A little of what we know.

20 ways to lose a sale

It’s true that many people are only browsing and we live in hope that they will tell a friend about our great products or maybe return one day to buy something themselves. It’s less reassuring to consider that a proportion of your visitors come to our online stores with the sole intention of making a purchase, but we do something to change their minds in the process. So what makes a happy potential customer change their mind?

Long load times

Forget cart abandonment, your store could be losing customers long before you even show them a product. Hopefully the days of painful slow flash intro pages are gone, but the truth remains that every second your homepage takes to load will lose you more customers.

What can you do about it? Make sure your site loads quickly – even at peak times. If you don’t look after the technical side of your site yourself tell your developers that you need to shave 30% off the home page load times and see what they come up with. It’s often easier than you would imagine.  Tools such as Yslowand PageSpeed can help identify bottlenecks.

Don’t look relevant

When a customer arrives at your store you have just a few seconds to make a first impression and assure them that they have arrived at the right place.  If the graphics and key page elements don’t match what the customer is expecting then they may hit the back button before they’ve even read a page heading.

What can you do about it? Look at the key landing pages of your store.  Imagine each of them without any text and ask yourself what it looks like the website does.  Better still ask someone who doesn’t already know the answer to do the same.  If they can’t tell you then look at key elements, such as the page headers and see how you can make your site more immediately relevant.

Don’t give customers an easy first click

When new customers arrive at your site there is a critical period when they are still deciding whether to stay on your website or not.  Once your customer make the first click within your site they have at least resolved to give you a chance so getting that first click is just as vital as getting them to click “checkout” later in the process.  If the customer cannot see an obvious way to find what they are looking for you could lose them to the dreaded back button in those critical first seconds.

What can you do about it? Look at the bounce rates of all your top landing pages paying particular attention to your home page.  If you use an analytics package then you can also break this down by entrance source.  If a page has a particularly high bounce rate then there is obviously a problem.  However a page might perform well overall, but might (for instance) have a much higher bounce rate for customers coming to the page from a particular search term.  Looking at entrance sources in particular will give you some clues as to the motivation of those customers.  Once you know what they were looking for then you can alter the page to give greater emphasis and obvious paths in to the site for those users.

Make it hard to find products

The easier you can make it for customers to find the products you are looking for the higher you will see your conversion rates go.  You probably know your online store inside out and could quickly find any product within it, but your structure and navigation might make less sense to new customers.

What can you do about it? Even if it only involves having friends look over your site do some sort of usability testing on it.  It’s amazing how much you can learn about your store by watching someone else use it.  Also consider how your customers shop and use your user feedback and website stats to learn more about this.  If you run a clothing store that is organised by brand but most of your customers come looking for “skinny fit jeans” then you mght be making their shopping experience more difficult than it need be.  If your store has an internal search (it should!) then look at the logs of what people are searching for and do the same searches yourself.  If these searches are not showing accurate results then you may need to tweak some of your product information.  Even if they are showing accurate results though you may want to look at highlighting things that customers are regularly searching for on the site so that they don’t even need to do a search.

Bad or small product images

Customers like to see product images.  If they have not seen the product in person before the image can tell them more about it more quickly than any product description will.  Even if the customer is familiar with the product a clear image gives them an instant re-assurance that the product they are looking for is the one that they were thinking of.  Product images also form a key part of your site design and poor imagery reflects on your professionalism.  Most importantly though your product images are the most powerful sales tool on your product page.  Even if a customer doesn’t read a word of text they will have almost certainly have seen the product image which makes it vital to get right.

What can you do about it? Look at your product images and ask yourself whether they a showing your products in the best light or whether they “just do”.  If you think that they could be improved talk to your suppliers and see what they have available.  If you have the resources also consider having images taken exclusively for your store.  Having all your own product shots taken can be an expensive/lengthy process but can also really pay dividends.  If your competitors are using small stock images and you are using large, vibrant images that show the product from various angles and even in context then you have gained an advantage.

Don’t provide enough product  information

It is essential to provide enough information about the product to allow the customer to make a purchase.  Information for information’s sake is rarely a good thing, but providing key details either in the product description or in addition to it can help answer questions the customer may have and give them the assurance that the product they are looking at is what they are looking for.

What can  you do about it? Identify what are the key questions that customers have about the various types of products that you stock & ensure that this information is available.  If the information is extensive (for instance, with technical products) then consider adding data sheets to the product pages.

Hide the ‘add to cart’ button

If customers don’t see the add to cart button then there is a chance that they won’t even realise that they can buy online.  A related problem is an add to cart button that isn’t clear about it’s purpose.

What can you do about it? Ensure that the add to cart button is clearly visible above the fold  on all product pages, even when they are viewed on lower resolution screens.  Don’t be too clever about the design or wording on this button: It should look like a button and leave no question about it’s purpose.

Confusing checkout process

If customers have any anxiety about making an online purchase (which many do, for many reasons) then any confusion in the checkout process at all provides an easy excuse not to complete the sale.

What can you do about it? Make the checkout process as uncomplicated and unthreatening as possible.  At each step make sure that it is obvious what needs to be done next.  Communicating where in the checkout process the customer is and what they still need to do can greatly help customers understand the process. Strip out everything that is not essential from the checkout process.

Don’t provide contact details

Providing contact details is a legal requirement in many countries, but also just makes sense.  Having an easy to find contact phone number and physical address  not only demonstrates that you are a “real” company, but also provides the customer with the assurance that they will be able to talk to someone if they do have a problem.

What can you do about it? At the very least have a clear “contact us” link on every page with a geographic address and telephone number on the resulting page.  The addition of a phone number to all pages on the site can also help with trust issues particularly if this is presented during checkout.

Insecure checkout

Not securing pages that request card details can be more than a little problematic and lead to issues that do way beyond lost sales, but this is thankfully becoming rarer.  With the increased popularity of third party payment gateways it has however become quite common to only secure the payment pages and leave other pages that request personal information outside of SSL protection.  For more technically aware customers this can be a deal breaker and cause them to immediately abandon their cart.

What can you do about it? Check which pages of your site are delivered via a secure connection and which ones are not.  If you have your own SSL certificate then the ideal scenario is to secure any pages that ask the customer to enter personal information.   If you are using a third party payment gateway consider also adding and SSL certificate to your website.  These are relatively inexpensive and can be used in conjunction with third party payment gateways to increase security and help reassure customers.

Restrict payment methods

Not offering payment methods that your customer expect to see can prevent customers completing the sale.  For most of us this means at least accepting most major credit and debit cards, but depending on your market customers might expect additional payment options such as Paypal,  payment on account,  electronic check systems, interest free credit or even payment via mobile phone.  Some reports also suggest that offering an altnernative payment method like Paypal or Google checkout can help relieve trust issues as customers are aware that these do not result in the merchant receiving the card details themselves.

What can you do about it? Check the leading sites in your field to see what payment options they offer.  Also speak to your customers about what payment methods they would expect to see.

Add an unexpected cost

If customers suddenly see an additional cost added to their order during checkout and they didn’t expect this it can have a major affect on conversion rates.  Even if the charge is relatively small many customers will feel cheated resulting in a loss of trust during checkout.

What can you do about it? If you have to add additional costs for some reason be very clear about these from the start so that it doesn’t come as a surprise later.  Where possible provide the inclusive price as early in the checkout process as possible.  If, for instance, you quote prices without VAT but add VAT during checkout why not also include the inclusive price on the product page?  Likewise, if some items carry additional shipping charges mention this on the product page.  Even if you can’t do the final cost calculations until later in the process consider adding a small message along the lines of “This product carries a small additonal shipping charge.  This will be calculated and displayed before your confirm your order”.

Hide the checkout button

The hidden checkout button is a phenomena that appears to be on the increase.  Customers know that they have added an item to their basket, but nothing much happens and they haven’t spotted the small text “checkout” link and microscopic cart icon.

What can you do about it? If you consider that every single customer has to find this link that should give you some idea of the prominence it probably deserves.  Make it large and clear enough to be immediately visible even if you just scan the page.  You could also consider highlighting it in some way when the customer adds an item to their cart.   If your orders are almost entirely for a single product then you could also consider having the customer taken straight to the shopping cart page when they add an item to it.

High delivery costs

Customers just hate high delivery charges.  In some cases they just hate any delivery charges.  Particularly in the UK where general postage costs are low customers are often unaware of the high costs associated with courier services and signed for delivery and often feel that the shipping charges are unfair even when offerd at cost price.

What can you do about it? Firstly avoid the temptation to mark up postage unless it is a key part of your model.  Where possible offer alternative lower cost shipping methods in addition to your preferred service.  All carriers work on a sliding scale of costs, so also be sure that you are checking in with your carrier at least once a year to ensure that you are getting the best possible deal for your customers.

Ask too many questions during checkout

The checkout process is not the place to start conducting consumer research.  When customers are in your checkout process they are trying to give you money and it is rude to do anything other than to help them to the end of that process successfully and as quickly as possible.  Every question you add to your checkout process will cost you sales so it is vital to only ask what you absolutely need to know.

What can you do about it? Go through all stages of your checkout process and consider whether you really need to ask that question.  Some cart systems ask questions such as “date of birth” by default and these should be removed at the earliest opportunity for most stores.  As well as looking for questions that you don’t need to know the answers to look at whether you can pre-fill or even hide any.  For example your checkout may ask for both shipping and billing address but these are likely to be the same in many instances.  For those customers you could prefill

Don’t test your site in other browsers

It’s an odd situation that most developers use one browser whilst most customers use another.  Failing to test your site in multiple browsers and with different set-ups could make it impossible for a proportion of your customers to complete a sale online.  The issue is made worse by the number of old, out of date, browsers still in popular use today.

What can you do about it? Even if your developers  assure you that the site has been tested make test purchases yourself under different browsers and different versions of those browsers.   Pay particular attention to Internet Explorer version 6.  This is one of the most problematic browsers still in regular use today and can have major problems with otherwise working websites.

Don’t build trust

Customers who don’t trust you won’t buy from you.  If there are issues on your site that call that trust in to question or even if you fail to address and build trust prior to checkout you might find that your otherwise excellent store still fails to achieve a reasonable conversion rate.

What can you do about it? Firstly look for any obvious trust issues and get others to do the same (some of the obvious points are covered above).  Once any obvious issues have been address try to actively build trust before and during the checkout process.  Tell customers that your checkout is secure, any guarantees that you offer, any service promises that you make, any awards you have received, any trust marks you subscribe to and in fact anything else that will give them confidence in your operation.

Send them to another site

If you send a customer to another website there is a good chance that they won’t come back again.  Despite this many stores still use their online stores as advertising platforms and include banners and advertisements for other websites .

What can you do about it? Justify every external link on your website.  If you must have them then make sure that they don’t appear at points where the customer is making purchasing decisions.

Tell them they could have got it cheaper

It might sound mad to suggest any store owner would do this, but a surprising number do just that by flagging up a “discount code” or coupon box during the checkout process.  To many customers this is either an invitation to go searching the web for a discount code or even a suggestion that they are not getting the best deal available.  If the customer goes searching for a code there is a chance that they will be unsuccessful and not bother returning.  Alternatively you might end up giving them a discount that they would not otherwise had or paying an affiliate commission that was not really earned.

What can you do about it? Consider how coupons are dealt with on your site.  Consider removing them from the checkout process (dealing with them elsewhere on the site) or at least addressing the wording to reduce the problem.

Don’t give them a reason to buy now

Lots of customers browse online stores with the intention to return at a later time to buy something.  There are numerous reasons why they might never return from changing their mind or forgetting to buying from a competitor.  All of these factors reduce your conversion rate and ultimately your bottom line.

What can you do about it? Creating a sense of urgency can encourage the customer to complete the sale at the time of visiting rather than returning later.  The most obvious way to create urgency is to offer a time limited incentive such as money off or a free gift.  Over reliance on this can though result in regular customers holding back on making a purchase until a discount is available. Urgency doesn’t have to be created just over pricing issues though.  It works very well focusing on other aspects such as shipping deadlines (”Buy in the next 2 hours for delivery tomorrow”), and stock (”Limited stock – last few remaining”).

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