E-Commerce Link: Boost Customer Experience
After a challenging holiday season, merchants face seemingly paradoxical imperatives in 2009: Continue e-commerce growth while holding the line on expenses. Now more than ever, merchants must invest wisely to stay competitive, and continue to improve and innovate online.
Some merchants will have to grit their teeth and invest in new technology platforms. But for those merchants whose e-commerce foundations are strong, there are gains to be made by tackling smaller projects that can make a difference in conversion and revenue. The overall focus must be improving the customer experience.
With an understanding of the site experience your customers expect, you’ll gain a clear vision of the priorities for 2009. Rather than focusing on “bells-and-whistles” functionality, focus on features that enhance relevancy and utility for your customers—and drive sales.
1. ‘Lite’ Redesign
Let user feedback and analytics data be your guide in deciding where to focus improvements, taking into consideration these potential projects:
• Realign your category navigation. Poor navigation is the most common complaint about merchant sites and the top reason consumers abandon sites, with 33 percent saying they’ll go elsewhere if a site’s navigation is too confusing, according to Internet Retailer. Merchants should monitor navigation performance on an ongoing basis.
First, analyze what’s working and what’s not. Identify top-selling product categories, and remove underperforming ones. Then prioritize category display order by revenue or popularity, and finish by heeding customer expectations.
• Redesign for today’s browsers. With more than 87 percent of Web browsers using screen resolutions of 1024 x 768 or higher, according to ScreenResolution.org, it’s time to move to a design that’s 960 pixels wide. Doing so gives you more merchandising space—a key advantage, given that shoppers are spending less time on sites, according to MarketLive Performance Index data. In Q4 2007, the average time per visit was 7.56 minutes—a year later in 2008 the average time per visit dropped 29.1 percent to 5.36 minutes. Shoppers instantly must register whether your site is relevant to them, and the more merchandising you can show them, the better your chances are they will connect.
Another important change to make to your site is to eliminate left justification. Designers recommend centering your site so it takes center stage, regardless of monitor screen size.
2. Beef Up Product Page Content
The product page is a crucial waypoint on the path to purchase; it’s where browsers become shoppers and commit to adding items to the cart. MarketLive Performance Index data shows that organizing extensive products into easily scanned, tabbed content boosts product page conversion—measured by dividing the number of cart additions by the number of product views—by more than 11 percent.
3. The Transparent Shopping Cart
With cart abandonment rates continuing to hover above 50 percent—and with shoppers ever more ruthless in their search for bargains online—it’s important to be transparent about the total order cost. Add calculators to the shopping cart so shoppers can see estimated shipping and tax charges right away, rather than on the last page of checkout.
Merchants also should ensure the shopping cart provides all the information shoppers need to complete the purchase, including: a link to detailed information about shipping options, delivery time frames and costs; customer service contact information; a link to product guarantee and return information; and certification logos.
4. Smooth Checkout
Although there’s much hand-wringing over the optimal number of checkout steps, research shows a logical flow matters more than the number of pages. But there’s one notable no-no: forced registration. Past MarketLive Performance Index data found that forced registration upped abandonment by 143 percent.
Beyond allowing shoppers to check out as guests, merchants should provide intuitive, customer-friendly error messaging and consider alternative payments. Services to consider include: PayPal and Google Checkout, along with BillMeLater, an instant credit mechanism allowing shoppers to defer payment—a helpful alternative for cash-crunched consumers.
5. Bolster Site Availability
Before shoppers can fall in love with your site, they have to be able to access it in the first place. And they expect sites to be faster than ever. While a 2006 Jupiter Research study found that browsers abandon sites that fail to load within four seconds, a November 2008 survey from Aberdeen Group found that a delay of even one second caused a drop of 7 percent in conversion.
The upshot: Merchants continually must assess site availability and performance, understand the impact of new features and functionality, and consider distributed asset hosting with vendors, such as Akamai, if performance dips.
Regardless of which projects top your priority list, measuring the results of improvements is crucial. Maximize use of your analytics platform to track performance of every promotion and project. By focusing on discrete improvements that enhance the customer experience, merchants can provide measurable proof that e-commerce remains a winner—not only for 2009, but for the long term.
Ken Burke is the chairman, founder and chief evangelist of MarketLive Inc., an e-commerce technology services provider based in Petaluma, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com, or visit www.marketlive.com/sitereview.