Make Sure Shoppers Don’t Check Out Empty-Handed

Almost 30 percent of visitors to the average Web site drop out after one or two pages. Sometimes, the cause will be something simple, such as low demand or high prices. However, sometimes, there are major factors difficult to spot but easy to fix.

As Internet stores and publishers shift their focus from revenue growth to profits and margin growth, they need to take advantage of every visitor and lead they get.

Let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn about shopper abandonment from site records and offline stores:

* Shoppers hate long lines. Zona Research released a study last summer showing that as page download times rise beyond eight seconds at an e-commerce store, people begin to abandon their shopping carts. In fact, Zona concluded, “Over a third of Web users may simply give up trying to buy an item over the Internet when frustrated with an online shopping experience.”

The interesting thing about these findings is how much more sensitive people are online than offline. We’ve all been in a long line at a department store. We get all of our items, get in line to purchase them and find six people ahead of us. We slowly snake our way to the front of the line, thinking, “Hmmm, is that line faster? Should I just come back later? Oh well, I’ve already been here for 10 minutes; I might as well just stick it out.”

Once you get someone to go to the checkout counter, it’s rare that he does not make it all the way through.

When you get to the checkout section of a Web site and a couple of pages take more than eight seconds to download — zing — you are off to the competitor’s site, and you have finished your transaction before the first store knows what happened.

On the Web, visitors get bored very easily and are a lot less forgiving than they are offline. Track and monitor your site’s performance. When your online store has long lines, your shoppers head for the doors.

* Shoppers hate getting lost. If any of you have been to a Costco or similar superstore over the past few years, you know how difficult it can be to find what you want. You walk in and see thousands of different products lined up in dozens of aisles, with very few signs and seemingly no organization. Sometimes, companies set up tremendous online stores with amazing products but do not put up enough signs to let people find what they want or how they can check out.

One of my company's customers, an online clothing retailer, learned that among visitors who did not make purchases, 25 percent of the time it was because they could not find the item for which they were looking. The site was able to increase sales by more than 10 percent by adding a pop-up screen offering a product search engine and an 800 number for customer service to anyone who had looked at more than five pages but had not put anything in the shopping basket.

Conduct surveys and path analysis to find out if visitors are finding what they are seeking.

* Shoppers hate worrying about fraud. One of the leading reasons that people do not finish an online transaction is because they are worried about security. In the offline world, we tend not to worry about credit card security too much, but every time we hand our card to a waiter or a sales clerk, we are providing a complete stranger with the ability to charge thousands of dollars.

Why are people willing to do this in person but skittish to do so online? Nobody really knows, but we are quite sure — through path analysis and surveys — that a large amount of online revenue is being lost because people do not want to deliver their information online.

We helped one major apparel manufacturer discover that close to 20 percent of its abandoned shopping visits were because of security fears. When it put up a link that described its security measures, that percentage dropped to under 5 percent.

Know your users, and gain their trust by building your brand and actively answering their questions.

* Shoppers sometimes aren’t ready to buy. Every store, whether online or offline, has window shoppers. It is inevitable that window shoppers will be one of a site’s major causes of abandonment. The challenge is to see these visitors not as wasted bandwidth but as leads at the beginning of what could be a very long sales cycle. By trying various promotions, re-advertising to visitors after they have left a site and tracking return patterns over the course of several months, window shoppers can be converted to paying customers.

Just because someone isn’t ready to buy today doesn’t mean he won’t be soon.

As the Internet continues to provide an increasingly competitive shopping environment, it will become harder and harder to attract new customers. Companies need to make quicker strides toward profitability, instead of just growing revenue. That means leveraging the customers and channels they already have and determining why people are leaving Web sites empty-handed.

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