In a brick-and-mortar shop, it's usually easy to find the checkout counter. When you get there, the cashier takes charge of the process, leaving you without tough decisions beyond whether to use cash or a card.
Online stores are a different matter; customers don't always have the cues they need to move efficiently through a virtual space. They rely on thoughtful site design, easy-to-use forms and clear instructions to lead them.
After a three-year study of more than 75,000 customers, Matthew Dixon and Karen Freeman published their findings in Harvard Business Review and found that customers responded more to ease of use than they did to active attempts to court their business. In "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers," researchers explain why simplification boosts customer satisfaction: Delays make customers unhappy, and unhappy customers don't return. Every obstacle in your customers' path to the checkout counter is a potential opportunity to reconsider or become frustrated with the process and end the sale before it happens.
Marketing can bring you new prospects, but without a straightforward checkout, you will lose many of them before you can convert. The choice to buy should always be more visible than the choice to end the shopping session without a sale. See your site through the customer's eyes and find ways to simplify it to increase your conversion rate.
Make It Seamless
Your customers should feel that they're in the same virtual store from the moment they reach your home page to the confirmation notice they get after buying. Just as you wouldn't feel at ease in an elegant boutique that shunted you into a checkout area that felt more like a hardware store, you shouldn't expect customers to accept a drastic shift in tone. A seamless site looks, feels and performs the same way on every page. Use your brand's colors and logo everywhere on the site, not just on the main page. If your customers see the shopping cart button in the same place on every page, they're more likely to click it when they're ready to buy.
In Entrepreneur magazine, author Kostas Papageorgiou offers suggestions for creating a seamless site and explains why payment processes that redirect customers can lose them. Redirection can give customers the impression they're shopping with one company and paying another. Custom-built payment solutions that look like part of your website help customers feel comfortable with the process. Instead of sending them to the hardware store for checkout, offer them the same boutique service they enjoyed while shopping.
Provide Payment Options
From your sales copy to your product descriptions, your site excites customers about their purchase; don't disappoint them at checkout by telling them they can't buy. When you limit payment options, you deny your customers the very thing your marketing department has convinced them they need. While some customers will sigh and select an unwanted payment option anyway, many turn away at this point to find a site that accepts their form of payment.
Major credit and debit cards are easy choices for you and your customers. Welcome their major cards, and you automatically welcome their business. Setting up a merchant account is a straightforward process, and fees are typically small. Be generous when deciding which cards to accept.
Not all customers prefer cards, but other payment possibilities still allow them to shop with you. Online payment options, including PayPal and Google Wallet, might be good solutions for you and your customers. Other possibilities such as personal checks and bitcoins come with inherent risks, but accepting them can endear you to credit-averse customers.
Customers should never have to search for the next step in the buying process. Give them highly visible buttons, concise directions and easy shipping forms to make them happy. You don't have an in-person sales associate to guide them through their purchase, so your site must fill that role. Joanna Weibe at Copyblogger points out how important even the text on your buttons can be in raising conversion rates. Don't be afraid to ask for business with a direct, engaging call to action.
It's hard to be clear about what you want customers to do when you present them with too many options at once. Simplify by condensing groups of items into easy-to-use drop menus. For example, if you offer multiple payment choices, give customers radio buttons that bundle these options instead of showing them all on the main payment page. Place optional blanks for inessential information toward the bottom of the form or move them to a separate survey - when your customer has a purchase in mind, it isn't the best time to ask about birthdays.
A clearly written site that offers customers a seamless experience and plenty of payment options removes obstacles to conversion. Simplify your site and satisfy your customers from their initial contact with you to their checkout process.
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a provider of ecommerce payment processing. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.