E-commerce Link: Batteries With That?
Most people think of the checkout as the final step of a shopping session. But any visit to your local grocery store will prove otherwise. Racks of candy and magazines flank the checkout lines, and the cashier asks, "Do you need batteries or film with that?" Newspapers, firelogs and steam cleaners line the front of stores near the exits. Clearly, the selling continues right up to, and beyond, the cash register's final beep.
Online merchandisers also can successfully sell during the checkout process by using carefully chosen merchandising methods on the shopping cart, log-in and thank-you pages. After the sale, post-order e-mail can provide some very powerful selling opportunities as well.
Creating Merchandising Opportunities At Checkout
The goal is to place appropriate product cross-sells in places that will get your customers' attention without distracting them from the checkout process. Remember that they want secure, safe, private transactions, and you must make it clear to them that this is what they're getting. They also want checkout to be easy and fast. Anything that detracts from this image of security and ease will impair your site's ability to sell, so be cautious about what you present and how you present it. Selling and merchandising through the checkout process can be very tricky, since some tactics may be overly aggressive for some sites. When in doubt, don't distract or alienate the user by overselling. Once they've decided to buy, you want to make sure they stay on that track.
I will cover three different phases of checkout:
- Selling before checkout. This includes the shopping cart itself and the customer log-in page. These pages offer good selling opportunities.
- The core checkout pages. These include the billing information page, shipping information page, and order recap pages where the customer can select multiple ship-to addresses, gift wrap and so forth. Throwing a bunch of extra offers on these pages is more likely to distract your customer than create more sales. Don't use these pages for selling.
- Selling after checkout. The thank-you page usually is very underused and can provide great selling opportunities.
The Shopping Cart Page
It makes sense to promote products on the shopping cart page, since the customer can choose at any moment to click the "check out" button and end the shopping session.
- Use personalization techniques to make cross-sells or upsells relevant to the shopper's interests. Just as the checker at the store might do, watch what's in the cart and offer complementary products.
- Publish your universal messaging or promotions. This includes universal discounts, shipping price breaks, and so forth.
- Apply all your discounts on the cart page. The price presented at the cart level should reflect the effect of all discounts.
- Allow shoppers to add discount codes on the cart page so they can see the reduced price immediately.
- Estimate shipping costs and tax at the cart level, so there are no surprises when the customer finally gets to the end of his or her shopping session. This also gives you the opportunity to announce any shipping discounts based upon order volume.
- Use back-order messaging to encourage immediate sales. State on your shopping cart page that the item is on back order and when it will be available. Provide a link to alternate items that are in stock or offer a discount on back-ordered items to stimulate an immediate purchase.
- Keep merchandising here especially brief and low-key.
- Use a "have you forgotten anything?" message. Again, personalization will allow you to make your offers pertinent to every customer.
- Merchandise. Any merchandising should be placed on the page above the fields for entering user names and passwords.
Shipping Information, Billing Information, Gift Wrap and Other Order Recap Pages
- Don't sell here. It's liable to distract some customers, annoy others, and lead to an increase in abandoned cart rates.
Very few online merchandisers take advantage of this page, but it provides great opportunities to cross-sell, upsell or just reinforce your brand image.
- Merchandising should be kept short and simple on the thank-you page. You could have a small section with selected cross-sells and "add these to your order" messaging.
- Make sure all offers relate in some way to the items in the current order.
- Use messaging areas to introduce new products, coming events, or a new product line. Invite the customer to come back to see a special section of your site.
- Provide instant coupons or other incentives for returning to your site.
- Sell your company. Post brand-supporting messaging, images or links to your other sites.
- Think carefully about how selling on your thank-you page will work in conjunction with multiple ship-to addresses. You have to provide a way for the customer to indicate where any newly chosen items are to be shipped.
Remember that merchandising in these sections must be done carefully to avoid looking pushy or aggressive and alienating the customer. And most important, don't disrupt the shopping flow.
Selling After the Sale: Post-Order E-mail
Most companies will send an order confirmation e-mail and a shipping confirmation e-mail. With both of these, you have the opportunity to suggest complementary products, accessories or some other promotion to bring them back to the site.
I recommend additional post-order e-mails that deliver important information about the products purchased. The primary role of such messages is customer service, since they provide important product-oriented information, assembly instructions, special delivery requirements, warranties, detailed usage information and so forth. You may already have this information somewhere on your site, but it's a positive gesture to send it along anyway, making sure your customers have everything they need to get the most out of their purchases.
As with order and shipping confirmation e-mails, these informational post-order e-mails are an opportunity for continued merchandising.
- Good quality personalization will allow you to customize these messages according to the actual products purchased. This is vitally important since it ties your follow-up directly to the actual sale.
- You may choose to send e-mail 30, 60 or 90 days after a purchase to offer upgrades, accessories or complementary products. This is, in essence, still part of that one sale, and your messaging should be phrased to reinforce this and to promote customer loyalty.
- Send incentives to return to your site. A limited-time offer may be a good choice since it encourages relatively swift action.
- Most post-order e-mails are text-only. Although there is nothing wrong with this, HTML e-mail gives you new and colorful opportunities for branding, functionality and merchandising.
- Consider investing in an automated post-order e-mail system that will let you send customized messages at specific times. Such messages pertain directly to the customers' activities on your site, and can make each subsequent contact with them far more relevant to their actual interests, stimulating sales and customer satisfaction.
- Be sensitive to your customers' opt-in or opt-out choices. Even though post-order messages like this relate directly to a previous sale, some customers may object to their promotional nature.
- A "back-order" e-mail announces when a back-ordered item is available. It also is your opportunity to promote accessories or discounts that pertain to the product. Include links that take the customer directly to the pages for these cross-sells.
Properly done, merchandising during and after checkout can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. Unobtrusive, well-targeted assistance in finding complementary products has always been a hallmark of some of the best businesses. With some careful planning, merchandising in these often-overlooked areas can provide real benefit.
Ken Burke is president and CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce technology and development company based in Petaluma, CA. He can be reached at (707) 773-3434 or by e-mail at email@example.com.