Practical Ecommerce

Tuning Up Your Checkout Process

One of the most important factors to optimizing conversion is fine tuning the shopping cart and checkout process. Sales are won or lost within this crucial component of your site, and it is critical to examine the data that will unlock the mysteries of visitor behavior within this process.

A simple rule applies within ecommerce—the fewer the clicks to complete a goal, the higher the percentage of consumers who will complete the task. Too often, cart and checkout processes extend through many clicks and lead consumers down a long and winding road. Retailers lose interested customers because consumers lose patience or simply become distracted when progressing. Don’t let a poorly designed checkout process frustrate your customers and inhibit your growth.

The following is a preliminary plan in examining your cart and checkout, with the hope you can identify changes to increase your key commerce metrics.

Conduct detailed path analysis

Customers behave very differently and varied factors cause them to take certain paths throughout your ecommerce store. Understanding their behavior, more specifically where they drop off within the checkout process, will allow a retailer to reengineer a process that is geared to increase sales.

Within your analytics software package, make sure you have created goals for each step within your checkout process. Every step within your process needs to be tagged with tracking codes so abandonment rates can be pinpointed to exact pages. Below is an example of the story for which your analytics may be telling:

  • 34 percent of customers add to cart
  • 29 percent progress to billing information page
  • 11 percent progress to shipping page
  • 5 percent progress to confirm page
  • 2 percent complete the transaction

What do these hypothetical numbers tell us? Primarily, they show which steps within the process need to be optimized. From the example, the major problems are at the billing, shipping, and confirm order pages—as each step is losing more than half of your potential customers.

After identifying which pages are losing traffic, the next step is to discover where the customers are going. Are customers leaving the site completely? Are they clicking on customer-service pages to learn about return policies? Are they attempting to go back to the product page because they may have cold feet about purchasing? This information provides clues into their motivations and reasoning.

When looking at your checkout-abandonment points, make sure you are answering these key customer concerns.

Security

With the progression of hacker tactics, security will likely always be a concern of online shoppers. Within your checkout process, make sure to emphasize security with links that explain why your cart is secure. Use partnership logos from companies such as Versign, Hacker Safe, TrustE and the Better Business Bureau to reduce the hesitancy from your shoppers. Remember, if you can persuade just one customer out of every hundred to buy who may have not bought before, you will significantly drive your conversion upward.

Shipping

When possible, attempt to communicate shipping costs at the product page. If that is not feasible, try to communicate exact shipping costs as soon as possible within the checkout process. Many ecommerce sites wait until one of the last steps in the process to tell the customer what the shipping costs are. They think that customers have invested too much time and won’t abandon. This is a fundamental mistake.

Return policies

Returns are a crucial piece of your overall customer experience. Make sure that you communicate your return policy with a dedicated link within your cart that triggers a pop-up window that explains your policy clearly. By clearly defining how returns are processed, your business will be answering another question that is likely within your customers’ minds.

Other Enhancements

Other potential enhancements may include utilizing a persistent-cart process that consistently shows customers what products are in the cart and the dollar total. This feature is integrated into the main template, and is seen on every page when a product is in the cart.

Another proven tactic is to remove navigation options after a customer progresses to the first step of the checkout process. Retailers such as Best Buy and Target follow this approach in an attempt to limit any distractions from consumers in the conversion funnel.

Taking the steps to optimize your checkout should be a consistent focus of your ecommerce business. By making the process easier for your customers, and by addressing the questions and concerns that they have in buying, your online store will undoubtedly experience increases in key metrics.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User October 4, 2007 Reply

    Nice article, Craig. I wonder, do you know of any research on the shopping cart sequence (ie shipping, credit card, confirmation vs. creditcard, shipping, confirmation)?

    — *Mat Greenfield*

  2. Aline Machado November 2, 2010 Reply

    Wonderful post, I love when you show samples of websites doing the right way on the topic of discussion. It would be nice to add to this article a few examples of a perfect checkout process. I’m using OS Commerce for my upcoming new and improved website, but I did not like the default checkout process from the platform and I have asked my programmer to change it to a 3 steps only checkout. After navigating into various websites, I like the checkout process most from Wisteria.com. Would you say Wisteria is doing the right thing? Because if you give a thumb up I will have the same. Please gives us your feedback and some samples of websites if you can, It would be much appreciated! Thank you!