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10 site tweaks to make your customers actually click "buy"

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Shopping cart abandonment.

Few phrases cause more anxiety in the hearts of e-commerce executives, and for good reason. With average abandoned shopping cart rates hovering around 40-50%, it's easy to understand that converting even a fraction of these deserted carts into sales could substantially add to a retailer's bottom line. What's difficult is figuring out how to do that.

During a session at's Online Merchandising Workshop, Eight by Eight CEO Amy Africa shared incredible insights on the physical reactions involved in buying online, a "magic formula" for trigger emails, and the best ways to test for success. She also offered exceptional suggestions on ways retailers can convert on-the-fence shoppers. Some were simple, some were extensive. Here are ten of them:

1) Make it easy to take the plunge. "Check out now" buttons are a good idea, Africa said. "It's very important that when someone raises their hand and says they're ready to buy, you act on that."

2) Leverage temperature bars. Don't we all like to see how much we've accomplished? Let your customers know how many more steps there are until they're finished with the check out process by using a temperature or status bar at the bottom. Why? The higher customers get on the temperature bar, the more likely they are to actually pull the trigger on a purchase. Hello Direct and were cited as examples of companies that do this well.

3) Reconsider one-step check out. One-step check out is all the rage in online retail, with a handful of service providers making it very easy for consumers to simply click and buy. While this option is ideal for some consumers, it isn't best for everyone, said Africa. "In a perfect world, you'll have a four to five step process for some people and one-click for others," she said. "It's your job to know which check out they should receive."

4) When it comes to buttons, remember: Bigger equals better. "Take your biggest button and triple it," she said. "The biggest button should be what you want them to do next." What that means is don't create a bunch of similar-sized buttons. If your "check out now" button and your "keep shopping" buttons are the same size, Africa said, it confuses people. And then they leave. And then you've got to speed right down to #10.

5) Look at your vertical fields. And from the things-I-never-would-have-thought-about department, here's a good one: Put your city, state and zip codes on three lines, not one. Why? Having these fields on separate lines gives the impression to the buyer that they're going through the process faster, Africa said.

6) Quit asking pointless questions. Once a customer makes it to the checkout, the process needs to be easy and hurdle-free. So, retailers, stop asking questions that don't pertain directly to the sale. Shipping information? Fine. A billing address? Absolutely. But don't ask them for the code on the back of their circular. There's another time and place to gather that data.

7) Use pop-ups. When a customer has merchandise in your cart and is leaving your site, use a pop-up to ask them if they're sure they want to move on. Hate pop-ups? So does Africa. So do some consumers. (So do I.) But, quite frankly, they're a great way to get attention and, if the creative is right, are very effective.

8) Offer a guest checkout option. Yes, we all wish every single customer would want to create a username and password. But they don't. If given the option, about 30% of shoppers will use guest checkout. Why? The perception is that it's faster (even if it's not). For a customer who's shopping in a hurry, guest checkout might be the deciding factor on whether to move forward with a purchase.

9) Don't make me ask you again... If you already know certain things about your customers - their name, their shipping address, their email - don't make them tell you twice. Do them a favor and prepopulate those fields. It will give them more time for, I don't know, shopping.

10) Send them an email. And another one. And another one. While an abandoned cart program shouldn't exclusively rely on emailing your AWOL shoppers, reaching out to people who left your website with items in their cart is essential. During the session, Africa talked about the importance of email timing (around lunchtime), personalization (use their name and specific items they abandoned), how many emails you should send (five), and whether retailers should offer extra incentives in those emails to get people to buy (she says no).

For more insights from Amy, or if you just need a good laugh, read her blog - I mean, qlog.