In a previous column, I emphasized the importance of usability in increasing website conversion rates. With one primary conversion goal - to get the sale - it's surprising that so many e-commerce websites still have fundamental usability issues that hinder even their most resolute customers from pushing through with their transactions. Creating a usable checkout path doesn't have to be cumbersome. In fact, here are two simple ways to make checkout as easy and painless as possible for your customers.
Don't Require Registration
The first thing e-commerce websites can do to make checkouts faster is to allow customers to complete their purchases without having to register or create an account. As far back as 2009, noted usability and user experience expert Jared Spool pointed out how annoying and frustrating compulsory registration is, not only for first-time customers but even for repeat purchasers. Usability studies conducted by Spool and his colleagues showed, for instance, that customers hated encountering the registration form, as it forced them to do some really serious memory processing: that of remembering whether they already had an account with the website or not, and then recalling what password they used when they registered.
Three years later, you'd expect that e-commerce websites had evolved. Apparently not. For instance, a customer trying to buy a laptop from Newegg's website has to go through a five-step checkout process. After adding a product to the cart, the customer is first taken to an upsell page, then to the shopping cart, and if she manages to find the checkout button (which is below the fold), she will be taken to the "terms and conditions" page. Just when the customer thought she was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the dreaded registration page appears:
I really don't get it. Yes, I know that e-commerce sites often make registration compulsory for marketing/remarketing purposes, but how can you expect customers to even want to buy from you again after giving them a hard time? Your customers are eager to give you their money. Stop making them jump through hoops to do just that! There are ways to capture information without sacrificing user experience, such as encouraging website registration when your customers are done paying. If you gave them an easier time, they'd be more likely to be willing to do it. Better yet, simply ask for their email address so you can keep them up-to-date about the status of their purchase, which removes all the friction involved in registration and rewards the buyer for giving you the information.
Make Your Shipping and Delivery Policies Clear
Customer experience during checkouts can also be improved by providing clear and easily identifiable shipping and delivery policies. Make sure your customer knows exactly how much she will be charged and that you don't surprise her with extraneous fees (e.g., handling charges) during checkout. If you offer free shipping, then make that prominent during the entire checkout process. Zappos.com, for instance, highlights its remarkable 365-day returns policy and free shipping offer through a prominent banner on the right hand of the page. It then reinforces this offer by indicating "free" on the part of the invoice where the shipping cost should be displayed just below the purchase subtotal:
When you compare Zappos' cart with BestBuy.com, which also offers free shipping but chose to display a vague policy on international orders instead, you instantly see the difference:
Now, since BestBuy.com has stirred up the topic of international orders, I have to say this: please do not waste your customers' time by misleading them into thinking that they can purchase from you. If you are currently not able to ship to international addresses, then tell customers before they start the checkout process about whatever shipping restrictions you might have.
BestBuy.com is not the only big retailer guilty of setting up international customers for annoying and dissatisfying experiences. You'd think retailing giant Amazon.com would know better given its highly advanced personalization and targeting strategies. Try shopping on Amazon as an international customer, however, and you will be surprised at how difficult it is to make a purchase. I have no doubt that the biggest pet peeve of international customers is how Amazon.com will allow customers to add an item to their carts only to proceed to checkout and be told that the product they want and are ready to pay for cannot be delivered to their (international) shipping address. And yes, this happens even when you're signed in and Amazon supposedly knows which country you're shopping from.
Surely there is a better way for Amazon.com to handle international customers, such as showing signed-in customers only those items that can be shipped to international addresses. Otherwise, I can only imagine that if I lived in another country, I would be extremely discouraged to go browsing at Amazon the next time I was buying online.
No doubt there are other simple methods to make your cart experience more customer-friendly, but you can see by these two tips that it doesn't take a full redesign in order to make major improvements. Sometimes it's as easy as moving your accepted payment icons from page three to page one of your checkout. After all, if you want your customers' money, you've got to make it easy for them to give it to you.
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Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
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March 19, 2014