Question: When is your shopping cart not just a shopping cart? Answer: When your visitors use it as a comparative tool.
If you’ve got the hang of personas and why they are critical to designing the persuasion architecture of your web site, then you have an understanding of the underlying premise: there is no average visitor. Everyone approaches the decision to buy in different ways. The customer-focused web site (you are one, right?) designs navigation paths that acknowledge this and consequently sees fabulously impressive conversion rates.
So, if everyone interacts with your web site differently, what makes you think they’ll suddenly fall into uniform step with your checkout process? Turns out, they don’t. Ergo, you need a checkout process that satisfies multiple needs while remaining true to your GTC (Get the Cash) objectives. You need a conversion-sensitive tool that gets your visitors to the close today, tomorrow … even days from now. And you need to understand that abandonment doesn’t always mean rejection.
Let’s look at the levels of readiness and motivation behind the visitors who might purchase from you:
There’s the visitor who knows exactly what she wants and is on your site to get it. She's looking for the Sony DVP-FX701 Portable DVD Player.
There’s the visitor who sort-of knows what she wants, but she’s still looking and gathering information. She wants to compare different Sony DVD players.
There’s the visitor who isn’t exactly in a buying frame of mind, but could be persuaded. She eventually wants to get a DVD player for her family room.
We’ve said before that your site must make allowances for each of these categories and acknowledge that not all visitors are at the same place in the buying decision process when they come to you. The same holds true for your checkout process.
Let’s take the visitor who knows exactly what she wants. She’s there to buy. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for her to accomplish her goal. Frankly, this is the to-die-for visitor, because you really don’t have to work terribly hard. You just have to get out of her way. Every time you throw an obstacle in her path, you tick her off.
Think of this visitor as a race horse with blinders on. Rarely will she look right or left; she’s after the finish line, and a confidence-inspiring, open track lets her accomplish her goals in a way that keeps her happy.
Then there’s the great untapped horde in your potential customer base – the other two groups of prospective customers. These are the folks who visit a site and cast around to see what’s going on. If they find your site useful, they may bookmark it for later retrieval if they don’t see anything better on down the line. And very often, they’ll load a shopping cart and work through enough of the checkout process to determine total costs. In short, these visitors will most often use your checkout process as a comparative tool.
When they move on, they aren’t necessarily bailing. Shoppers generally return to purchase from the web site that delivers on price and availability, and even more important, safety and trust. (Don’t let anyone tell you different; confidence almost always trumps price and availability!)
Take the interesting results Ken Leonard (CEO of ScanAlert, the Hacker Safe certification service) discovered as a corollary in tests evaluating the effect of his security certification symbol on conversion.
Based on aggregate totals from these studies, the average time delay between a consumer’s first visit to a web site and their first purchase was just over 19 hours. About one-third (35%) of shoppers took more than 12 hours to make a buy decision. 21% took more than three days, with 14% of these “cautious shoppers” taking more than one week to decide where to buy.1
Survey data clearly indicates that encouraging today’s digital window shopper to explore product information, and to gain a memorable sense of trust and safety while doing so, has a strong influence on their search for value. Armed with this new understanding, site designers need to focus on special features producing a shopping experience that is not only informative and secure, but also memorable and easy to return to.1
No matter which visitor you are wooing, you must keep the checkout process simple and intuitive. You can’t know right away if a cart abandonment incident is temporary, but if your checkout process looks anything like this, there are lots of reasons why the abandonment might be permanent.
Of all web pages, you ask the question: What action needs to be taken on this page? What is the action you want most to motivate? When you are dealing with checkout pages, your critical calls to action must motivate the close. You may have other marketing ploys you want to promote, but the page priority is GTC – get the cash, get the customer. Anything that throws the visitor off the scent is losing you money (and undermining those other marketing tactics). Remember the concept of “paralysis of analysis.” When you try to do too many things at once, folks tune out.
Let’s look at this shopping cart page from Buy.com more carefully. How many impediments to conversion can you find? I count 12 calls to action that don't support the goal of the page. Twelve! The problems:
The first thing I see is not the contents of my shopping cart, but a promotion for two items Buy.com is featuring for the day. When I click on shopping cart, give me my shopping cart! Don’t make me have to look for it. (2 calls to action for the featured products plus 2 calls to action for more products by those folks equals 4.)
The above-mentioned featured items have nothing to do with what I’ve been shopping for and certainly have nothing to do with the item I’ve put in my cart. Not a smooth move! If you insist on distracting me, do it with a product I might actually purchase based on my track through the site or my selection. If you routinely have a roster of featured products, set that up earlier in the game as a navigation category.
Pushing Yub.com here is asking me to totally disconnect from the immediate purchase at hand. This invites an entirely separate buying decision process – you risk losing me twice before you even have me once! (3 initial calls to action, with the promise of two more steps.)
Cross-selling magazines here accomplishes the same distraction as the Yub.com promotion. (4 calls to action to subscribe to 4 magazines plus 1 call to action to view more magazines on offer equals 5.)
Twelve different ways this page attempts to throw the visitor off the scent of completing the purchase!! The only legitimate calls to action that support conversion at this point are 1) update quantities; 2) checkout; 3) continue shopping; and 4) qualify for budget shipping.
Okay, you have third-party offers you need to make to satisfy your channel partners. You want to increase your average order size by cross- and up-selling. It’s acceptable to do this during checkout (and I encourage you to do it meaningfully and sensibly), but only AFTER you accomplish the goal that is near-and-dear to the hearts of your visitors (and, I hope, to yours).
The trick is, be creative – find ways to achieve your secondary goals without impeding conversion. Convert your visitor to a customer first, then try some of these ideas:
Offer the cross- or up-selling promotion on the confirmation page, with a coupon good for free shipping. Or offer a “folks who bought this also purchased this” option when a visitor adds an item to her cart (and don’t take her to her cart to accomplish this).
If you want to introduce a new service, shoot out an email after the completed transaction to thank new customers for their purchase and explain the benefits the new service provides.
Add your third-party offers to a thank you page that also asks for feedback on the completed transaction.
If you think “cart before the horse,” you’re more likely to experience fewer permanent shopping cart abandonments and find more folks taking advantage of your secondary marketing strategies. Beats a lose/lose any day!
A clean checkout process satisfies the needs of all your visitors and keeps them moving without distraction through the closing phase of your conversion process. It also happens to be your best strategy for inspiring safety, trust and that oh-so-critical confidence – whether the visitor buys from you today or returns to buy from you next week.
What are the implications for your site and shopping cart experience? Well, you certainly can’t go thinking of your shopping cart as a little tag-on peripheral. You need to understand it as a persuasive conversion tool that is part of the gestalt of your visitors’ buying process and your goals. You want a checkout process that makes it easy to GTC right now or days from now. Help the folks who want to act immediately and make it easy for those “cautious” folks to pick up where they left off with you.
Remember, visitors don’t interact with your shopping cart by accident – they make a conscious decision to go there. The fact they are even in your cart or trolley or basket or bag indicates you are speaking persuasively to them. They want to make a decision that gets them what they came for. You want them to make a decision that results in a purchase from you.
So get out of their way. Give them what they want. Let them eat cake!
1 “It’s not shopping cart abandonment, it’s comparison shopping.” Ken Leonard. Internet Retailer. March 2005. http://www.internetretailer.com/article.asp?id=14278