What do the big players do?
I don’t think it is generally a good idea to blindly follow what the largest retailers do, as “one size fits all” answers tend to fit everyone poorly. However looking at examples that have probably undergone round upon round of testing can still be useful. Looking at 10 of the UK’s top online retailers there is definitely a clear pattern. 8/10 of the top retailers I looked at used some variation on the add to cart theme. Actual wording varied from one to another, but the key element of “add to” was present. The ‘black sheep’ were Argos who use the wording “buy or reserve” in order to reinforce the purchase options available.
Why “Add to cart” is popular
Larger surveys reveal a similar pattern to the above with top stores showing a distinct leaning towards to variations on the “add to cart” theme. If big retailers are doing this you can be assured that the decision has been backed with substantial testing and that the ‘add to’ wording works better for them. Why it might work better for some retailers could be down to a number of factors, but two big ones stand out as obvious contenders:
- Add to cart converts better for them.
- The idea of adding something to a cart or basket does not involve much commitment. It’s an easy thing to do and it implies that you can always take it out again later (or just leave the cart behind!). Actually buying something (or buying it “now”) by contrast seems a lot more final. These subconscious notions may help ease hesitant customers in to the buying process and therefore play a part in increasing conversion rates.
- Add to cart helps people buy more.
- Putting something in a shopping trolley or basket suggests that you will put something else in with it. As part of a checkout process that has been tuned to maximise basket values this small hint could play a part in increasing average sale values.
When “Buy now” might be a better option
Reading the above it might seem that “add to” type buttons are the obvious choice. So, why do “buy” buttons work better for some? “Buy” or “Buy now” is certainly a stronger call to action and may work better for some customers. “Buy now” also suggests more immediacy and possibly that the customer will be whisked through the checkout without further delay. Another advantage is it’s clarity. Where as the meaning of “add to cart” may not be clear to some (Particularly in the UK where that terminology would almost never be used offline) it is hard to misinterpret the meaning of the words “buy” or “buy now”.
It’s also worth considering that “add to cart” (or basket, or whatever) and “buy now” might not be mutually exclusive. The two have slightly different meanings. It would be feasible (if possibly a bit confusing) to a store to have both: An add to cart button that adds the item to the shopping cart and allows the user to continue shopping and a “buy now” button that takes the user straight to checkout with just that single item in their cart.
Which is right for my store?
As a general rule of thumb “add to” type buttons are probably going to work better in stores where you expect customers to largely buy more than one item in a single transaction. Conversely “buy” buttons are likely to work better in stores where you expect transactions to be for a single item. The real answer to what is right for your store though is the one that gets you the best results.
Your call to action button is a very easy element to test the effectiveness of. Split testing the options would be an ideal solution: A system like Google Website Optimizer will easily allow you to serve up different button versions to different customers and measure the effectiveness of each. Even without split testing though you could get an idea of how alternative buttons might work by switching the image and measuring the results over a period of time.
Whatever testing method you use remember to factor in changes to the average basket values as well as the more obvious conversion rate. You could find that (for instance) the “buy” type button increases your conversion rate but that overall the “add to” type is more profitable as it results in higher basket values. Only testing will tell.