Conversion is the name of the game in online retail, and it’s not an easy problem for most direct-to-consumer brands to solve.
As Janelle de Weerd of Crobox writes, “One of the biggest obstacles as a digital marketer is making your customers make it through their buyer’s journey seamlessly.”
The checkout process is where so many brands’ sites stumble. That’s why, as the Baymard Institute points out, the average cart abandonment rate is just over 69 percent. This means that more than two-thirds of shoppers fill up their carts but don’t follow through on the purchase.
David Hoos, marketing manager at conversion specialist firm The Good, told us that there are three major reasons shoppers abandon their carts:
- Unexpected costs, related to shipping, tax or other fees.
- Having to create an account on the website.
- Getting tired of an overly complicated process.
The common thread among Hoos points? Checkout. Surprise charges, account creation and complicated data-capture forms are enough to make most people rethink their purchases.
With Hoos’ points in mind, here are three things a direct-to-consumer brand can do to streamline its checkout process, encourage conversion and reclaim some of those lost sales.
1. Put All Costs Clearly Upfront
Goal No. 1 is to let your customers know what a transaction will cost them. Get that number in front of them as soon as possible. “Share any expected shipping, tax, or fee costs up front or waive them entirely,” Hoos says.
Natasha Kvitka, digital marketing strategist at Gift Baskets Overseas, says adding hidden costs and conditions late in the checkout process is a common mistake brands make. “Usually, it’s being done to make the offer more attractive to the customer, relying on the belief that if they start the ordering process and fill into some forms, they won’t leave it and will finalize the purchase anyway,” writes Kvitka.
But that isn’t typically the case. In Kvitka’s experience, surprising shoppers with additional charges causes them to bounce from checkout pages.
This is a big deal for multiple reasons, not simply cart abandonment. Kim Flaherty at the Nielsen Norman Group says surprise fees impact the brand itself. Many people need to stay within a budget, so an unexpected, significant fee that is revealed late in the checkout will not only make some people abandon the process altogether, but it will also cause them to lose trust in the brand or the organization,” she says.
In other words, you want to keep costs clear and upfront not only to help your conversion rates, but also to build trust in your brand.
Sure, some charges are difficult to include on the product page itself. Shipping charges vary, for example. That’s why the team at payment processing company goEmerchant recommends simply incorporating these variable costs early into the checkout process.
Paula Heikell, VP of product marketing at Logistyx, suggests another option: Eliminate unexpected shipping costs altogether by absorbing the cost into the product price and offering free shipping. Both approaches should boost your conversions.
2. Make Account Creation Optional (or Save it for After Checkout)
It’s as simple as this: Requiring account registration before checkout puts a roadblock directly in the way of a purchase. And that’s something you want to avoid — not quite at all costs, but close.
“Make sure you have a guest checkout or get a password after they checkout,” Hoos says.
Writing at Hacker Noon, research analyst Rachael Ray suggests making account creation optional, but offering perks (e.g. discounts, loyalty programs) for signing up. “In this manner, you can satisfy both type of customers — the ones who willing to go ahead with the loyalty programme concept and also the ones who don’t want to sign up.”
Amit Bhaiya, CEO of DotcomWeavers, has two suggestions on this front.
- If you do include account registration during checkout, consider allowing social media login via Facebook, Google or Twitter. This lightens the signup burden for customers.
- Incentivize the account creation process with a percentage discount or special offer. “Giving customers a registration incentive such as 15% off their first purchase is a good exchange for their effort,” Bhaiya says.
Rita Vilaca, project manager at consultancy Monday, points out that neither guest checkout nor account registration is the “right” option. It depends entirely on the customer preference. Offering both options is the way to go for brands today.
3. Keep the Checkout Process Simple & Progress Visible
Hoos recommends a two-step solution to the checkout process: “Give your consumers a roadmap and progress bar for checkout so they know how close they are to completion.” A roadmap and a progress bar. You want customers to know what’s coming and to know where they’re at.
First things first: the roadmap. Creating a clean process will keep customers from navigating away and make the entire process flow. “Reduce alternative navigation at checkout,” writes Jon MacDonald, founder and president of The Good. “This is most effective once you have already created a great checkout flow. If you do it before, consumers will feel trapped or lost and will simply leave altogether if they can’t easily return to the store.”
What does a great checkout flow actually look like? MacDonald has a few ideas, including making next steps as clear as possible. That means differentiating those next steps buttons with distinct text or colors. “Make the entire process absolutely simple to grasp and easy to perform,” MacDonald advises.
Another key design element is a progress bar for the entirety of the checkout process. Jack Simpson at Econsultancy calls checkout progress indicators essential for eCommerce stores, not optional.
Progress bars serve as “a useful visual reminder for customers, and helps to reassure them that the process won’t take long, or perhaps that they’ll have a chance to review the order before confirmation,” Graham Charlton writes at the SaleCycle blog.
The Bottom Line: Treat Shoppers as People During Checkout
Of course, keeping things simple for checkout doesn’t mean you can’t add some personality to the process. Onur Hasbay, product manager at BlueSnap, gives the example of Prezi’s checkout page, which adds a personal and snappy line after a user puts in each piece of information.
“Payments are important, but that doesn’t mean submitting payment information has to put us to sleep,” Hasbay writes.
Let your brand’s personality come out, even during checkout. This doesn’t make the process more complicated. It simply adds something extra for the customer going through the process.
Regarding what consumers expect of today’s retailers, Hilding Anderson at Multichannel Merchant has three phrases: “Treat me like the unique person I am. Be there when I need you. Tell me what you stand for.”
These thoughts apply to marketing, to customer service and to checkout alike. Always remember that each customer is a person. Honing your checkout process from that perspective sets you up to earn loyal customers.