7 Crucial Steps Toward Maximizing Your Shopping Cart’s Conversion Rate

When most people think about converting a higher percentage of site visitors to paying customers, they usually focus on improving sales copy or testing optimal price points. These elements are very important, of course. But the most overlooked conversion-point element is abandoned shopping carts.

Studies indicate that 25% to 75% of shoppers abandon the checkout process before the sale is complete. Even when you have all the main sales elements orchestrated into a finely tuned symphony, you can still hit the sour notes of lost profits when customers ditch their shopping carts.

Of course, you’ll never convert 100%. But the difference between 25 and 75% is huge! And the good news is, chances are, you have room for improvement which can be converted into higher profits almost immediately. So, here are the 7 crucial steps you can take right now toward putting your shopping cart system in harmony with the rest of your well-orchestrated sales system.

1. Offer alternative ways to buy.

Even after more than a decade of online shopping, many people are still uncomfortable using their credit cards online. Therefore you should make sure your shopping cart offers them the option to purchase by phone, fax, and mail (offering PayPal as an option doesn’t hurt either).

A phone number is especially important. In fact, it’s a good idea to use a separate phone number just for your shopping cart. That way you can track how many of your customers are still more comfortable talking to a “real person” prior to making a purchase.

A mailing address pointing to a physical location also reassures your customer that you’re a legitimate business. True; most customers will either email or call, rather than write—but the physical address offers an important level of credibility and reassurance. The more contact info you can offer, the safer your customer tends to feel.

2. Use 3rd party trust indicators.

Many shopping carts are abandoned simply due to customer paranoia. People worry that you’ll sell their private information or steal their credit card number or even their identity.

By prominently displaying one or more of the so-called trust badges offered by companies like Comodo, TrustE, VeriSign, Thawte, ScanAlert’s Hacker Safe, or Trust Guard, you can often ease customer concerns and thereby significantly improve conversion rates.

Another way to establish trust with your customers is to display a Better Business Bureau Reliability and Privacy Seal. In fact, even displaying the familiar logos of credit cards you accept tends to put customers at ease and make them more likely to purchase. They subconsciously assume that if the image of a well-known credit card is on your site, that your merchant status has been approved by them and you are therefore more trustworthy.

Trust images such as these work well assuming, of course, that you’re actually authorized to use them.
3. Strategically integrate your own trust indicators.

Your contact info, privacy policy, warranty and satisfaction guarantee should become integrated components of your sales process. Allow the customer who wants to know this information to access it quickly and easily. Place it in obvious and relevant locations along the sales path.

Access to these internal trust indicators should literally be synchronized with the steps in your shopping cart. If the customer just added a product, make sure your warranty and guarantee are readily accessible. If they’re about to give you their email address, your privacy policy should be on hand. When it’s time to enter their credit card information, make sure your contact info and third party trust indicators are prominently displayed.
4. Eliminate unnecessary steps.

Each step in the shopping cart is another opportunity for the customer to bail. So, be sure to eliminate unnecessary steps. Don’t force your customer to log in or register before they can add items to their shopping cart. Save whatever customer information they do enter so if they accidentally close their browser or have to leave and come back later, their information is there waiting for them when they return.

Don’t force them to enter both their shipping and billing information if it’s the same. Give them a little checkbox that says My shipping and billing address are the same.

Your objective should be to remove as much friction as possible so the order process flows like warm chocolate off a hot spoon. We call this greasing the chute. Do everything possible to eliminate unnecessary steps within your check out process. Make sure every step makes sense to the customer, never force them to enter the same data twice, and never ask for information you don’t need.
5. Use progress indicators, pictures, and links to product descriptions.

Let you customers know where they are in the checkout process by using a progress indicator. For example, Step 2 of 4: Enter Billing Information. Give each step a clear description so customers know what’s expected of them–and always provide a way to go back to any of the steps and edit their information. Save the information they enter at each step so they never have to enter the same data twice, no matter how many times they go back and forth between steps.

Likewise, make sure they can easily edit any part of the shopping cart. They should be able to add or remove products, change quantities or alter their selection of various product features (such as size or color).

Equally important, they should be able to quickly access clear descriptions and images of the products in their shopping cart. Provide the appropriate links right there in the shopping cart. Don’t force customers to use the back button or open a new browser. It’s common for them to compare the items in their shopping cart with other items on your site or on other sites–or simply check to make sure they’re ordering the right product. If they can easily access the price (including shipping), images and features of the items in their cart, they’re more likely to feel secure in their decision to proceed and complete the sale.
6. Collect email addresses first, so you can follow up later.

One of the most surprisingly effective ways to increase overall sales is to quickly follow up via email with someone who has just abandoned their shopping cart.

Start by thanking them for visiting your site. Then let them know that you noticed they didn’t complete their order, and politely ask if there’s anything you can do to assist them. Provide a link back to their shopping cart containing the products and contact info they’ve entered so they can easily complete their purchase. Be sure to include your phone number and other contact info in the email.

You will likely be impressed by the number of people who actually respond to an email like this and complete the purchase once you’ve satisfied their objections via phone or email.
7. Test and track!

As is the case with your sales copy, every aspect of your shopping cart can also be tested. Colors, fonts, images, sales copy, number and placement of trust badges: it’s all up for testing. Sometimes the smallest changes can impact conversion rates significantly. Be sure to track each page so you can see what the drop-off rate is at each step in your check out process. This will help you zero-in on problem areas that need to be addressed.

Such testing might involve simple A/B split comparisons or more sophisticated multivariate testing. A/B split means rotating two (or more) slightly different versions of a page that test a single element to see which converts better. Multivariate testing involves testing multiple elements all at once. It’s more complicated, but can get the job done quicker if you have enough traffic with tracking systems in place to compare the data elements being tested. Vertster and Optimost both offer excellent split and multivariate testing packages.

By the way, past testing has revealed that calling your shopping cart anything else besides a shopping cart has actually been shown to decrease sales.
Summary: Put the customer in control

Make the customer feel like they are the one in control. Be sure to clearly label and prominently display links and buttons that allow them to view and update and change their minds as often as they desire. Let them see how many items you have in stock and give them access to view the shipping and sales tax costs as well as estimated delivery date early in the process.

And, of course, your checkout button should be falling-off-a-log easy to find!

The idea is to give them all of the info they want, when they want it. Let them plod through the process at their own pace and be indecisive procrastinators when they need to be—but always present a friendly shopping cart experience. The fact is that people like to buy but they hate to be sold. They want feel it’s their idea and that the purchase is being made on their terms—and they often rile when forced into a complicated, cookie cutter, hurry-up system that is some tech-guy’s idea of how it should be.

Your goal is to make their checkout process as intuitive, flexible, and pleasant as possible. And giving your customers a high level of control will not only increase your online shopping cart’s conversion rate but will also increase your return-customer ratios.

Remember—small improvements lead to BIG $$ Gains

Like I said, your shopping cart will never reach a 100% conversion. But for most companies who are experiencing anything like 50-75% abandonment rates, improving it to 25% is a big pile of found money! …and cause for breaking out the champagne!

Here’s to keeping you in the bubbly,

Stephen Mahaney – President
Planet Ocean Communications

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