In your web shop you try to seduce your customers into buying your products. When a visitor places an item in his shopping cart, only one aim remains: to make him or her pass the cash register. Just like in a physical shop however, a visitor of your web shop will then be confronted with various potential drop out moments.

You smoothly guide your customers to the cash register by removing obstacles and by increasing the purchase motivation. Five practical tips for the desktop version of your web shop. (There will be a sequel for the mobile version.)

At least offer the possibility to buy as a ‘guest’

In the year 2016 many web shops still force their customers to make an account before they can complete the order. Sometimes it’s even the first step of the ordering process. New web shop visitors experience that as an exaggerated commitment: they actually just wanted to buy 1 specific product from your web shop. Existing customers sometimes can’t remember their password, which might make them interrupt their purchase. An easy alternative is to make an account using third parties, such as Facebook or Twitter. Of course this is convenient for some of the customers. However at least 15 percent of the web shop owners explicitly reject such a function, for instance because they don’t trust the privacy practices of those social media websites. The best alternative – and a minimal functional exigence for your own e-commerce channel – is to give your customer the possibility to continue the purchase as a ‘guest’.

In a world marked by stress of choosing, in most situations it’s expedient to offer two of the three abovementioned possibilities at most. Get to know your target group and carry out extensive tests using the different options for your customer base.

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Example guest account option as offered by CoolBlue

Avoid excess boxes to fill in or select

The basic rule is to make the customer fill in as few boxes as possible. The more complex a form seems, the bigger the chance a potential customer will drop out. That’s why you also put the easiest questions first (first and last name, address,..) and only afterwards the more complex (payment) questions. Some companies even fully choose for payment at delivery or afterwards, to bridge payment obstacles.

Of course you’ll be needing certain details. Try, if possible, to fill in previously known customer details, for example based on the ‘autofill’ function. Most websites set up their forms as the traditional addressing of a letter. However for you it’s probably relevant to first ask the customers’ postal code, after which often the name of the city and street can be filled in automatically.

You want to offer your customers the best options for his or her personal situation, on the other hand you want to have a maximal percentage of customers who fully complete the order process. Carefully balance the added value of each box against a concise form with limited options. A complete range of payment and delivery options for example can sound like a good idea, but has to be well tested for your specific target group. Today, a ‘click & collect’ delivery option combined with home delivery usually suffices, with or without (or rather with) a default or express delivery time. Concerning payments, credit card payments are traditionally the default option. However in Europe, payment through the current (debit) account caught up with the latter. Examine in advance the current online payment options in the market where you are located.

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Example easy choice delivery options by AO.com

Be transparent and gain confidence

You definitely also do this yourself: before pressing the pay button, you check all details again. You probably also have had doubts right at the end, for example because you didn’t know the provider or the payment method. When your customer began the ordering process starting at the shopping cart he expressed an intention to trust you. It’s your job to keep it that way.

Trust of course principally is about actually meeting the minimal requirements concerning online safety. Customers expect the connection to be safe and the personal details to be saved encrypted. Therefore make sure the order module has the right certificates and also check the policy of the partners with whom you cooperate. When you meet those minimal requirements, clearly demonstrate that by using the right hallmarks and textual additions. References to information on the return policy of a web shop, the safety of customer data, contact channels of the customer service, manuals or ‘frequently asked questions’ also increase a feeling of safety.

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Example Loaf.com: we are a friendly company, after placing your order this is still the place to be

Trust is also partly gained by being completely transparent towards your customer. Clearly communicate where he or she is in the ordering process and what the next step will be. From which moment it’s a ‘purchase with payment obligation’? You visually support your customer with live feedback. When a box is filled in correctly for example it immediately features a little green tick next to it – and in case of mistakes a little red cross. Other examples of visual support are the right national flag while filling in an international phone number or a form for the credit card details which resembles the credit card itself. Finally make sure the customer doesn’t have to scroll all the way up again to check the content and the price of the shopping cart with his or her order(s). Don’t only show the name of the product here, but also the selected options or versions such as size and color.

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Gumroad example input screen credit card

Ordered as a guest? Make sure registration is extremely simple

When your customers order as a guest, you probably receive almost all necessary details to (still) make an account for them. Such accounts offer your company much (marketing) value. Clearly show this option on your confirmation page, accompanied by an enumeration of the customer advantages. You can for example offer the option to online consult the order history and order status, make returns easier (or more advantageous), promise to periodically make interesting offers, extend the warranty especially for registered customers – and of course make the next order go smoother.

This registration function can be paired to the e-mail address that you probably already asked during the ordering. You proactively offer your customer a password so he or she only has to press the save button, or you allow him or her to choose a password by showing a single completion form. Asking for more information for marketing purposes has an inhibiting effect so you better save that for later. That way you can gradually work towards a complete customer profile.

Don’t hesitate to include the button to make an account in your e-mailed order confirmation as well.

Follow up

In fact there are two possible outcomes of the ordering process: either your customers order, or they drop out. In both cases you should actively follow up the customer.

If your customer orders, then of course you follow up with a confirmation of the order, if possible mentioning the expected delivery time and other supporting information. Maybe you even want to make them order additional products before a certain time, free from delivery costs. After delivery you can further follow up your customers by asking them to rate the service and/or place a product review on your website. Such reviews help other visitors of your web shop during their selection process. You can possibly choose to reward the review with a small gesture, for example a discount on a future purchase.

Following up customers who dropped out is of course a more sensitive point. There are various reasons why someone possibly drops out. They hesitate and want to further orientate on the purchase first, the final price is too high, they want to compare prizes with other providers, the ordering process is too complex, they are distracted during the ordering process,… Technical problems can also end in a drop out. Depending on when your customer has dropped out, you probably have already gained some useful customer data. Do you have an e-mail address? Then an e-mail stating you have saved the shopping cart and saying he or she can finish the order with a simple click could be rewarding. This is called remarketing. Google also offers remarketing services by showing the products that are visited on your page within the Google Display Network.

To conclude

The ordering process is probably the most important process of your website. Big companies like Amazon.com almost make a science out of measuring the effects of minimal changes and then optimizing the ordering process. If you don’t have time to manage your ordering process in detail, then at least ask your e-commerce partner for a clear description of the ordering process, including the choices that were made. Review this process at least once every six months based on new insights and site statistics.

More information?

Relevant key performance indicators (KPIs):

  • the percentage of customers who start a purchase and actually successfully place an order, preferably made insightful for each following ordering step;
  • the so-called ‘cart abandon rate’: number of dropped out persons divided by the number of customers that started a purchase;
  • the average value of your shopping cart;
  • the average number of items for each shopping cart.

I’m very interested in your personal experience concerning ordering processes. Leave your remarks below or share them with me through Twitter (@savermeulen). In a next blog there will be tips for the mobile web site.

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