This article was originally posted April 7, 2008 and as one of Get Elastic's most popular, is worth a second look. This post was written by Justin Palmer of Palmer Web Marketing
Losing Customers at the Register: 12 Checkout Blunders
We've all heard the adage, "You're only as strong as your weakest link." For many e-tailers, both large and small, the weakest link lies in the checkout process. Mistakes at this critical juncture are costly and unnecessary. Below, I've gathered 12 of the most common mistakes I see with checkouts.
1. Unfriendly Credit Card Errors
Getting your credit card declined is always an embarrassing situation, even online. How gracefully does your checkout handle these errors? Unfortunately, website error messages tend to be written by programmers, who don't always consider the needs of customers.
When handling these errors, suggest a probable solution. If the error is due to an invalid CVV code, show customers a picture of where the code can be found on the card. Is the error due to a billing address mismatch? Suggest having the customer check their credit card statement to ensure their billing address matches. Most importantly, display your customer service contact information where customers can get additional help.
Many customers detest the thought of having to remember another username and password. In addition to this concern, you risk returning customers not being able to remember their login information on a subsequent purchase. Sure, you may have a password lookup feature, but what if their email isn't working or is inaccessible at the moment? For these reasons, offer your customers a guest checkout option that doesn't require account creation. After the order, you can always ask if they want to create an account for next time.
3. Default Credit Card Type Selected
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Now I consider myself fairly experienced with placing online orders, since I work in the eCommerce industry. Yet I don't know how many times I've entered my Mastercard number with the default Visa card option pre-selected, causing my card to be declined. In their hurry to complete a task, people tend to skip fields that are already populated with data. For this reason, require your customers to choose their credit card type. Better yet, automatically detect the credit card type based on the number (see Paypal's checkout for an example of this).
4. Cancel Buttons
I always chuckle when I see a "Cancel" button juxtaposed next to the "Submit Order" button. Don't make it too easy for your customers to abandon their order. A cancel button is the equivalent to asking "Are you really sure you want to buy it?"
5. Up-selling or Cross-selling
There's a time and place for cross-selling, but it's too risky at checkout. Too many options can send a customer into a paradox of choice, leading to an abandoned cart. In general, once someone has moved past the shopping cart, it's time to stop marketing and close the sale.
6. Disclaimers, Explanations, and Warnings
Recently, I reviewed an eCommerce site for an online gift store. Right before clicking the "Finalize Order" button, I was casually informed my "IP address is being recorded for security purposes." Now honestly, is that disclaimer really necessary? While it may deter fraudsters, (though I doubt it), such needless information will only raise red flags in minds of privacy conscious customers. Other needless disclaimers include "Clicking order button more than once will result in double charges" (maybe you should fix this issue rather than explain it!) or "Products subject to availability" (maybe you should display accurate inventory online!?) As a general rule, keep disclaimers on a need-to-know basis. If it causes visitors to second guess their purchase decision, remove it.
7. Insecure Page Errors
8. Only One Payment Type
Don't you hate when you don't have cash and a store doesn't take credit cards? Many customers feel a similar frustration when a site only takes credit. Alternative payment forms have become almost an expectation these days, with Paypal, e-Checks, BillMeLater, and Google Checkout leading the way. Adding an additional payment method can go a long way in preventing abandoned shopping carts.
9. Dead End Receipt Pages
It's a shame so many shopping sessions end on the receipt page. Rather than wasting your order confirmation page with a conclusive "Thanks for ordering!" message, why not continue to engage your customers? Consider adding a tell-a-friend form, displaying customer service FAQs, or asking customers to complete a survey.
10. Hiding Additional Charges
Nobody likes surprise charges at the last minute. Make sure that all shipping related charges and taxes are displayed early and often.
11. No Prominent 1-800 Number
People like buying from people, so customers always like to know someone is immediately reachable if they have a problem. While not every customer who sees your 1-800 number will call, just having one creates a sense of trust.
12. Product Stockouts
Oh by the way, it's out of stock! Surprisingly, a disturbing amount of online checkouts wait until the customer has initiated the buying process before informing them about stockouts. Product availability should always be visible on the product pages and the shopping cart. Any later than that, you're going to anger your customers.
Avoiding mistakes on your checkout is eCommerce 101. Don't just take my word for it though, test these suggestions for yourself. With tools such as Google’s Website Optimizer, performing A/B tests on your checkout are surprisingly easy and inexpensive.
About Justin Palmer
Justin Palmer writes the Palmer Web Marketing blog, which covers topics such as eCommerce, SEO, and website usability. Palmer Web Marketing also offers personalized SEO recommendations and eCommerce Site Review services.