In our continuing series on ecomm SEO (see here for the first installment if you have missed it), last time we covered issues specific to optimization of images and getting your product page detail fine-tuned.
In today’s installment, are going to focus specifically on the subject of e-commerce checkout optimization – the process of refining and improving the entire checkout process, from beginning to end, to make it as efficient and effective as possible.
Make note: Mistakes in the checkout process can totally wreck the success of an otherwise well-designed online shopping experience.
The #1 Issue In Ecommerce Checkout Optimization: Shopping Cart Abandonment
The number one problem we see, from an ecommerce checkout optimization perspective, with shopping carts, is the abandonment of items, where the customer places items into the shopping cart without finalizing the order and paying for those items.
Shopping cart abandonment usually happens because the customer begins to have “second thoughts” and, for whatever reason, leaves the site and does not return. Often, it is because they want to do a last-minute check to see if you are offering the best price. Sometimes they will go looking for reviews to see if others have had problems with your site.
You’ll read a lot on this subject which makes the suggestion that you can eliminate shopping cart abandonment — but some degree of shopping cart abandonment is to be expected when operating any ecommerce site. Total elimination is not realistic, but sites with a large % of abandoned shopping carts do need to be investigated further, with a view to improving that statistic.
One possible way to reduce (although not completely eliminate) shopping cart abandonment occurs when people have logged into an account on your site but abandon purchases. You may be able to get your in-house developer/coder to have some coding that will execute, perhaps once a day, to check any customer accounts with items in their shopping cart, and then send them a reminder email.
But there is not much you can do (as far as reaching out to them) when someone abandons the shopping cart and you have no information on who they are.
Ecommerce Checkout Optimization Issue #2: Eliminating Confusion, Complications and Delays
A general rule-of-thumb is to make sure that your checkout process should be designed to be as easy and quick as possible for the customer to complete.
Complications: Complicated and unnecessary procedures can cause your customer to get frustrated and angry — and just leave. Remember “KISS” — Keep It Simple when Selling.
Confusion: Be careful if you are trying to cross-sell or upsell other products/services. This can sometimes confuse the customer or frustrate them. For sure, do not try to cross-sell/upsell once they have begun the payment process — proper ecommerce checkout optimization procedures dictate that you move any cross-sell/upsell pitch to a point much earlier in the process.
Delays: One very helpful tool for your customers is to show them a “progress” bar as they move through the checkout process – it will visually indicate to them that they are almost finished and will keep them moving forward. Eliminate every potential obstacle that will delay your customer from opening their wallet!
The Absolute Essentials of the Ecommerce Checkout Process
Getting the balance right is a tricky thing when it comes to checking out of an ecomm site.
On the one hand, you don’t want to require too much information to be collected as a part of your process.
Do you really need to have the customer create an account with a login and password? Perhaps the option of allowing orders to be placed as a “guest” if the customer should desire that? Remember, you can gain some customer marketing information from their billing/shipping information if you need that.
On the other hand, some information is necessary in order to take and process orders correctly and efficiently.
For example, on any fill-in forms, make sure that you clearly indicate which are required and also give an exemplar (an example or dummy) that shows the necessary format they will need to use (for example, expiry information as either mm/yy or mm/yyyy format).
Keep in mind the headache — and errors — that can be experienced when customers are typing on a smartphone or tablet device. So keep your fill-in forms simple and easy-to-fill-out, even when people are using a mobile device.
These general tips aside, what are the absolute essentials of the check-out process?
Order items verification: Make sure that you allow the customer to view — and easily change — the items in their cart. When many customers review their shopping cart items, they realize that they have forgotten something and so they need to go back to the listings to find the other needed item(s). Make sure that you provide a way (button or link) for them to do just that.
Shipping/Registration: Make sure that the customer is verifying (and correcting if needed) their shipping information or account registration details if they are doing that.
Payments: Make sure that you allow the customer to verify and edit their payment information before the order is finalized and processed.
Getting Payments: Test — thoroughly — your payment gateway to make sure that payments go through quickly, accurately and securely. Test your payment gateway’s error-handling procedures, like flagging CC/DC numbers that are too long or too short, or obviously expired information (like a date from last year, or any date before the current date, for an expiry date).
Post-Sale: Provide the customer with order confirmation information (including a printable receipt) and necessary customer service contact information if inquiries need to be made or if there are issues. You will need to decide just how easy (or difficult!) it will be for them to cancel an order they have just placed.
Shipping: Provide the customer with shipping confirmation information (you’ll need to capture their email address) and with a shipment tracking link if you are shipping a physical item.
The Important Role of User Testing in the Ecommerce Checkout Process
We cannot understate the critical importance of this – your entire checkout process must be thoroughly tested before you roll your site out to the general population. Bugs, cryptic error messages, payments not going through your payment gateway properly — all of these things are the kiss of death to any ecomm site, not to mention that they create a very unprofessional image for your business.
The systems for most payment gateway processors will allow you to use a “sandbox” and create dummy payments to allow you to double-check your system coding to make sure everything is working properly.
It would not be going too far to actually place some orders as a “customer” so that you can completely check out all phases of your ordering process (and keep very detailed notes so that you can pass them along to your coding/dev team for changes that will need to be made).
As the checkout process is the HEART of any ecommerce site, don’t put your “open to the public” sign out until you are 1,000% sure that your system is working perfectly!