The customer's online journey from first click to payment is not something to be left to chance. A well-formulated payment funnel requires careful planning and consideration of basic online customer psychology.
A 2010 Forrester survey found that 88 per cent of online shoppers abandon their shopping baskets. Understanding why potential customers surf away, and designing a plan to combat this behaviour, is always high on the agenda of any serious e-commerce site.
The majority of customer dropouts may not be attributable to a lack of interest, but, rather, a lack of commitment. Window shoppers are as much a plague to online business as to conventional retailers.
There are, however, a few steps that can help cut the number of shoppers who abandon their carts and convert them to paying customers.
All e-commerce sites should test usability with real customers to understand behaviours and locate any bugs that may impede the visitor's flow through to payment.
Work closely with developers to fix any problems across different operating systems or Internet browsers. Getting these types of basic compatibility issues addressed is important before diving in further.
A cluttered or overly complex transaction process is a customer's worst nightmare. Fewer stages between site arrival and transaction will help reduce dropouts and encourage customers to go to the end of the process.
Amazon provides a model example, with bestselling products featured on its homepage. The site uses logical tabbed categories for browsing and a broad search function. Amazon recognizes that difficulty in locating desired products will result in lost interest, and lost sales.
The same applies to purchase; the start of the payment process must be obvious, with a highly visible call to action button ("Buy now").
Pages should be concise, with a clear, consistent layout. High-quality images and well-written content will reassure customers of your site's reputation and the quality of your products.
Important information, such as the full price, delivery costs and time frames are vital and need to be displayed alongside the product.
Tailoring content to individual customers can help gain more attention and lead to complementary product sales. If a customer has recently purchased or added to his or her basket an iPad, for example, why not display an iPad case?
Transparency on customer requirements is also important. Suddenly having to register an account could well increase customer dropout rates. Many e-commerce stores now let you check out as a "guest."
Comprehensive content and frequently asked questions should help to eliminate potential queries. Patience online is low for the task-driven Internet shopper, and the prospect of having to wait 24 hours for a response from customer support might just be enough to send someone to purchase from your competitor instead.
As an online merchant, you are asking visitors to commit to products they have never seen; unsurprisingly a lack of trust is a significant contributor to low success rates.
Customers only spend a minimal amount of time on each page and your competition is just a click away, so overall site aesthetics are important; professional design and quality copywriting will only aid your credibility.
Web analytics tools such as Google Analytics let you quickly see where potential customers drop out and what areas require improvement. Careful assessment of this information and implementation of tests to help improve the user experience will pay dividends.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Robert Matthams is the managing director of British-based online transport marketplace Shiply.com.