Hurray — the holidays are here! At the beginning of the year you successfully completed the transition to the new site architecture. You have fine-tuned your advertising strategy to recruit qualified traffic to the site. The engagement metrics are in line with your expectations. Now, the million dollar question, what about your site’s conversion rate? Are holiday shoppers leaking out from your conversion funnel?

Rarely would shoppers spend a considerable amount of time at a departmental store, walking through the aisles, adding items in to a shopping cart and then just walk out of the store without making a purchase. However, as all marketers would agree, this is a common behavioral trait of online shoppers, resulting in abysmally low conversion rates. Before we jump to conclusions we must reconcile to the fact that making a purchase on the internet is a completely different experience for shoppers. Even ‘window shopping’ in the real world requires time, effort and commitment. Now compare this to the ease with which customers can browse through products over the internet or even add products to a shopping cart. While marketers are used to measuring conversions using a top-down funnel, the reality is that each step of the process requires greater degrees commitment from online shoppers, thereby increasing the risk of cart abandonment.

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Think about it, retail store employees will ever force their customers to “sign in to their account”. At a brick and mortar store, all shoppers have to do is to make the payment and walk out with the stuff they bought. Whereas customers who shopped online have to wait patiently trusting the website’s assurance drafted into the “shipping & delivery policy”. No wonder the average conversion rate of typical online retailers in the United States is around 3%!

So; what are the steps you can take to decrease leaks from the conversion funnel? It is all about winning the trust of customers, eliminating distractions and keeping the process as simple as possible. Communicating the right message is critical to win the trust of people. This is even more critical in the virtual world where shoppers are interfacing with machines rather than humans.

  • Start at the very beginning : While this article is about optimizing the checkout process, we should never under estimate the importance of acquiring qualified traffic. In other words, the communication exercise actually starts before the customer lands on your site. Your ads must be a genuine reflection of the purchase experience customers can expect. Let your landing pages reinforce the message with their design quality and value proposition. Shoppers will never trust your site’s shipping policy if pages on the site take a long time to render.
  • Create urgency : Shoppers can easily abandon online shopping carts for no obvious reason. Smart messaging can create a sense of urgency and prevent leaks from the conversion funnel. A good example is Amazon.com’s product pages which carry messages such as “Want it tomorrow, Nov. 21? Order within 2 hrs 16 mins and choose One-Day Shipping at checkout.” Similar messages with crisp call-to-actions can go a long way in decreasing cart abandonment rates.
  • Guide them, don’t confuse them : Shoppers are completely at ease when making a purchase in the real world. Completing a purchase in a physical store is something they would have done so many times, that they don’t need an instruction manual. The process is not just intuitive but ingrained in them. Unfortunately completing a checkout in an ecommerce store can be a daunting task — so many forms to fill and buttons to click — it is a radical shift from what they are used to in the real world. This is why it is very important for the checkout pages to vividly communicate what stage of the process the customers are in currently. Pages that are part of the checkout process should update to the customer about what steps have been completed and what is yet to come.
  • Don’t force registrations : With the increasing amount of spam that customers receive daily, they are very weary of sharing personal information. We recommend that you do not force customers to create an account as part of the checkout process. Forced registrations that impede the process are one of the biggest leakage points. Although you may want to educate the customer about the benefits of creating an account or even incentivize this micro conversion, always give your customers the option of checking out as a guest.
  • No surprises please : When will your customers know if a product is in stock or not? Shoppers will not be pleased if they are informed about a product being out of stock later in the purchase process. Sites that declare the product’s availability status on the product page win customer confidence. Minimizing surprises by adequately communicating all aspects of the transaction including delivery time, shipping costs and taxes are critical to prevent drop-offs from the funnel.
  • Win on logistics : One of the benefits of shopping online is the ease with which customers can compare your products with those on offer at a competing website. The highly competitive nature of online retailing leaves little scope for stores to compete and win on pricing and product features alone. It is important to note that customers are not just buying a product online, but rather paying for the “buying experience” as a package. The service component of the transaction offers a big opportunity for online retailers to innovate and differentiate themselves. Stores that offer quicker delivery may be preferred by customers to those that offer a marginally lower price but take longer to deliver the products. Offering a competitive delivery timeline can boost conversions and prevent leaks from the funnel.
  • Sweeten the deal : Online shoppers love a good bargain as much as shoppers in brick and mortar stores. Ecommerce stores should leverage promotions such as discount coupons that offer a percentage off, discounts of fixed values, and offers such as “Buy One Get One” and free-shipping to gently nudge shoppers through the conversion funnel.
  • Multiple payment options : Going through the checkout process only to realize later that the site offers a limited set of payment options can be very frustrating to shoppers. Offering a wide choice of payment options including PayPal, Amazon 1-Click, Google Checkout and Bill Me Later can potentially decrease cart abandonments.
  • Leverage word of mouth : Having a feature that captures user ratings and reviews is a great way to boost the customer’s confidence in the store and its products. This feature can be a double edged sword as customers will be able to post both positive and negative feedback, but in the long run this will help potential customers make informed decisions. Walmart.com that shows product ratings right below the product name is good example to emulate.
  • Transparency creates trust : Have you conducted a usability study to understand if potential shoppers can easily locate your shipping, delivery, returns and privacy polices? All ecommerce stores are designed to make it easy for customers to find the products they are looking for. While this can boost your product-view and add-to-cart metrics, it is important to make it easy for customers to find your policies. A prominent link to the help section should be a part of your site’s navigation menu. The language used in the policies should be unambiguous and easy to comprehend. Security badges, such as TRUSTe, should also be displayed in a prominent place.

In this article, I have summarized 10 ways by which you can plug potential leaks in your conversion funnel. We hope you will be able to implement the recommendations that are relevant to your ecommerce store. For any additional support you can always reach out to one of the optimization experts of Nabler. Happy Holidays!