Five Tips for improving your Shopping Cart

MoreVisibility - May 22, 2008

Part of my job here at MoreVisibility is helping our clients with their current shopping cart systems. A lot of times, I analyze how they function and I look for certain things that could be improved upon. I do this from two angles simultaneously – from the “Web Intelligence” angle, where I really use data from Funnel Visualization and other types of Ecommerce reports, and then I use the “Common Sense, Everyday Shopper” angle, where I really use my personal experiences and gut feelings to explain what I’m seeing, or what I think will work best.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a regular person, just like you. I shop online, I comparison shop, I used sites like to find cheap stuff, and I get frustrated and leave websites in a hissy fit of sorts when I don’t get my way. Yes, I’m very high-maintenance when it comes to online shopping.

So, let me share with you five tips for improving your current Shopping Cart / Ecommerce system that (in my opinion, of course) can improve your sales, conversion rates, and keep your customer’s blood-pressure as low as possible.

1. No, I don’t want to create an account – I just want to checkout.
My apologies for the harsh tone of that first point. However, this is sometimes how shoppers feel after they’ve clicked on the “Checkout” button of your shopping cart. Often times, instead of starting to fill out their billing and shipping information as they probably expect to, they are required to create an account, a username and a password, and in some cases, enter in the security question and the answer to it (The problem isn’t sometimes the answer to the security question – it’s remembering what security question you selected in the first place!). This can be frustrating, and it could lead to a quick exit off your website. Try experimenting with removing the “create an account” process from your website all together, or, if your system absolutely requires it, find a way to use the person’s first and last name as the username, creating it automatically for the shopper. Yes, I understand that you are doing this so that your returning visitors will have their information saved, or for a certain tracking system that you may have. Remember, a returning shopper has to be a new shopper first, so make it as easy as possible for them to buy that first time, then think about encouraging them to create an account later on.

As a last resort (if you absolutely cannot remove or move the “create account” function), add in a “guest” option that allows someone not to have to create an account first before purchasing something.

2. Show me the money!
Jerry McGuire was right. Don’t wait until the very end of the shopping cart process to tell me exactly how much I’m paying for shipping, tax, and other surcharges – I want to know what I’m paying right away. No-one likes hidden or surprise fees, especially as they have their credit card in their hand and waiting to type in those magical sixteen digits. If your cart does this, find a way to get it to calculate everything – especially shipping – within the “My Shopping Cart” page, before a user clicks on “Checkout”. List them as line-items, so that it is extremely clear what the full cost of everything is, including the breakdown of tax, shipping, and non-member fees. You may get a person to shop at your website and purchase something that first time, but this is something that is frustrating enough that the person may not come back again.

3. Cancel all page-refresh functions
OMG, I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating this is for me. For example, I could be merrily filling out my address, city / state, zip code…only to see (and hear) the page refresh out of the blue, because I added in six digits to my zip code or my shipping charge is now higher than it was before, because I live in Florida as opposed to living in New York, sending me back to the very top of the page (and sometimes, erasing or clearing whatever information I already put in there in the first place). ERRRR!!! Please do your customers a great favor and find another alert system when they make a mistake. Have the system wait until they click on “Next” or “Continue” to tell them what went wrong (and, find a nice way to do it, in a nice language that doesn’t come accross as mean or over-bearing).

4. When I add an item to my cart, please take me to my cart
This is something that can be debated about for hours on end. For me, when I add an item to my shopping cart, I would like to be taken to the “My Shopping Cart” page, so that I can then checkout, change shipping options, or see how much the new Blu-Ray player that I probably don’t need but I can’t help myself from buying it will cost me. What I don’t like is when I add an item to my cart and the page simply refreshes, sending me back up to the top of the page. “Did I do something wrong?”, “Is the site broken or not working?”, or “What just happened?” are some of the things that I immediately say to myself when this happens. Sometimes, I don’t even notice the “1 item in your bag” text notice, tucked away in a small font in a remote corner of your product page. Sometimes, it could be too late – I’ve already left the site because I thought it was broken or just not working.

5. Fewer Pages + Fewer Distractions = Higher Conversion Rates
Finally, it’s about as simple as this formula. Give me one or two pages to fill out all of my information (including a summary of items purchased), cut out the “noise” that could be surrounding the shopping cart process (like far too much cross-selling, calls-to-action for subscribing to your newsletter, and other jazz), and chances are that you will simply sell more things and make more money, while keeping more people happy. The worst possible thing to do to a customer is to frustrate them, especially considering that they have the entire internet at their disposal, armed with dangerous things like back buttons and “X” buttons on their browsers. Keep it simple, easy, smooth, and hassle-free, and you will really increase the chances of selling profitably online.

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