Make Sure You Convert Web Browsers into Buyers

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This past holiday shopping season was the first true online Christmas, and for the most part I enjoyed buying products from several online companies. I was shocked, however, at the slow load times and cumbersome order processes many Web sites put prospective buyers through.


Too many online retailers spend fortunes on marketing campaigns to drive customers to their Web sites and then proceed to ruin their opportunities to convert those visitors to actual buyers. These companies could easily and dramatically improve their results if they avoided a few simple pitfalls that seem to plague so many e-tailers. Here are some inexpensive fixes that will help convert more first-time visitors into customers:


The front screen. Many sites lose more than 50 percent of their visitors on their front screens. While some of this loss is because of content not living up to expectations, much of the loss is due to two simple facts:


• Sites with many graphics and photos or complex front screens take longer to load.


• Users will not wait long. Some say the rule is eight seconds.


The faster you can make your site load while delivering sufficient quality and messaging to meet your objectives, the more conversion you'll see. Messaging is key. If you don't make your value proposition evident on the front screen, consumers generally won't spend the time to figure it out.


If you haven't asked your tech folks lately about what percent of visits are single-page views, then do so now. If that number is more than 25 percent, you have an opportunity to improve your results significantly without spending zillions more on marketing designed to drive traffic to your site.


Navigation. Navigation should be kept simple and intuitive. Poor navigation results in users giving up. If your site is too difficult and onerous for users to find their way around, they won't bother. Test different approaches to see how you can reduce single page visits and encourage site penetration.


Convincing the customer to buy. Once you have someone at your site, the challenge has begun. You need to meet their needs as fast as possible. The Internet is the ultimate impulse medium. Either you grab the impulse or the customer is gone. People just aren't that patient when they can click around with such ease.


Think about getting the right products or offers in front of your customers as quickly as possible. The faster your customer gets to what they want, the better your chances of converting them to a buyer. In other words, every click you require is a possible decision point for your customers to leave.


The order process. It's amazing the number of online companies that get customers to the order page only to lose them during a complex order process. I bought all my holiday gifts online and found that I had to struggle to complete an order on some sites. Here are some tips on how to improve this critical part of the customer experience:


• Make your order process intuitive, easy and quick.


• Design an order form that is simple and straightforward, and limited to one screen, if possible.


• Store customer information to make future ordering even easier.


• Avoid asking your customers a lot of unnecessary questions on their first order.


• Keep the registration process and ordering process separate and logical. Would you believe some sites make you interrupt your order process to register and then make you begin the order process again?


• Use focus groups to watch the results when newbies place orders on your site.


• Determine how many customers who start to place an order actually complete an order. Your goal should be as close to 100 percent as possible.


Checkout time. Sadly, there is a huge base of customers out there who never check out even after they complete an order. My theory is that the majority actually thought they had completed the order process and didn't realize that they never checked out. Would-be customers may become frustrated with those same online vendors later when their product never arrives. The result is numerous calls to customer service by angry consumers demanding, "Where are my goods?"


You need to check out your checkout process to convert browsers into buyers. One fix might be to eliminate the shopping cart altogether and make order completion the final step in the process. However you do it, make sure your customers check out, or both you and they ultimately lose.
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