speaking alone will not help you will have to deliver to build trust.

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11 Tactics to Improve Checkout Conversions and Reduce Abandoned Carts

11 Tactics to Improve Checkout Conversions and Reduce Abandoned Carts
What’s worse than not getting enough users to your e-commerce site? Losing out the ones that do visit your site thanks to a slew of abandoned shopping carts.

Abandoned shopping carts cost e-commerce companies trillions in lost sales every single year. The fact remains that nearly 69% of all shopping carts are abandoned by would be shoppers. While the reasons for shopping cart abandonment are many and varied, the solution is simple. Think like a customer when building your checkout process. The lower the easier it is to shop on your site, the lower will be the likelihood of vanishing would-be customers. Here are a few tips on getting those users to stick around longer and buy more.

1. Shorter, Quicker Checkout

Going by the attention span figures we saw earlier, another key takeaway is that your checkout process needs to be short and snappy. Research shows that the average number of steps in the checkout process of the top 100 e-commerce sites came in at 5.08 steps. Try and stay under that number – the shorter, the better.

Data proves this. Online travel giant Expedia grew their profits by an incremental $12 million in 2011 by simply deleting one single field in their checkout process. Sounds tempting now, doesn’t it?

2. Allow Guest Checkouts

Among the many reasons that make me such an Amazon junkie, is how much I hate creating a new profile on new e-commerce sites and remember the new username and password for each new site. It’s just easier to stick with the first profile I ever made – my Amazon one. I’m confident there are definitely tons of people like me out there who do not bother shopping on new e-commerce sites for identical reasons.

Don’t let your shoppers’ inherent laziness prevent you from bagging more conversions. Allow users to check out as guests on your site and save them the torture of compulsory registration. You can always email your users an auto-generated password to go with their email ID after they complete the transaction, if you must have a registered account for every user.

3. Collect Only Necessary Data Via Forms

Collect Only Necessary Data Via FormsSome businesses need more user data than others as a matter of fact. Buying an insurance policy online will obviously entail giving a lot more information regarding your health as compared to buying a digital camera. However, many e-commerce businesses do not realize how cumbersome it is for users to provide answers to endless questions on their forms and go ahead with monster sized online forms anyway.

Avoid this fundamental mistake. Ask only for information that is absolutely essential for you to process the transaction. Asking users to part with unnecessary data only makes them part with your site at double speed.

4. Autofill in Forms

Steve Krug’s iconic tome on usability ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, talks about reducing the effort a user needs to put in to complete any task on your website. The lesser the effort needed, the higher are the resulting conversion rates.

Apply Mr. Krug’s advice to your checkout forms. Autofill content wherever possible to make the process quicker and smoother for the user. If the user is signed in, autofill his name, address, phone number, even credit card details if you have them on record. That is not to say that you do not allow users to modify these details for each transaction if they choose so.

5. Checkout Completion Bar

Have you noticed that it is easier to complete tasks when you have the end in sight than those where you have no clue how much more time or effort you’ll need to put in? Yes, the anticipation of a result makes us move quicker and distances seem shorter.

Incorporate a task completion bar near the top of your checkout process indicating the user’s progress. As the user gets closer to completing the purchase, the progress bar lights up accordingly showing the user that the destination is just a step or two away.

6. No Hidden Costs

The single biggest reason why online shoppers abandon their shopping carts is when they are faced with sudden unexpected costs at the payment stage. This could be shipping fees, taxes, services charges or the like that make a user stop short in their tracks.

Avoid unpleasant surprises by displaying clearly all the involved costs upfront within the shopping cart at the very beginning. Leaving a user feeling cheated is the worst thing you can do for your brand.

7. Product Reviews and Ratings

Research by Nielsen has shown that word of mouth advice stands out as the biggest factor that convinces a user to buy a product or service. Buyers tend to believe the words of other buyers like themselves instead of believing the marketing spiel from the brand itself, as they see through the vested interests involved there. Factor in this insight when you design your product pages on your e-commerce site.

Users don’t have the luxury of touch and feel when they buy a product online. All they have to go on are product descriptions from the manufacturer (which they would normally discount) and reviews by other users. A product that has multiple reviews from existing users has a far higher chance of being bought than one that has none. Actively solicit product reviews and ratings from past customers. They will help you reel in new ones in the future.

8. Free Shipping

Free Shipping
E-commerce has a huge edge over brick and mortar stores in that they save on rent, utilities, overheads, warehousing and more, thanks to the absence of a real storefront. Conversely, the absence of a storefront means, users have no choice but to pay extra for shipping the products they buy online to their doorsteps. As a shopper yourself, you obviously know how much any shopper hates paying extra for anything in their purchase process. In fact, expensive shipping is among the biggest reasons for shoppers abandoning their carts before completing a purchase.

Get over this bump by offering your users free shipping wherever you can. Amazon has recently started offering free shipping for small, lightweight items with no minimum purchase requirement. This is a smart step to fend off competition from the online versions of Walmart and Target, which allow users to pick up items bought online from their physical locations for no fee at all. You may not be Amazon, but working out at least a free shipping option above a certain minimum purchase amount will not only benefit users; it will also push your average order value higher as users try and qualify for the free shipping offer.

9. Editable Shopping Cart

How many times have you gone back to the rack where you picked up an item in a store and exchanged it for another one before heading to the cash register? If you’re an indecisive shopper like me, multiple times would be my bet.

Not every shopper knows exactly what they want. Sometimes they’re just browsing and might change their minds halfway through the shopping process. Recognize this fickle nature of the average shopper and allow them to go back and edit the contents of their cart without having to redo the entire purchase from the beginning. A shopping cart that allows edits till right before the payments stage is one that loses much fewer shoppers than one that does not. Opt for the sticky version for your online shopping cart.

10. Multiple Payment Options

Multiple Payment Options
Imagine going into a candy store, picking out your favorite bits of candy, handing over your cash to the nice lady at the register, only to be told that your cash is no good. You need to pay for your candy in cowrie shells.

That’s kind of what happens to a shopper when your online store does not support the payment option that your user would like to use. In spite of wanting to complete the purchase, the user has no choice but to leave their shopping incomplete thanks to restrictive payment conditions. Stop frustrating potential shoppers and extend your payment options to include the most popular payment methods. Not only will your customers thank you for it, your bottom line will too. A shopping cart like ShopIntegrator allows you to offer users a variety of payment options ranging from debit card, credit card, bank transfers to PayPal and offline payments.

11. Security Labels

It is not enough to merely accept a variety of payment options on your website to convince users to buy from you. It’s equally important to assure them of the security of your site and the fact that their payment details and personal information are a 100% safe with you. This has become even more critical in the last few years thanks to all the cases of data theft that have come to light with large retailers like Target and eBay.

Besides displaying your returns and refund policy prominently in your checkout process, also make it a point to display security labels like VeriSign or McAfee Secure on your payments page. Familiar and trusted security symbols reassure users that they are shopping on a safe site and there’s no danger to their financial information. Making sure that your checkout process is hosted on an HTTPS protocol is another important step in this direction.

Conclusion

Improving checkout conversions is not a quick fix that you implement in one go. It’s a process that evolves with your website and changes based on your audience’s preferences. From helping users with live chat to displaying customer care numbers prominently, to even rewarding users for a completed purchase, there are multiple steps that you can take based on your reading of your users’ behavior on your site.

Remember, reducing cart abandonment is no one-size-fits-all formula. Once you get the basics described here in place on your site, incremental growth comes from understanding your users and modifying your approach accordingly.

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15 Tips to Master mCommerce

15 Tips to Master mCommerceThe march of mobile devices on the humble desktop computer has been happening for the last few years. With smartphone penetration now standing at over half the adult population of both the US and the UK, the first world is finally keeping pace with the rapidly ‘mobifying’ developing economies of the world.

The Branding Brand Mobile Commerce Index compares mCommerce figures for January 2015 with those from last year. Desktop revenues fell from 81% to 76% of the total online revenues, while smartphone revenues grew by 50% to account for 12% of total online revenues.

The writing on the wall is clear. Users are shifting to mobile. They’re spending progressively larger amounts of time and money on mobile devices. If businesses plan to remain in business, it follows that they go where the consumers are. Welcome mCommerce.

mCommerce is essentially eCommerce transported to the mobile platform. While the basic idea is the same, the details differ greatly. Here’s a rundown of the top 15 things you need to fix on your website to master your mCommerce plans.

1. Responsive Design

This is the same advice that prescient web gurus have been touting for the last half decade. No, there’s no more debate on whether we need responsive design. We most definitely do. While responsive design is not the only way for your e-commerce site to be mobile friendly, it definitely is the most convenient from a site maintenance and marketing perspective.

Moreover, Google too prefers responsive design over mobile only websites or adaptive designs. When the big G has spoken, how dare we not comply?

2. No Flash

This one’s a no brainer by now. The Apple juggernaut and the ‘flash blindness’ of all its assorted i-devices means that Flash started to fade away from desktop sites over the last few years. The fact that mobile browsing has now overtaken desktop browsing means that the mobile web will have no room for Flash enabled sites.

Steer clear of flash. If you do have to have animation on your mobile site, opt for HTML5 instead.

3. Full featured Site, not ‘Desktop-Lite’

Too many mobile sites that you see are built as a bonus or add-on to the ‘main’ desktop site. The mobile site typically offers access to the key sections of the site, but a large part of the site’s functionality is often restricted on mobile devices.

No more. Stop viewing your mobile sites as ‘good to have’ add-ons. Soon, they’ll be your primary breadwinners. Equip them with the full range of features and functionality that your main site would provide, but remember to keep them light and easy to move around in.

4. Optimize for Search Engines

The largest chunk of users (48%) begin their product research on search engines on their mobile devices. This means all that effort that you’ve been putting in on your website SEO now needs to be doubled and applied to your mobile site as well.

So what if your pages are tiny? Your keywords still matter on mobile. The fact that you have a mobile optimized site goes a long way in helping your mobile SEO. Quality inbound links to your mobile pages help identify your site as authoritative and contributes to a better ranking.

5. Consistent Look and Feel

Consumers are creatures of habit. Once a customer is familiar with your brand or your website, they tend to expect a similar experience each time they visit your site or store. A sudden change in the UX can cause friction in the user’s purchase journey – something that leads to abandoned shopping carts.

Avoid a jarring change in user experience by designing your mobile and desktop sites in a similar style. The colors, layouts, page elements and transitions should be kept consistent to build a strong brand recall across all devices.

6. Short, Prefilled Forms

Mobile devices typically have screens that are too tiny for typing in long bits of data. E-commerce sites are notorious for the umpteen forms that they expect customers to fill out to complete the sale.

Don’t fall prey to this rookie mistake on your mobile site. Keep the forms short and ask for only as much information as you really, truly need. Wherever possible pre-fill forms e.g. state, country or zip code can be pre-filled on mobile using the mobile’s IP address and GPS location tracking.

7. Personalized Content

As mentioned earlier, mobile devices have much smaller screens than laptops or desktops. While personalization is a given for e-commerce sites; your mCommerce site needs the same TLC from a personalization perspective. In fact, offering users suggestions proactively, makes it easier for a user to see and select relevant options for their purchases on mobile.

It’s a well-documented fact that personalization enhances that user’s experience on your site and helps them buy more as well as buy easily. By offering personalized product suggestions on mobile devices, you’re aiding your users’ product search. You’re also sending a gentle reminder that your users’ preferences matter to you and you take the extra effort to show them what you think they’ll like. Double win.

8. Don’t Skimp on Images, but Keep Them Light

As an e-commerce site, product images are a must have on your website. Expecting users to convert without an image is like expecting your dog to recite Shakespeare after he rips a play to pieces. It goes without saying that your mobile site needs those product images just as much as your desktop site does. There’s just one problem.

The better is your image, the higher is the space it will occupy on the server, leading to higher load times. A way out of this conundrum is to use image optimizers that will resize as well as compress images and make them perfect for being shared on your website whether online or on mobile. Don’t penalize your users by costing them extra in data charges with your heavy image files. Keep ‘em light.

9. Large Buttons, More White Space

How many of us have not experienced the frustration of typing stuff into a mobile screen and pushing teeny tiny buttons only to mix them up and have to redo what we were doing all over again? A sizeable number, is my bet. Fat-finger syndrome is quite universal and overcoming it is often a mobile UX designer’s biggest challenge.

Give your users a break from their fat-finger fumblings by offering larger buttons so they don’t push the wrong one. Reduce the clutter on your pages and keep enough breathing room or white space around your main content. This not only helps your main message stand out in a small space, it also makes it easier for users to avoid mistakes when accessing your site.

10. No Sliders

Automated slideshows that showcased a different offer on each slide were all the rage about five years ago. Nearly every website was designed with a slideshow that had at least four different ‘hero banners’ that rotated on a click or automatically. Most took over the lion’s share of the screen above the fold. When websites started being adapted for mobile, the same design carried on to tiny mobile screens.

Imagine trying to click on a banner that’s in constant motion on a tiny screen. Tough. Besides, the sliders were proven to be a bad idea from a conversion perspective even on a desktop site long ago. You don’t want yesterday’s badly performing technology on your spanking new mobile site.

11. No Drop Down Menus

I am going back to the same argument of small screen sizes and fat fingers to justify this one. Drop down menus typically have five or six different navigation options that a user would then have to pick from to proceed on your site. Trouble is, most drop down menus open in a way that not all options are even visible on the mobile screen as they end up below the fold. By scrolling lower, the drop down menu retract into themselves, thus making the task of navigation pretty well frustrating.

Have easily clickable category buttons that drill down deep into sub categories instead of impossible to handle drop down menus.

12. Search

Desktop sites see about 30% of their users heading straight for the search bar to locate what they want on your site. With navigation on mobile sites not really a walk in the park, I’m going to bet that even more users are search buffs on mobile sites than they are on the desktop versions.

Don’t take search away from your mobile experience in a quest to keep the site light and quick to load. Search is an integral component of the online experience. Let’s not spoil it for our users. You may not be able to offer images of searched items on autocomplete, but you definitely can provide a well-designed search function to your mobile audience.

13. Reduce Checkout Steps

The longer your checkout process is, the higher are the chances that a user gets distracted and / or bored and leaves the purchase process. This is true on desktop sites. It’s doubly true for mobile sites. The reason is simple. There are only so many tiny pages your users have the patience to navigate through before they complete the transaction.

The average length of the checkout process across the 100 top grossing websites is 5.08 steps. That’s for desktop checkouts. Try and keep under that number of 5 steps and you’ll be on the right track. If nothing else, take a cue from Amazon. Their one-click shopping patent was way ahead of the times when it was launched and will continue to be the gold standard for e-commerce checkouts at least for the foreseeable future.

14. Save for Later Option

Mobile users spend inordinate amounts of time browsing online via their smartphones. This means, a lot of visits to your site can be mere window shopping, and not visits with a real purchase intent behind them. But hey, that does not mean we waste the visit that a window shopper makes to your site.

Give your window shoppers a reason to come back by offering a ‘save for later’ option on your mobile site. The constant proximity of the mobile phone, the large amounts of time users spend on them, the ease of retrieving a bookmarked item and the speed with which payments can be processed on mobile all come together to make ‘save for later’ fertile grounds for stepping up your conversions.

15. Allow Social Logins

Very few e-commerce sites allow users to make purchases on a consistent basis without creating a user profile. While some force users to create a new user ID before making even their first purchase, most smart sites create an ID for the user themselves after the initial guest purchase. Even in this more strategically thought out scenario, the user still needs to create and remember a brand new password for all future transactions. Quite a hassle, when you take into account all the various sites an average online shopper shops on.

That’s where social login steps in. Most users are permanently signed in on social media apps on their smartphones. By offering social login on your mobile site, you allow users to sign in with the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or similar social credentials making the process seamless and quick for them. Your users are saved the hassle of remembering yet another password. In the process, you get access to your users’ social information – something that can be used to personalize their experience on your site even better.

Parting Thoughts

Mobile internet outstripped PC based access already last year. Clearly, it’s not a matter of should your business be mobile ready, but more of is it ready yet. Share with us what steps you have taken to step into the era of device agnostic commerce. We’d love to hear from you!

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8 Tips to Select a Payment Processor for Your Online Store

8 Tips to Select a Payment Processor for Your Online Store
Setting up a business these days does not require nearly as much legwork as it did just five years ago. Even a blog or a plain website can be transformed into a full blown commercial site, capable of handling e-commerce transactions with a simple shopping cart plugin like ShopIntegrator. However, that’s the easy part.

To a layman payment happens in either cash or on-cash modes. In cash payments mode, you need to have physical outlets that can collect payments before releasing the items purchased. In a non-cash system, users swipe credit or debit cards on your site to transfer cash from their bank accounts to yours. Alternately, they pay via a service like PayPal where no cash changes hands, no cards are swiped, instead the user’s bank account is charged for a product they bought and transferred into PayPal’s account. Till the product gets delivered to the buyer, the amount does not get transferred to your bank account.

By and large, e-commerce stores in the developed world, only accept non-cash payments. Even after you pick your e-commerce template or shopping cart plugin, you still need to make one final choice before the money can start rolling in – choosing your payments processor. Here we shall go a little further in depth on how to pick the perfect payment processing service for your new store.

Processing an Online Payment

A non-cash payment online requires three basic entities to be processed.

a. The payment gateway
b. The payment processors
c. The merchant accounts

The payment gateway is like a fact checker that sits between your site and the customer. It verifies the authenticity of a user’s payment method and allows the transaction to proceed.

The payment processor does the actual transfer of money from the user’s account into the merchant account.

The merchant account holds cash that is transferred from the user’s account before it is moved into your bank account.

Typically, payment processors and merchant accounts come bundled together, while payment gateways are separate. However, lately there has been the emergence of three-in-one accounts that bundle all three entities into a single consolidated service. Services like Stripe or PayPal are examples of consolidated payment services. However, this convenience comes at a cost. These consolidated payment services typically charge the merchant a much higher per transaction fee, which can add up to a lot once you outgrow your startup status and start having some real good transaction volumes.

Once your business starts growing bigger and bigger in terms of revenues and transaction volume, it makes financial sense to switch to having your own merchant account and payment processor combination separate from the payment gateway.

Considerations While Selecting a Payment Processor

So you decided to go the route of a separate payment processor and merchant account to save some much needed extra cash. But what do you look for in a good payment processor before you make the final call? Here are the key factors that you ought to consider.

1. Security

With the spate of data breaches that online retailers have suffered in the last couple of years, your number one concern while picking a payment processor has to be security.

a. Data encryption is a basic must have for a payment processor, where user data is encrypted into uncrackable codes before it is transferred from one party to the other.
b. PCI Standards compliance or Payment Card Industry Security Standards compliance is a must have to be able to compete effectively in the modern e-commerce space.
c. Verisign SSL certificate tells you that the payment processor offers your users SSL security for payment transactions. In other words, payments sent over an SSL connection are doubly secure than regular connections.
d. Address Verification – Payment processors ask for billing address for a credit or debit card from a user to verify it against the actual billing address listed against said card. This minimizes the risk of fraudulent transactions and protects user data.
e. CVV2 verification refers to the three digits that appear alongside the signature panel at the back of a credit or debit card. Asking for this number ensures that the user actually has physically with him / her and is not misusing a credit card number found accidentally on a credit card statement or other such correspondence.
f. Reputation – Finally, check for the reputation of a payment processor before you commit to one. A quick online search with keywords like ‘data breach’ or ‘security lapse’ accompanied by the payment processor’s name will give you a wealth of information about whichever processor you may be considering.

2. User Friendliness

When a user is mid-transaction on your website, even a small hitch in payments or page load time or even unexpected shipping charges is enough to scare them away into abandoning the cart altogether. Hence, the best e-commerce sites seek to minimize friction in a user’s experience, especially in the checkout stage. Having a payment processor that handles the transaction as smoothly as possible plays a huge role in ensuring that the user experience remains exemplary.

a. Onsite vs. offsite processing – When payment data is collected and processed in a single flow without the user ever having to leave your website, you have onsite seamless processing. While this may be great from a UX perspective, it puts the liability of data security, firewalls and more squarely on your shoulders.

The other option is offsite processing, where the user is taken to the payment processor’s site and any financial data is handled directly by the payment processor, thus vastly reducing liability on you as a website owner. The other benefit of offsite processing is the fact that users are usually familiar with processing companies like PayPal and trust them implicitly. So even if you are a new startup, by offering processors that are reputed and trusted, you earn some of that user faith by association.

Incidentally, ShopIntegrator offers offsite processing to ensure peace of mind for all its users.

b. Analytics – Many payment processors offer customer data to the websites that they service. Detailed analytics like purchase frequency, average order value and more can be available without you running a single report in your own analytics software. An added bonus that verifies your numbers is always welcome.

c. Multiple cards supported – Look out for processors that can support multiple types of cards and payment modes. A potential customer who does not see his preferred payment mode supported is bound to drop off your site leading to a lost opportunity. Check whether your payment processor covers the entire gamut from Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diner’s Club to digital wallets like PayPal.

d. Mobile Payments Supported – With more users now accessing the internet via their mobile phones than PCs, it is imperative that your payment processor support mobile payments. Top e-commerce sites in emerging markets like India have over 50% of their total transactions coming from mobile platforms. The growing popularity of Apple Pay and consequently the renewed focus on Google Wallet and other mobile wallets like Venmo, make mobile payments support even more critical.

3. Fees

A payment processor will let your users transact via their existing infrastructure, but these services come at a cost. Many e-commerce sites make the mistake of picking the processor with the lowest fee, without balancing those out against the services that they render. Avoid this trap of opting for the cheapest service out there, but simultaneously don’t forget to keep close tabs on the cost of associating with your chosen payment processor. I say this, because it’s not one, but a host of fees that a typical payment processor will charge you. These include:

a. Setup Fees – Usually a one-time fee at the time of registration.
b. Variable Fees – These are fees that depend on the transaction volumes on your site as well as the types of services you opt for from the processor, e.g. per transaction fees, authorization fees, address verification fees, and more.
c. Recurring monthly / annual fees – Recurring monthly or annual fees are levied when you’re not charged a per transaction fee. This works well for larger e-commerce sites where the transaction volume is high and a per-transaction fee would not be cost effective.
d. Extras – These are fees that pop up, often unexpectedly. They’re rarely advertised on a payment processor’s website, usually finding their home in the fine print of some contract that you click ‘I agree’ on. Make sure you check upfront with your payment processor about these very specifically, as many processors attempt to make a quick buck out of these vague fees like cancellation fees for transactions that were cancelled by a customer. When a user’s details entered during the transaction do not match their real details, a transaction can be labelled ‘disqualified’ and your site gets charged an ‘unqualified transaction fee’.

4. Currency Support

The USP of having an e-commerce business is having the ability to sell to any one, located anywhere in the world. Most leading payment processors like FirstData, PayPal and Stripe tend to offer support for multiple currency types. This ensures that your user does not have to face the complication of currency conversions at the time of payment, leading to a lower chance of cart abandonment. However, multi-currency support comes at a price. Many processors (not all) charge a currency conversion fee for cross border transactions.

But offering multiple currencies on your site has more upsides to it than downsides. Multiple currency support means your site can even cater to visiting foreigners who might only have credit cards in their home currency. Moreover, the fact that your site already supports multiple currencies makes it easier for you to officially make a foray into new countries, opening up new avenues for your business and its revenue generating potential. Always a great thing to have!

5. Country Support

You might think I’m being repetitive here, but I’m actually not.

While people can pay with multiple currencies while still within the geographical boundaries of your home country, having multi-country support is a completely different ballgame. Most payment processors allow users to pay from different geographical locations as long as they pay in just a handful of supported currencies. While having limited currency support can be a limiting factor, not having multi-country support means your loyal customers can’t use your services anymore if they decide to travel or move away from home base.

6. Platform Support

Is your payment processor compatible with your e-commerce platform? However awesome a payment processor maybe, if their technology does not match up to that of your platform’s there’s not much you can do about it. Since both payment processing and overall design, layout and functionality are key factors that affect the success of any e-commerce site, it makes sense to first do your research about all the various e-commerce platforms you like and match them up against the payment processors that these can work with, before you make the big decision of building your site with any one platform.

I’m going to make your life easier by offering you a handy peek at the various payment processors that ShopIntegrator works with, just in case you’re shopping around for a reliable and functional e-commerce platform!

7. Business Support

So you’ve finally narrowed down your payment processors to a handful. These are not too expensive, are secure, are easy to use, are compatible with your e-commerce platform and more. You’re all set, right? Wrong.

Even if a payment processor ticks off all the boxes in the list above, it still needs to fulfill one critical condition – whether it supports your business or not. Confused? Allow me to explain. Many e-commerce sites deal with products that may or may not be endorsed by all payment processors for various factors ranging from moral reasons, to health reasons, to riskiness of the venture. If your e-commerce site sells items like tobacco, arms and ammunitions, adult toys or content etc. there is a good chance that you may either get rejected by the payment processor you approach or may be stuck paying much higher fees than businesses that operate in less ‘risky’ sectors.

8. Customer Service

Just as your users expect great customer service from you, you have a right to receive professional customer service from your payment processor. Check whether the processor you’ve shortlisted offers round the clock customer service. What languages do they offer support in? Are they at least available during the time the majority of your users are online? How proactive are they at fixing potential problems? Do they need to be chased continuously and hounded down for basic troubleshooting services? All these are legitimate questions that you ought to have answers to before making such a large commitment. Remember, a failure on the payment processor’s part can result in a negative user experience for your own customer, usually for no fault of yours at all. You don’t want to lose customers or be constantly on the backfoot with a payment processor who is highly unreliable.

As before, you can either Google this info or visit forums that offer inside news about individual payment processor. Better still, if you personally know someone who has used their services in the past, it’s a good idea to pick their brains before embarking on a partnership with a new payment processor.

In Closing

These pieces of advice are just an aggregation of my personal knowledge about the payment processing industry, its players and their relationships with their merchant partners. By no means is this an exhaustive list. However, it does give you an idea of what to expect once the deed is done. Choosing a payment processor is like choosing a spouse – preferably a once in a lifetime event that has a whole lot riding on it. Don’t hurry this decision. Weigh all your options carefully and then go with what makes most sense taking all possible aspects into consideration.

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5 E-Commerce Lessons to Learn From Walt Disney World

A visit to a Disney theme park – any one of them around the world – is one of those long cherished childhood dreams that nearly every kid who know Mickey Mouse has harbored. Why kids, I know a lot of adults who still look forward with bated breath to a trip to the ‘happiest place on earth’.

A big part of the magic of Disney’s theme parks comes from the magic of their movies. Our association of the Disney brand with carefree, childhood hours spent watching the Sunday morning cartoons automatically makes it a place we treasure. Disney movies, however sappy, have a way of resonating with audiences across age barriers. However, that’s only part of the story. The majority of the charm that Disney Parks hold, lies in the masterful marketing strategies that Disney has developed and mastered into a fine art, over the years.

If there’s one brand that I would want to learn marketing from, it’d be Disney. It’s happy, it’s aspirational, it’s addictive and most importantly, profitable. Instead of gushing on and on about Disney and their spectacular marketing, I think it’ll be more interesting to reconfigure my understanding of Disney’s magic to the e-commerce domain. So, here goes!

1. The Devil is in the Details

While designing their e-commerce sites, most entrepreneurs zero in on a template that suits them best and then replicate the template across webpages all across the site. The trouble with this cookie cutter approach is that we often overlook little things that make all the difference between good and great user experience.

Take Disney’s parks for example. The management goes to extraordinary lengths to manage every tiny detail of their sprawling theme parks and resorts. ‘Hidden Mickeys’ that pop up around the theme parks and resorts is something every true Disney fan-boy tries to unearth. There’s even a whole website dedicated to unearthing hidden Mickeys! Chuck Rylant recalls noticing Mickey Mouse ears at the unlikeliest of places all over the Disney Resort he and his family stayed at. From bathroom faucet handles to lamps to the top of the shampoo bottles in their hotel room, everything was shaped like Mickey ears.

Mickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resortMickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resort

Takeaway: Mickey Mouse is the very heart of Disney and its theme parks. It’s their most identifiable icon and they get the maximum mileage out of it. Do the same with your e-commerce site. Pick an icon or a signature theme that can be used or adapted in different ways across your site. It doesn’t even have to be imagery. Use microcopy that amuses and helps out simultaneously in your web forms or your tool tips to make the experience of navigating your site and completing a purchase a tad easier and a lot more entertaining.

2. Appeal to Your Customer’s Emotional Side

If you had to use pure logic to plan a wedding you probably would not opt to throw a lavish party for hundreds of people you barely know and spend thousands of your hard earned money on one-time things like a fancy suite or a designer wedding dress. But you go ahead and do it because you’re swept away in the emotion of it all.

Ditto with Disney’s theme parks. The average cost of four member family vacation to any of Disney’s theme parks can pay for a small car. But you still go ahead and do it, because Disney convinces you that you’re going to have the best time of your lives on this trip. Disney taps into this wellspring of nostalgia, happiness and voila, you fork over ridiculous amounts of money to go to a theme park. Emotions win over rational thought.

A toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey MouseA toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey Mouse

Takeaway: Your e-commerce site may not have the huge emotional equity that Disney already enjoys with its target audience, but you definitely have the advantage of knowing that tapping into your users’ emotions will get you to their wallets. If your audience is eco-conscious, you’re assured of an emotional connection by offering eco-friendly packaging material for shipping their purchases even at a slight premium. Appeal to the right emotion for the right target audience. When you strike the right emotional chord, your cash register will make some very pretty music!

3. Consistency is Key

How frustrating is it when your sliced bread simply refuses to fit into your toaster’s standard sized slot, right when you’re in a tearing hurry to get to work. After a few vile curses to the bakery that decided to get ‘creative’ with the thickness of their bread, you vow to switch to a brand that makes standard sized bread loaves to save yourself future agony. That’s just a small example of what happens when consistency is thrown to the winds. In spite of all our claims to individuality and uniqueness, consistency in everyday things keeps us grounded and soothes our way through life.

This is an area Disney truly excels at. From the costumes its cast members wear in the theme parks to the way each cast member stays completely in character even when doing something mundane like giving directions to the way the exact same experience gets served to a completely new set of over-excited guests to even the clockwork precision with which long queues form at every ride without fail (!), consistency is a lesson that Disney lives breathes every single moment.

The Mouseketeers circa 1955The Mouseketeers circa 1955

Takeaway: We discussed earlier about how once the design and layout of a site is fixed, very little changes. However simply carrying forward the same look for all your webpages is not enough. A great e-commerce experience extends beyond your website alone. Every moment-of-truth that your brand has with the customer can be made consistent with your overall brand guidelines and personality. From your order confirmation email that carries forward your website’s design aesthetics to packaging material that bears a throwback to your site to a customer care representative who greets users with your signature welcome line to your social media voice that amplifies your brand personality; each step should reflect the same look and feel for that true ‘wow’ factor.

4. Don’t Forget the Human (Mousey?) Touch

One of the most common pictures that any family album from a trip to Disneyland is a picture with Mickey, Minnie or any of the hundreds of cast members dotting the park. There are even special events at many Disney parks where guests can pay to have share a meal with Mickey and gang. While you may have to wait for hours in queue for your favorite ride, most days your request for a quick handshake, hug or even photo-op with a cast member is fulfilled instantly. This simple fact reflects the extent to which Disney emphasizes the human touch in their parks. The frustration of waiting forever for a ride simply evaporates when Snow White plants a big kiss on your toddler’s cheek and poses with her for a once in a lifetime picture.

A guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hoursA guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hours

These personal touches don’t end at the park gates. When you walk into a reservation at Disney’s resorts, the staff doesn’t need an introduction from you. They already know who you are and where you’re coming from. Chances are, you’ll even get a personalized greeting complete with your name as you first walk in the doors. How’s that for human touch? After service like that, you’ll be spoilt for every non-Disney hotel you’ll book for the next decade at least.

Takeaway: Just because your customers can’t see your face but only your website doesn’t stop you from adding human touches to your site. Offer a personalized greeting when a signed in customer arrives on your site to instantly offer an element of surprise and happiness. Show returning customers items similar to what they browsed for last or items complementary to items they bought last. This tells users that you remember them as people and not just as credit card numbers. Another easy way to extend that human touch is to offer live chat support when a user dawdles for too long on a product page or in the middle of the checkout process.

5. Don’t be Shy to Upsell. Disney isn’t

Most e-commerce sites are simply thankful that the customer finally completed their checkout process and finally bought something, instead of simply window shopping. The thought of complicating matters by trying to get the customer to buy a more expensive version of their chosen product or even pushing them into buying accessories and other paraphernalia for the product that they just bought can be rather daunting.

But trust Disney parks to be right on the money when it comes to upsell and cross-sell. Book a trip to a Disney park online and you’ll soon enough start getting emails nudging you to upgrade to better tickets that will help you jump the queue at rides, book a nicer hotel room at the resort attached to the theme park and so on.

Frontierland Stores at Disneyland ParksFrontierland Stores at Disneyland Parks

The price you pay for the entry into Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you walk through those gates, there are stores selling little (mostly useless) trinkets and movie merchandise at every step. At the end of every ride, you literally walk through a toy store themed around the ride you just took. How any parent gets out of these without buying something for their nagging kids is a miracle to me.

Takeaway: One of the most under-done, yet most easily doable activity on e-commerce sites is upselling items to a customer who’s already buying a particular item. If Disney’s upsell and cross sell strategies don’t impress you enough, I’m sure e-commerce behemoth Amazon’s attempts will be more up your alley. Not only do they immediately offer a complementary item on the product page itself, they also offer more items similar to the one being viewed on the product page. The thank you page often carries a cross-sell message prompting viewers to buy complementary items and so on. It doesn’t end with the purchase. Even after you buy an item, you’ll get emails from Amazon reminding you of exclusive deals on the products that are similar to what you bought last.

In Conclusion

I began this post by trying to derive insights from Disney’s masterful marketing to apply them to an e-commerce setting. I also resolved that I’d stop gushing like a Disney fan-boy. However, by the end of this post, you’ve probably realized that fan-boys can be recognized from a mile away and I’m definitely guilty as charged. If only I could transpose those Disney marketing smarts to my business and I’d be a happy camper!

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

10 Ways to Increase Conversion Rates with Product Photography

Product Photography

Who does not like looking at pretty pictures? Now what if I told you that those pretty pictures are responsible for convincing users to buy a product or a service many times more than lame taglines could ever hope for. Seriously, which gets you first – those gorgeous pictures of picturesque destinations or their standard cheesy marketing line about the country?

If there is any part of e-commerce that needs a shot in the arm from an aesthetic perspective it is the boring and done to death product photos. Typically these come from the manufacturers or brand owners themselves and e-commerce sites put them up with little or no changes. What results is the anti-thesis of a shopper’s dream destination.

If images hold scientifically proven sway over our minds, why not apply this logic to your own e-commerce site by turning every product image into a mini salesman for your site? This is how the best in the business do it.

1. Know your audience

Humans are very visual creatures. We process visual signals faster than sound and respond to them at a more visceral level. However, what type of visual signals gets each one of us going can vary from person to person. Before you decide on an image style for your site, understand whom you are addressing and design from there on.

Use the right image for the right audience. An image of an attractive woman may work with male as well as female audiences but in very different contexts. On the other hand, the image of a church may evoke very different responses from conservative audiences as compared to liberal ones. The bottom line? Understand your target audience – their likes and dislikes, and then proceed to pick the right imagery for your website.

2. Invest in image libraries

You must have heard it a million times before, but for good reason. Avoid stock shots that litter every other website. This is important to prevent user fatigue and instead guide the user’s eye towards new and interesting products on the basis of images alone. Spend some time over this and pick out unique imagery that complements your site and its personality.

Granted that unique images can be hard to come by and even when they are available, they are normally astronomically priced. Premium image libraries are a cost-effective compromise for unique images which do not cost an arm and a leg.

3. Photo shoots with a twist

Zulily – the billion dollar e-commerce phenomenon – shows the rest of us the way things ought to be done in the world of product photography. Zulily shoots 99% of all its product images in-house in its 35 studios that litter the entire office building. Their in-house photographers take artistic pictures for each item that goes up on the site. The site falls back on its regular employees to pose as models for their pictures. Baby models (it’s a mom and baby site after all!) are brought in by moms and dads who are aspiring actors themselves who get to build a portfolio for Junior via Zulily’s product shoots.

The result? A product catalogue that is as colorful as it is unique. Even if Zulily might sell a product that might be available on some other retailer’s site, it sure as hell will look completely different on Zulily. A smart, simple and highly effective workaround to expensive photoshoots, don’t you agree!

4. Build a story with your images

Your problem does not end with sourcing great pictures. What you do with them is more important.

Images are a great tool to build a story around your products. Use multiple images of a product to weave a use case scenario or present a solution to a problem that the user may have. Your creative presentation will show the user exactly how the item will fit into their lives. Another alternative is to showcase real users actually using the products in their everyday life settings. You could accessorize these images with quotes from these real users too. The contrast between the clinical austerity of most websites and the realism of slice of life type images will make your products stand out and help your conversions.

5. Use images to convey emotion

Just as images can convey stories and draw the user in, they can also tug at users’ heartstrings to loosen those purse strings on your site.

A tactic that is widely used by non-profits and welfare organizations, show me one such website that you can tear yourself away from without donating some cash or leaving with a guilt trip the size of Guatemala. If non-profits can use images to evoke emotions, so can you. Tap into the power of emotions with images that speak to the user. The right combination of photographer, model and setting contribute to emotional ammo over and over again.

6. Convey information with images

Emotional connections are great, but an image that tells a user exactly what she needs to know without even needing to read through the accompanying product description is what we are aiming at.

Wherever possible, use large images that offer users a high resolution and undistorted viewing experience. Never miss out on the zoom function on your product image. Users can only see images of your product and not the real deal before putting down large sums of cash on your website. It is your job to make this leap of faith that they repose in your site worthwhile by letting them get as close to the real item as possible.

Offer multiple product views with tiny product details visible clearly to make up for the lack of real touch and feel. Showcasing the product from different angles offers users a better idea of the real product. A 360 degree view option for your product image is a good idea, especially in terms of letting the users get up, close and personal with the item. Many top sites including Amazon and others have already started letting users savor each product with a 360 perspective.

A good way to convince a user about an item is by showing a picture of the item they are looking for being actually used by a model. Sell tractors? Put a model or a real farmer on a tractor and plow a field. Sunglasses is your thing? Get a few attractive models to lounge around the beach in your sunglasses and go clickety click on them.

7. Make your images fancy

Nothing kills a product image as effectively as putting a jarring background against a pleasant and soothing image.

Pick a background that goes well with the rest of your brand personality and issue orders to your designers stick to those colors and styles for the rest of the images as well. Marketplaces like Amazon that get product images from thousands of sellers listed on the site, on white backgrounds for nearly all their product shots. This not just makes life easier it also creates a clean feel look for your site – something that will go a long way in convincing the best sellers to list with you, and the most fanatical shoppers to buy from you.

Instead of offering flat two dimensional images, DueMaternity.com offered rotating images to its users. On hovering the mouse over the item image, the image would automatically rotate a complete 360 degrees, showcasing its complete potential without users having to click and open a page for the same experience in the past. The site actually saw a 27% lift in conversions since they implemented the snazzy new image format.

Use product videos wherever you showcase the item and allow users to arrive at their purchase decisions based on a more intimate view of the product than just two dimensional images. Offer at least one image for every product variant you’ll be listing online. This could be different color or a different use case or even a different size. Showcase these efficiently and there’s no reason for why anyone would fall back on boring manufacturer images ever again.

8. Virtual reality / augmented reality

If images let a user see how an item would look on someone else, virtual reality allows users to imagine how it would look on themselves.

Virtual reality devices are fast going mainstream and users can now get a VR headset for as low as $135. Virtual reality can be employed to let users model an item for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Glasses retailer Warby Parker offers users a virtual tryout session by feeding a self-photo clicked by the user and allowing the user to experiment with different glasses that truly suit their face.

Chinese grocery and home goods retailer Yihaodian took virtual reality to the next level when they ‘built’ 100 virtual stores across the entire city in virtually no time at all. The company allowed users to scan items and add them to their virtual cart in these virtual stores. These items are then delivered to users’ doorsteps without them even having to leave their doorstep for a minute.

9. Accessorize the product

Never miss a chance to upsell or cross-sell a product with another item.

Add an interesting accessory or two to your models’ outfits does not just add drama to the images themselves, the overall look reminds users of the possibilities that lie in wait and help push the billing amount up ever so slightly.

Most apparel retail sites do a good job of using the right accessories to set off an outfit, thus tempting the user to splurge on the extras as well in the same transaction. I particularly love the way ModCloth and Net-a-Porter pull this off without it coming across as a crass attempt at upselling.

10. Allow sharing

We all know how social media is a huge contributor to site traffic both from a last touch perspective as well as higher in the lead funnel. One of the most shared elements on social media today are images, which is clear from the runaway popularity of entirely image driven social apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. This popularity of images has even forced the text only Twitter to embrace images and showcase them prominently on users’ Twitter feeds.

Feed into this cultural obsession with sharing aesthetically pleasing images by offering social sharing for your product images. Putting sharing buttons alongside your product image or allowing users to create self-avatars wearing your product is a great way of driving social conversations which eventually lead to conversions.

In conclusion

Your product images are pages in your album not standalone works of art that all speak a different language. They need to have a consistent flow and overall ‘look’ to work with your site’s aesthetics. Invest some much deserved time into a neglected area like your product images to see the difference that they make to your site and its conversions. Let me know in the comments below how these experiments work out for you!

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5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

Shopping online can be a real breeze. Just choose what you want to buy, enter your credit card details and voila, you’ll have your chosen item at your doorstep in a matter of days (or hours, if Amazon and its drone delivery plans take wing). No long queues, no driving all over town hunting for that perfect pair of shoes.

While online shopping is fun, addictive and a lot of things besides that, what sometimes kills the joy of online shopping is the sheer terror of credit card fraud and identity theft. And no, you cannot cower under a pillow and pretend that this will go away. If you shop online, you need to read the following security tips. If you own an online retail store you need to read this even more.

1. Get the Basics Right

Being safe while shopping online is not rocket science. Millions of users successfully shop for their hearts’ desire and more online without ever getting into trouble. Here are a few basics that every online shopper MUST keep in mind.

  • Never make the mistake of assigning the same passwords for all your accounts and cards. Use different passwords for each account, make sure your passwords are not easily hackable. With one password, you run the risk of compromising all your accounts with just one crack in your armor. An easy to guess password like your name or date of birth make breaking into your accounts easy as pie. Make passwords a combination of alpha-numeric characters that have nothing to do with any of your personal details like your family members’ names, your wedding anniversary etc. Another key aspect to always remember is to never share your passwords with anyone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when swiping your card. When you hand your card over to the cashier at a store, keep an eye on the cashier while they swipe your card. In case you see the cashier swiping your card on a machine that is not a POS machine, raise the alarms. Chances are the second machine is a dip card reader that steals user information from the magnetic strip of the card. Fraudsters use this data to make duplicates of your card and run up giant shopping bills at your expense.
  • Avoid using your credit card on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are accessible with or without a password to anyone who is within range of the network. With people peeping over your shoulder figuratively and literally, it is not a smart idea to carry out credit card transactions in public Wi-Fi zones where your data can be easily intercepted by an unscrupulous stranger.
  • Choose only secure sites to carry out credit card transactions. Avoid shopping on sites that look shoddily made – poor selection of images, a very high text to image ratio, spelling errors all over the place etc. Chances are, these are dummy sites set up by credit card fraudsters to capture your payment details and misuse them.

When making any payment online, check if the address bar in the browser shows HTTPS and not HTTP. On the payments page look out for a Verisign logo or a McAfee Security logo that tell you that the site is safe to use. Just a tip, the green lock icon on your browser address bar is a sign that the site you’re browsing is protected by SSL security and your data is being transmitted on a secure connection. Sites powered by ShopIntegrator have this worry of keeping payment details safe taken off their shoulders. ShopIntegrator directly transfers the customer to the payment processor’s site, thus making PCI compliance easier for merchants.

2. Protect Your PC

Playing it safe is sound advice in nearly all walks of life, if you know what I mean 😉

  • Secure Your Home WiFi. To begin with protect your home internet from outside users by setting up a strong password for it. Data like your credit card details can be easily hacked into while you transmit them over the internet. A secure home Wi-Fi connection avoids this mess. Another critical thing to do right away is to remove Autofill settings from your browser. The browser tends to store data that you use to fill in forms regularly like your name, address, telephone number, sometimes even credit card details in its memory. Removing this autofill data from your browser’s memory eliminates the possibility of someone else accessing your machine and misusing this data. It also thwarts hacking attempts by not offering identity thieves any rewards for their efforts. Different browsers have different procedures for doing this. Check out the settings section of your respective browser and reset this right away.
  • Updated Operating System. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple keep scouring their software for security holes on a continuous basis and release updates and patches to counter any gaps that they find. So the next time your computer asks to restart itself to install some new operating system updates don’t irritatedly postpone the update. Go ahead and keep your operating system updated to avoid falling prey to potential identity thieves on the World Wide Web.
  • Updated Browser. Most browsers these days release updates on a regular basis. Either set your browser to automatically update itself when there’s a new release or do it yourself manually without fail. Chrome’s ‘Safe Browsing API List’ is but one example of the many precautions that browsers employ to keep users safe online.
  • Strong Antivirus. Another smart, but essential investment for your financial and data security is a good antivirus software. It does not have to be an expensive one. As long it detects and removes spyware or keystroke logging malware from your personal computer and protects your computer from third party attacks, it will do just fine. As with all your other software, keep your virus definitions on your unit up to date to avoid online mishaps.

3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams

The Nigerian Prince story has been done to death on email by fraudsters around the world. It’s gotten so stale that even my Dad knows that it’s all just a scam. But not all scamsters are so naive. Phishing for bank account and credit card details has reached sophisticated levels with many fraudsters posing as your bank representatives asking you for your personal financial details as a matter of routine maintenance. There have been cases of people receiving links inside perfectly innocent looking emails which if clicked can download a malicious keystroke logging malware into your machine.

Large scale scammers even go to the extent of building replicas of bank websites that end up stealing your passwords and other personal details as you access the site. Some easy pointers to avoid being phished:

  • Do not open emails from unknown or suspicious looking email IDs
  • Avoid opening or downloading any suspicious looking attachments even from known contacts
  • Never click on links without verifying where the link leads to. You can easily do this by hovering your mouse over the link in the email for a few seconds. The browser will automatically reveal the destination URL in a separate box.
  • Double check logos of banks, spellings and other minor tell-tale signs in emails that deal with financial data.
  • No bank or credit card company will ask you for your passwords or other personally identifying information over email. Never pass this information on without double checking with the bank over the phone or in person.

4. Activate Two Factor Authentication for your card

With the number of financial frauds rising by the day, banks and card issuers are becoming wiser and thinking two steps ahead. Many banks now offer users the option of adding an extra level of security to their cards while they carry out online transactions.

Many banks make it a point to call users personally when their card is swiped for a larger than normal amount. This ‘average’ amount is presumably arrived at by taking a median of all the different amounts swiped on the card till date. Banks also tend to call users when transactions are made outside the country of issue of the card.

Two factor authentication takes these basic precautions a notch higher. Instead of relying on just a username and password for a transaction, two factor authentication requires card users to enter a second identifier which they typically carry on their person like a fingerprint scan or a password sent via SMS to a mobile phone, a personal PIN number not stored anywhere else and so on.

Besides banks many other online services too have realized the importance of two factor authentication and actively encourage users to set it up like; Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook etc.

5. Use digital wallets for online transactions

Swiping a credit card can now be replaced by a slew of ingenious payment mechanisms that do not even reveal your card details to the online merchant, thus keeping your identity and financial data safe and sound.

PayPal was the trailblazer in digital wallets which allowed users to transfer money into a seller’s PayPal account from a prepaid PayPal account for any online transactions. It also helped reverse transactions in case of complaints regarding fraud.

The biggest benefit of digital wallets is that you have the option of transferring only as much money you need for your online purchase into your digital wallet. This avoids the scenario of miscreants breaking into your account and emptying it of all its cash.

Now the digital wallet has gone mobile with the introduction of the Google Wallet about four years ago and Apple Pay coming in last year. There are also a bunch of social media payment mechanisms like SnapCash that are gaining in popularity for their sheer convenience and novelty. However the security levels of these social payment mechanisms are yet to be tested and one would do well to tread cautiously in these choppy waters.

Conclusion

Online security during your e-commerce binges is not just the responsibility of the merchant site where you carry out your transactions. It is equally yours. Whether you choose to check users reviews about site’s security online before using a website or use a security app to protect your credit card or activate two factor authentication for your card or even switch to a digital wallet; the idea is to be proactive and work towards avoiding a situation where your financial data is at risk.

By following simple guidelines that typically don’t take much time or resources, one can ensure that one’s hard earned money remains safe and sound without any external threats. Stay safe and happy shopping!

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