If your e-commerce website isn’t fully optimized to give customers a painless, user-friendly checkout process, then you’re losing money. It’s that simple.
Statistics show that online shopping carts are abandoned more than 2/3 of the time. That’s a lot of lost revenue.
Avoid taking hits to your top line growth by staying out of that “2/3” camp. Let your competitors lose customers to shopping cart abandonment, while you cash in with a seamless checkout process that enables your visitors to quickly get what they want from your site.
Here are some advanced tips to improve your e-commerce checkout routine.
Add a Personalized Message to the “Send Gift” Feature to Your E-Commerce Checkout
Your ecommerce site probably allows shoppers to send products as gifts to somebody else. But do you allow users to add a personalized note with the gift?
If not, then you should do so.
In fact, adding a personalized note is a sneaky little trick that will enable you to ramp up your conversion rate. It’s also an inexpensive change to your existing software.
Here’s how it works: start by adding a text field where visitors can enter a personalized message.
That’s a standard HTML field so your developers will have no trouble putting it on a product detail page or anywhere else on your site.
You might want to limit the number of characters people can put in the message, though. As a rule of thumb, 1024 characters is a good upper limit.
Pro-tip: unlike some other e-commerce sites, you’ll want a high upper limit for your maximum character count. That’s because you want users to invest a decent amount of time into creating the gift message. You’ll see why in a moment.
When users click “Send” on the message, your website will take them to the checkout page. Now, those users will want to complete the checkout by making a purchase.
Why? Because they’re already invested in the process. They spent some time writing a personalized message.
They don’t want to let that message go to waste!
That, by the way, is why this is such a sneaky trick. It relies on human nature to complete the purchase.
It’s also based on one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion: the Commitment and Consistency Principle.
The idea is that once people take any initiative towards a goal, they’ll be less likely to back out.
Reduce Form Fields to Optimize Your E-Commerce Checkout
Here’s another tip to improve your conversion rate: eliminate form fields that you don’t absolutely, positively need.
Why? Because form fields are digital hurdles. They stand between your customer and the finish line that we sometimes call “conversion.”
The fewer hurdles you put in front of customers, the more likely it is that they’ll reach the finish line.
Go through your checkout process and take inventory of the fields on the order form. Ask yourself if you really need each and every one of them.
For example: do you really need the person’s phone number? In this digital age, probably not.
Also, you don’t need the snail mail address if you’re delivering a digital product.
Look for other fields you can crop out.
Show Steps to Optimize Your E-Commerce Checkout
How would you like to wait in a line without knowing how long it is? You probably wouldn’t.
Likewise, visitors to your e-commerce site would like to know where they’re at in the checkout process. Don’t leave them hanging.
You can tell them where they are by breaking the checkout process into manageable sections and letting them know where they’re at.
For example, if shoppers are on the first step of a 4-step checkout process, make sure “Step 1 of 4” is prominently displayed at the top of the web page. That will let them know how much more time they need to invest to complete the checkout.
Likewise, Steps 2, 3, and 4 should all be labeled clearly.
It’s also a great idea to limit the steps as much as possible.
The fewer steps needed, the more checkouts completed.
Use Bright, Clear Calls to Action
Put bright, clear calls to action on every section of the checkout process.
Why? Because that’s how people will know what they need to do to proceed to the next step of checkout.
Make sure visitors aren’t looking around for a button that will advance them to the next stage. Display the call to action clearly.
In fact, there’s nothing wrong with putting the CTA button in more than one place on the page. For example, you can put it at the top and bottom so that people can find easily find it.
Capture the Email Address Early On
During the checkout process, it’s always a good idea to capture the email address early on.
That’s because an email address is digital gold. You can use it to upsell and cross-sell to existing customers.
More importantly, though, you can use the email address to contact visitors who start the checkout process but don’t complete it. Offer them an additional incentive, such as a coupon code, to finish the transaction.
Use an Exit Popup for Cart Abandoners to Optimize Your E-Commerce Checkout
Here’s another way to lower shopping cart abandonment and boost your conversion rate: use an exit intent popup during the checkout process.
If you’re unfamiliar with an exit-intent popup, it’s a popup that appears when the visitor attempts to leave the website. For example, if the person hovers over the URL bar an exit-intent popup will appear.
Use that popup to give people a reason to complete the checkout process. You could offer a coupon code, a freebie, or some other benefit.
Sometimes, that additional little nudge is all that’s needed.
Never Force Anyone to Login, Unless that is your Retention Strategy
Unless you’re a “members only” club, nobody should ever be forced to be a member of your site just to buy something. The last thing any interested customer wants to see at checkout time is: “You must first register for a name and password” or words to that effect before buying anything. You’re practically begging people to abandon the shopping cart if you do that.
Always allow a guest checkout option. Remember, being a member of your site is a convenience for your customers, typically because you can retain their shipping information and credit card number so that they don’t have to enter it again. However, if they’re happy to enter all of that information, then by all means let them enter it and checkout that way.
Make “Guest Checkout” the Most Obvious Option
Regarding the “Guest Checkout” option: Make it the most obvious alternative. That way, customers don’t feel like they’re compelled to register just to complete the order. If possible, make it the default option.
Offer PayPal Integration
It’s the 21st century, and there are still e-commerce sites that don’t offer PayPal as a means of payment. Those businesses are losing money.
The fact of the matter is that PayPal has become a household word in e-commerce. If you have any interest in being taken seriously as an online business, you’re going to need to accept PayPal as a means of payment.
Fortunately, you can get the ball rolling on accepting PayPal payments today.
There aren’t too many people who shop online and don’t have a Facebook account. Why not make their lives easier by allowing them to sign on to your site with their Facebook ID?
You can do that with Facebook Connect. You’ve probably seen examples of Facebook Connect during your online excursions. If you’ve ever visited a site that shows you a “Login With Facebook” button then you’ve already seen an example of it.
It’s convenient because it simplifies the registration process for most users. Rather than going through the whole “you must click the link in your email to authorize your account” process, as is done when people register with their email address, Facebook Connect offers a quick, single-step sign-on solution.
With Facebook Connect integrated into your checkout process, you get the best of both worlds. People can checkout almost as quickly as a guest while still becoming a member of your site.
Reduce the Steps in the Process
Think about the information that you absolutely, positively need for checkout completion. Request that information, and no more.
Also, try to fit as much as possible on one screen. That way, customers don’t have to keep clicking “Next” and asking themselves “When will this process end?”
Pre-Fill Fields Whenever Possible
If you are asking customers to fill out both a billing address and a shipping address when they are often identical, then you’re basically shooing them away. Why not offer a simple check box that customers can click so that the billing address fields are filled out with the information from the shipping address fields?
Also, this is the information age. You don’t need to ask a user to fill out a city, state, and zip code. Instead, just ask for the zip code and pre-fill out the city and state. Let those fields be editable, though, because sometimes changes will be necessary.
Make Your Shopping Cart Persistent
It’s often the case that people don’t intentionally abandon shopping carts. Instead, life happens and they have to drop what they’re doing to take care of something else.
When those busy people come back to resume the checkout process, they’re going to expect that everything they put in the shopping cart will still be there. Sadly, on some e-commerce sites, that might not be the case. Then, those people will abandon the shopping cart and that website forever.
To avoid that, make sure that your shopping cart is persistent. You’ll have to talk to your development team about this, but essentially you want all products placed in the shopping cart for a particular customer to stay there forever or until the customer has checked out. That way shopping carts that were just put “on hold” don’t become shopping carts that are abandoned.
Preserve Entered Information on a Validation Failure
Customers aren’t perfect. Sometimes, they’ll neglect to enter important information in one or more of the required fields for checkout. Although this is painful to you because it’s a temptation for abandonment, the information is also necessary to complete the transaction.
When required fields aren’t completed, your site will (should) prevent the user from moving forward in the checkout process while offering an explanation about what fields weren’t filled out properly. Those fields will need to be filled out again.
However, those should be the only fields that need to be filled out again. Avoid clearing the entire form just because the user forgot to enter a 5-digit zip code. Retain all of the other information that’s been filled out and present the user with a message about the offending field. If you clear everything, you’re going to frustrate customers and lose money.
Mark Fields That Are Mandatory
Speaking of form field validation, it should be completely obvious to your customers which fields are mandatory as they go through the checkout process.
Usually, mandatory fields are identified with an asterisk (*). That’s how it’s done on many other e-commerce sites, so you might as well just go with the flow and do it that way on your site as well. Also, offer a line at the top that explains it: “Fields marked with an asterisk are mandatory.”
For fields that aren’t totally obvious during the checkout process, you should offer an example so that customers have an idea about the kind of information that’s required there. For example, if you have a Discount Code field, show the user an example of what a discount code looks like (“XY123” or something like that) so that they know they’re entering the discount code in the right place.
Use a Single “Name” Field
Although it’s tempting to create three separate name fields (first, middle, last) with a suffix, you’re really making things more difficult for your customers. Instead, just give them a single “Name” field and let them fill it out as they see fit. You can be sure they’ll do their best to fill it out accurately because they want the product delivered to the right person.
Obvious Calls to Action
No customer should have to search around for the buttons that advance the checkout process. Those buttons should be big, bright, and in plain view. It’s also not a bad idea to offer multiple buttons that do the same thing within the checkout process. For example, the “Next” button could be at the top and the bottom of the screen, allowing the user to select the one that’s most convenient.
Present a Linear Form
Even though web technology has advanced significantly over the past couple of decades, one thing remains the same. We’re still accustomed to “scrolling down” on any given web page.
As a result, your form should be designed in a linear format that’s filled out vertically downwards. The fields should also be presented in an order consistent with conventional design. For example, the “City” field should precede the “State” field.
Show Customers Where to Find the CVV Number
People who are online shopping veterans will certainly know where to locate the CVV number on a credit card. That’s because e-commerce sites will ask for it before completing the checkout process.
However, people who are new to credit cards and/or online shopping still might not know where that CVV is located. Show it to them on the screen with a graphic that clearly depicts where that number is found. Also, let them know that the number is three digits long so that they’ll have some reassurance that they’ve got the right number.
Clearly Highlight Validation Errors
When there are validation errors, don’t just put a sentence or two at the top explaining what went wrong. The fields that weren’t filled out properly should be clearly highlighted so that the customer can find them by just scanning the form.
Usually, it’s best to highlight offending fields in red. Since red is a universal “Stop” color, and it will contrast nicely with just about any corporate color scheme, it’s a great way to draw attention to a field that needs to be completed properly.
Don’t Over Complicate Password Validation
For your customers who wish to register, let them pick their own password within certain, very loosely defined rules.
There are sites that insist on passwords with a minimum of 12 characters where at least one character within the password must be a symbol, a number, an upper case letter, and a lower case letter. That’s just too user hostile and contributes to shopping cart abandonment.
As a rule of thumb, let customers pick their own password with a minimum length requirement. Leave them to dictate their own security constraints.
Set the Most Popular Options as Defaults
Another great way to streamline the checkout process is by offering defaults that make the most sense. That way, the user doesn’t have to select anything.
For example, set the default shipping option to “Standard” if that’s the most popular option on your website. The user will probably save time by continuing through the order process with the default shipping option as opposed to selecting another option.
Avoid Nickle-and-Diming Users
Speaking of default options, use caution when setting your default options so that they add costs to the customer’s order. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want your customers to perceive that they are being nickle-and-dimed during the checkout process, otherwise they’re more likely to abandon the cart.
Offer Security Seals
Your customers are going to want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their credit card data is secure during the transaction process. To that end, provide security seals that give them some level of reassurance.
According to Baymard Institute, the Norton Secured seal provided people with the best sense of trust during the checkout process. McAfee, Verisign, and PayPal seals also give customers a sense of ease at an e-commerce site.
Let Customers Continue Shopping From the Checkout Page
Sometimes people want to step away from the cart for a very good reason: to go shopping for more products at your site. Make it easy for them to do that with a “Continue Shopping” button that’s prominently displayed during the checkout process.
Also, make sure that the “Continue Shopping” button is contrasted in some way against any “Continue Checkout” buttons. That way, customers will realize it’s not part of the checkout process.
Email Customers a Discount Code if They Abandoned the Shopping Cart
In some cases, you might have the email address of some of your customers who abandoned the shopping cart. Why not incentivize them to come back by emailing them a discount code?
In this case, send the email from an address that you are actively monitoring. That way, if the customer replies with a reason about why he or she didn’t complete the checkout process, you have some feedback about what happened and possibly an action item about what you need to correct.
Be Sure All Relevant Information Is Just a Click Away
People might have questions about your policies or service during the checkout process. Ensure that it’s easy for them to get answers to those questions by providing helpful links every step of the way.
If Possible, Add a Chat Option
Chat options aren’t easy to add because they require some person or persons to be at the beck and call of customers during business hours, if not at all times. However, if your organization has the infrastructure and manpower available to add chat feature, don’t hesitate to add it.
With a chat option, customers can get their questions answered during the checkout process immediately as opposed to abandoning the shopping cart, sending an email, and waiting for a response. That kind of above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty customer service should definitely reduce your cart abandonment rate
Load the Pages Lightning Fast
The last thing your customers need to experience during the checkout process is a series of pages that take a long time to load. If your site responds poorly, especially during the payment process, you can expect to lose customers and money.
Follow basic guidelines to ensure that your checkout process loads as quickly as possible. Ensure that key resources are cached. Run tests to be certain that the each page loads in less than two seconds. Remove extra images that you don’t really need to ensure that pages load quickly.
You always want a fast website, but during the checkout process you want to be particularly certain that pages are loaded quickly.
Have a Responsive Checkout Process
If your checkout process is user-friendly on a desktop or a laptop but user-hostile on a mobile device, then you’re just throwing money away.
Be absolutely certain that your checkout process is fully streamlined for a variety of mobile devices. Test it out on devices with varying screen sizes and from different manufacturers. Make sure that the process is as easy as can be expected for all types of hardware.
By the way, mobile users will thank you for keeping the form filling to a minimum during the checkout process. It’s not easy to type using the keypad on a mobile device and the effort lends itself to countless typos. Mobile optimization is another reason to offer pre-filled fields and leave only a few empty fields remaining.
Ask Yourself: “WWAD?”
What would Amazon do?
There may have been some subjects that we haven’t covered here. You might still have some questions about the best way to optimize the checkout process for the products or services that you’re selling online.
If that’s the case, head over to Amazon and learn what that company is doing for similar products or services. Simply put, Amazon is the premier e-commerce company in the world. It’s a model for how you should conduct yourself if you’re selling anything in the digital marketplace. Let Amazon lead by example and you’ll likely do well.
Wrapping It Up
We’ve covered a variety of ways to optimize the checkout process for your e-commerce site. Among our recommendations: ensuring that you have a responsive design, making navigation abundantly clear, limiting the work that the customer has to do, and enabling a speedy checkout process.
The bottom line for all of this is to be certain that you’re practicing outstanding customer service every step of the way during your sales cycle. That includes making sure customers are happy with your checkout process.