We are living in an always ON world. The lines are blurring between physical and virtual. Customers expect a consistent experience, no matter where they interact with a brand. They expect to be able to seamlessly carry their experiences in any brick and mortar and see it reflect in their online interactions. The same is true for how they checkout, no matter where they are doing it from, a physical location, or an online commerce site. Can a retailer optimize their online checkout to try and give the customer a similarly reassuring checkout experience online?
Retail stores offer price checks at many places. They display offers and sale information conspicuously throughout the store. Go to any store during holiday season and you can’t miss the large banners calling out the offered discounts. During checkout, physical retailers do not have to worry about shipping costs being added to the order, but at any point during checkout, as the sales rep is scanning items, a customer can choose to not buy an item. The Sales Reps in a store also help by answering customer questions, and addressing any doubts they may have about making the purchase. The checkout counters are all grouped together and designed to help a quick, easy checkout. With new technology, customers do not even have to hand over their credit cards to the sales reps, just tap and go is the new mantra. Pay by cards, your mobile phone, cash, electronic wallets, however they like. Customers also have store cards, loyalty programs and an opportunity to accrue benefits as they continue their association with the same store. But this does not mean they cannot visit a store if they are not a member
Translating this to the online world should make sense. And if we look at the best practices for online checkout, they attempt to create the same sense of continuity of user experience.
- Giving the customer control: Allowing Guest checkout. Letting customers edit the cart easily, throughout checkout. Not having them enter the same information repeatedly. Allowing them to create profiles based on information already provided during checkout. Giving customers multiple payment options, these are some of the ways customers feel in control.
- Opportunity to get the final price as early in the sale as possible: Allow customers to check shipping costs and taxes on the cart, or even on the product pages so customers get an accurate idea of what they need to pay, and avoid sticker shock. Estimating taxes and shipping based on zip codes alone helps. It is not always required to get complete shipping address to give an estimate of taxes and shipping.
- Clear messaging about offers and discounts: Just like a store, identify areas of the site where discount and offer messaging is displayed. Display shipping discounts in the cart, or on the header. Display product discounts on the product listing pages, Product detail pages and during checkout. The more consistently pricing is called out, the more unlikely a customer will leave checkout due to changing prices.
- Call out access to customer service/live chat with experts clearly: Try to mirror the personal interaction a customer has access to in a physical store. If live chat with agents is available, highlight it, especially during checkout. Clearly call out customer service numbers, and hours of operations, so customers can reach out for help with a purchase decision.
- Provide multiple Payment Options: Depending on the geography you are in, consider the payment options you want to offer. Credit card penetration is very good in the American and European markets. Gift cards, PayPal and Bill Me Later are options you can consider, depending on the price point of the merchandise. Implementing a good Fraud check service is also critical. The key criteria is how can you minimize loss due to fraud and still give customers multiple options. Cash on delivery is an option many retailers in the APAC markets.
- Consider creating a Loyalty program to incentivize repeat purchases: A loyalty program is a great way to build repeat customers. It allows customers to get discounts based on past purchases, and helps them feel more connected with the brand. It also gives a very personal feeling to the interactions whenever a customer redeems accrued benefits. Ability to use loyalty points as tender is a feature some retailers are providing to customers.
- Cart longevity, Favorites, Wish lists and Card abandonment: This is one area where the online world is different to a store. Adding a product to cart is an expression of interest. But customers also use their shopping carts as holding areas. Adding products they are interested in, but still wanting to do more research on. Online retailers should provide customers with features where they can maintain their preferences and revisit them later. Creating favorite lists, gift registries, wish lists etc are recommended best practices. Another option often missed is the cart life time. Increasing the cart life is an easy way to remind the customer what products he originally was interested in. Having a cart abandonment program, where we have timed reminders sent to the customer also helps increase customer recall.
- Responsive Design: We need to consider how customer behavior has changed while accessing the online world. Smart phones have made going online easier, but for a retailer, it now means building experiences that flow seamlessly between traditional large screen devices and smaller touch devices. It is critical to optimize the checkout for smaller touch screens, as the user interaction changes drastically, away from a key board and mouse to interacting with your fingers. Making buttons larger, options easier to click, and ensuring the correct default key board launches when customers selects a field is important. For example, if customer is entering a credit card number, the numeric key board should trigger. For emails, an “@” and “.com” on the default key board makes the customers task easier.
Finally, what every retailer desires is a good rate of conversion. The number of people visiting a site to get information on products is much larger than the number of orders placed. The goal is always to get more and more people to complete checkout. Making sure the online checkout is as easy, re-assuring and quick as possible is essential to achieve this goal.