research shows up to 75 percent of shoppers abandon their online
shopping carts before completing the checkout process. I’m not sure how
comfortable I am with that statistic, but shopping cart abandonment is
a significant problem. Numerous factors influence this rate, but I’ll address those that move the lever in the right direction this week and next.

  • How many steps are in your checkout process?
    This is usually what most people focus on. Our clients’ checkout
    processes range from one to seven steps. We’ve discovered the number of
    steps is not all that critical. One client was able to bring the
    checkout process from six steps down to one; we found no correlation
    between reduction of steps and reduction in abandonment rate. Once
    people found what they came for, they found the time to check out no
    matter how many steps were involved.

    Should you change the number of steps? Yes! But if you don’t have an
    inexpensive and simple way to test, it may not be worth the time,
    effort, and expense of reducing the number of steps in the checkout
    process. Try some of these other ideas first.

  • Include a progress indicator on each checkout page. No
    matter how many steps in your checkout process, let customers know
    where they are in the process. Number the steps, and label the task
    clearly for each step. Give shoppers an opportunity to review what they
    did in previous steps and a way to return to their current step if they
    go back.

  • Provide a link back to the product. When an item is
    placed in the shopping cart, include a link back to the product page.
    Shoppers can then easily jump back to make sure they selected the right
    item. I was shopping for a printer and wanted to know how many and what
    color cartridges come with the printer. It wasn’t obvious where I
    should click to review the product description. I had to navigate using
    my back button until I got my questions answered.

  • Add pictures inside the basket. Placing a thumbnail image of the product increases conversions by as much as 10 percent.
  • Provide shipping costs early in the process. If
    possible, provide an estimated cost while visitors browse. They want to
    buy but want the answers to all their questions when they want them.
    Total cost is one of those critical questions. Also, if the shipping
    information is the same as the billing information, include a checkbox
    to automatically fill in the same information.

  • Show stock availability on the product page. Shoppers
    should not have to wait until checkout to learn if a product is out of
    stock. Also, give an estimated delivery date. Deal with the “I want it
    now” mentality, and let them know when they should expect to get their

  • Make it obvious what to click next. Include a prominent
    “Next Step” or “Continue With Checkout” button on each checkout page.
    Make the button you want them to click next the most obvious. One top
    50 e-tailer mistakenly placed its “remove from cart” and checkout
    buttons next to each other. Neither stood out. Many people ended up
    clearing their carts. When they went to check out, they found nothing
    in there and immediately abandoned the site in frustration.

  • Make editing the shopping cart easy. It should be
    simple to change quantities or options, or delete an item from the
    shopping cart. If a product comes in multiple sizes or colors, make it
    easy to select or change values in the shopping cart.

  • Make it your fault. If information is missing or filled
    out incorrectly during checkout, give a meaningful error message that’s
    obvious to see. It should clearly tell visitors what needs to be
    corrected. The tone should be the system was unable to understand what
    was entered, not the visitor made a foolish mistake.

  • Show them you’re a real entity. People’s concerns start
    to flare up during checkout. Let them know you’re a real company by
    giving full contact info during the checkout process.

  • Offer the option to call.
    If visitors have a problem during checkout or feel uncomfortable using
    a credit card online, offer a phone number. Devote a dedicated
    toll-free line for tracking purposes. Also offer a printable order form
    so customers can complete orders by fax, if they prefer.

  • Make the most of cross- and up-sell. It isn’t always
    effective to up-sell on a product detail page; sometimes this is best
    left for checkout. Recommend items based on what’s already in the
    shopping cart. Look at how sells flowers and up-sells a vase, versus how does. Try interstitials or pop-ups to capture up- and cross-sell options.

  • It’s about new customers. Make the checkout process
    even easier for new visitors than registered customers. Acquiring new
    customers is much harder than selling to the loyal ones. Registered
    customers will find a way to sign in (if they don’t have a cookie).
    Don’t position registration and log-in as an obstacle between new
    visitors and checkout.

  • Add third-party reinforcement messages. VeriSign,
    Better Business Bureau, and credit card logos either greatly boost
    conversions or at least keep them neutral. In other words, they can’t
    hurt. A HACKER SAFE
    rating certification helps clients across the board, especially those
    with larger-than-average order sizes. Its maker, ScanAlert, claims the
    certification can increase average orders 15.7 percent.

  • Handle coupon codes with care. Don’t decrease your conversion rate90 percent, as my friend Brad did. Think carefully about where you present the option to enter codes and how you label it.
  • Offer a price guarantee. If you sell name-brand
    products and your store is price competitive or truly provides better
    value, try a “Lowest Price Match” guarantee.

  • Provide multiple payment options. Follow Wal-Mart’s lead and add more payment options. Allow visitors to pay by credit card, check, PayPal, or any other means you can.
  • Reassure customers at the right time and place. How
    often is critical information buried in tiny type at the bottom of the
    page or deep within a site? In a brick-and-mortar store, it’s fairly
    easy to find product warranty information. Offer customers this same
    opportunity online, at the point of action (POA). Link to product
    warranties, shipping costs, return policies, testimonials, even
    optional extended service plans. Or, provide the information in a
    pop-up. Make the best use of your assurances at the right time and place.

  • Track your mistakes. Develop a system to keep you
    notified of errors during the checkout process. One client noticed a
    portion of his visitors had cookies turned off. He developed a
    cookie-free checkout option. His conversion rate and sales jumped.

  • Use an exit survey. If a visitor abandons checkout,
    offer an incentive to complete an exit survey. She may tell you why she
    didn’t complete that order.

Now you
have 20 different ways to reduce shopping cart abandonment. Every site
is different, of course, with its own environment and issues. Don’t
obsess about abandonment rates. Many people use shopping carts as place
holders for considering items. Help those who want to check out and may
have questions, doubts, or obstacles holding them back.

Some of
these tips will result in dramatic improvements, others may not do much
at all. Test each one that’s appropriate. Improve conversion rate one
step at a time.