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8 ways to close online sales

Posted Monday, May 12, 2003

Your online store is up and running, and sales are starting to roll in. Now is the time to step back and make sure you avoid a common pitfall for online merchants — abandoned shopping carts.
A late 2000 survey by http// showed that consumers abandon 30% of all online shopping carts without making a purchase. Fully three quarters of all online shoppers abandoned at least one online shopping cart during a 90-day test period that year, according to the survey.

Clearly online merchants have an opportunity to catch some customers before they head out the store's virtual door without their intended purchases.

If you had a similar problem in your real-world store, you'd be spending serious amounts of time restocking shelves. Fortunately, you don't have to restock unfinished online orders, but do you really have to lose those online sales? Here are eight suggestions for getting and keeping your piece of the e-commerce pie — by making it more likely that shoppers will actually purchase what they pick out in your online store.

1. Keep shipping costs reasonable.

Excessive shipping costs were the No. 1 reason consumers abandoned carts. I have great empathy for this beef. I recently tried to buy a product online, only to find that the cheapest shipping cost, at nearly $10, increased the price of the gift by more than 30%. Yikes. Granted, shipping costs need to cover packing materials and transportation, but squeezing an extra few dollars of profit out of the "handling" charges is really annoying to customers. Apparently, it's annoying enough to cost you sales — so hold the lid on shipping charges.

It's also helpful to offer multiple shipping options; you don't want to lose a sale because you can't meet a need for speed. Typically, you should offer ground, two-to-three-day service and next-day shipping. Be sure to set expectations on next-day shipping, however. Customers can expect to receive an item the following day even if they order late in the day, so you will want to set expectations appropriately.

2. Give enough information to close the sale and make it stick. says the second major reason online shoppers dumped their full carts was that they changed their minds. In my book, that means the site didn't work hard enough to close the sale. Make your site an effective "closer": On each of your product pages, give information that makes the consumer feel so good about their purchase that going through the check-out process seems well worth it.

Some other ideas:

Consider hiring a good freelance copywriter, preferably with catalog experience, who can add zing to your product descriptions. To help close the sale, you could include a staff member's experiences with, or opinions about, the product as part of the description. Femail Creations uses this technique resourcefully in many of its product descriptions.
Make sure the product descriptions answer common questions. Ask several people to click through your site to see if they have questions about the items you are selling. What is it made of? What are the dimensions? What age range is a toy or game appropriate for?
Include customer comments or customer reviews for a product; they provide third-party validation, and comments and reviews make customers feel good about a purchase.
If providing customer reviews is too complex or time-consuming, consider linking to other third-party reviews of products, wherever they are available.
Finally, use high-quality photos of products — clear, detailed images can really help consumers feel comfortable about making an online purchase.

3. Ask for the credit card number last.

Giving a credit card number over the Web is still a bit daunting to many consumers. Wait to ask for credit card numbers until the very end, and make sure customers can see the total amount they'll be charged (including all charges for shipping, gift wrap and tax) right when you are asking them to enter their credit card number. I've seen shopping carts display a message at checkout saying that shipping charges may be added to my total, but not telling me how much those charges are going to be. Consumers have a right to feel a little queasy about entering their credit card number if they can't see the total charges.

4. Make buying and shipping gifts easy.

Make sure your online store is gift-friendly. Offer gift wrap options and gift cards, and make sure the checkout process includes the option to enter a separate shipping address, so that gifts can go directly to the recipient. Very few smaller businesses online seem to offer gift wrap options. But consumers expectations get set by the big guys, making it important that smaller merchants "catch up" on this service. You'll also need to manage your back-end processes so that a receipt with dollar amounts doesn't accompany the gift.

5. Provide a fast checkout.

We've all seen people leave a shopping cart full of stuff at Wal-Mart or the supermarket when the cashier lines appear unbearably long. With online shopping, the equivalent is an unbearably slow checkout process. I've shopped at sites where, even with fast connections, I have to wait and wait for the next page to load when I'm checking out. It makes me crazy. I just want to give you my money, and that's to your advantage, so don't make me wait!

One solution: Before you sign up for a shopping cart service, you can check the speed of the checkout process by trying out a couple of small-business sites that use their service. Do the pages load quickly? Is the process streamlined and easy? Is there anything about the process that would make you uncomfortable as a buyer?

6. "Buy" buttons — use them liberally and make them load first.

You can use "buy" buttons to make it very easy to get products into the shopping cart. If your site includes a summary page that shows many products as well as detail pages for each product, make sure you have "buy" buttons on both the summary and detail pages. If possible, create your Web pages so that the "buy" buttons load first or at least very early in the process. Nothing is more infuriating than already knowing you want to buy a product and having to wait while a nice, detailed photo of it loads, when all you really need is the button to press for the purchase.

7. Offer multiple ways to pay.

Another purchase obstacle gets removed when you offer more than one payment option. Many people will want to pay online with a credit card, so it's extremely important that your site accept plastic. On the other hand, many buyers still get the willies at the idea of sending their credit card number over the Web. Don't lose those sales. Offer a toll-free phone number on your Web site, or, if you cannot staff a real-time phone line, offer an e-mail address and a promise to call the customer back to take the order. Many small businesses note that significant online business comes from customers who look at their Web site, but then place a phone call to actually make a purchase. Placing a toll-free phone number or an e-mail address on every page of your Web site can be a significant sales booster.

8. Deliver on time to lay the groundwork for repeat sales.

Following through with on-time delivery is crucial to building long-term customers. But according to http//, nearly 25% of online sales last holiday season did not arrive when expected. One solution is to set delivery expectations to allow for a day of error, so customers will have their expectations met.

So, bar the virtual doors and don't let those consumers leave your Web site till they've made their purchases. Happy selling.


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