Maybe it's time you looked at your site through your customers' eyes.
If you run an online catalog or e-commerce site, you already know that a critical aspect of conversion optimization is reducing your cart abandonment rate. According to comScore, 67 percent of shopping carts are abandoned just before the purchase is made. If your site stats are similar that means 67 percent of the money you've put toward generating traffic to your site has gone to waste. It also means you have a huge opportunity to improve your profitability simply by addressing these three common reasons shoppers bail.
1. The buyer thought the shipping rate was too high (and/or the shipping cost was revealed too late). Thanks to Amazon and eBay, buyers have come to expect free shipping when they make a purchase online. Not seeing a free shipping offer is without a doubt the top reason people abandon their carts. But consider this: studies show that as many as 22 percent of people will abandon simply because they didn't know the shipping costs early enough in the process.
This shouldn't really come as a surprise, since it's logical that buyers would consider the "total cost of purchase" when deciding whether to buy something and from whom to buy it. But it's surprising how many websites hide the shipping costs until the very end, with online florists topping the list of offenders.
Look at this example from GiftTree.com. There's not a single mention of shipping costs. In fact, it is not until step four in the cart process that the buyer first learns of the delivery charge, which isn't insignificant at $13.95. Imagine how frustrated a cost-conscious visitor would be to select a gift item, enter the recipient's name and address, select a delivery date, and customize a gift card - all before finding out that the selected item costs $13.95 more than they had planned on spending. This is especially surprising since the website offers a "shop by price" option, yet the search results don't include the additional shipping/delivery costs.
Even if your business can't afford to offer free shipping, you can still improve your conversion rate by revealing your shipping rates up-front. NoMoreRack has added a graphic seal to its site header offering $2 per item shipping, and ACandyStore.com has done a great job of promoting its $9.95 flat rate shipping very clearly above its top navigation.
In other words, while the shipping offer is important, don't undervalue the role of transparency. Display your shipping charges - whatever they are - clearly and early in the purchase process, long before the buyer enters the shopping cart.
2. The buyer wanted to comparison shop. How many browser tabs do you have open when you're shopping online? Probably several - most of us do. Unless you have a very strong brand or unusually high customer loyalty, many of your visitors are going to do a little shopping around to see how your pricing, shipping, and customer ratings compare to others who sell the same item. Some visitors will do this over a period of time, and others will jump from site to site in one browsing session. The point is, whether a visitor actually puts an item in her cart, or simply lingers on a product description page, your site should remember her. If you captured the visitor's email, send her reminders to complete her transaction. Set your cookies so that when the visitor returns you can present her with a message (or special offer) about the product she was interested in. And customize your retargeting ads so that whenever your visitors are online, they see ads from you promoting the product or product category they were looking at on your site.
3. The buyer couldn't find your phone number. It's surprising that this problem even exists. It seems obvious that a website would make it easy for customers to quickly get support with any problems or questions they may have. After all, even if a customer doesn't have an immediate question, many will look for a phone number before purchasing just to make sure they can reach you if they have an issue down the road. Still, many e-commerce websites are ignoring this crucial part of the sales process.
Make it easy for customers to contact you on their terms, which for many might be the phone. Moreover, having a phone number on your site communicates stability - it assures visitors that you are a real company and not some fly-by-night operation. Giving people the option to call you, and clearly displaying your phone number, builds trust and lets customers know they're dealing with a legitimate company that's willing to assist them.
The Nascar Superstore is a great example of how to really aggravate customers and would-be buyers by being nearly impossible to contact.
Looking at Nascar's website header, you can clearly see a link to customer service. That's good, right? Well, click on the link and what you get is a page loaded with text links. Not a single phone number to be found. Even if you click one of the links that specifically includes the word "contact," you'll be taken to another page that doesn't have a phone number. The folks at Nascar have obviously put a lot of thought and planning into how to avoid their customers at all costs. Lucky for them they do have a very loyal customer base, but I'm sure their customers would appreciate having a way to reach them when needed.
Contrast that with Luggage Online. Not only did this company include its phone number as part of its header, but it also added more detail in its footer, including an invitation to "Call Us! Yes we're real people." Now, which company would you rather do business with?
As you can see, overcoming these three common reasons for cart abandonment isn't hard. What's more, making these simple improvements can have a huge impact on your sales. Look at your site through your customers' eyes. Would you immediately know what to expect for shipping costs? Can you easily contact customer service for help? And if you leave and come back, does the site remember you? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you're giving visitors a reason to bail.
This column was originally published on Jan. 22, 2013.
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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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