Web Site Usability and Conversion Rates

As many of you already know, there are literally hundreds of things that need to be done correctly for an e-commerce site to be successful. A shopping cart that works, a professional design, desirable products, Search Engine Optimized content, and the list goes on. Something I find that many people tend to overlook is the actual usability of their site. To put it more simply: how easy is it for customers to find and purchase your products?

Purchasing products online has become standard practice for most of us in the internet age, and we have all come to expect shopping carts to work a certain way. You find a product you want, you click a button to add it to your cart, and you then check out by filling in your information and clicking another button. There are a lot of numbers you can crunch regarding the people who visit your site including where they came from, what they do while they are on your site, and whether or not they actually complete a purchase. In an ideal world, everyone who visited your site would make a purchase, but that is of course not the case. Some people are just browsing, others may not find what they were searching for, and some may add something to their cart but not complete the purchase. Obviously you want a ‘conversion rate’, or percentage of successful transactions vs visitors, as high you can get. This number is affected by quite a number of factors, which I will outline below.

Finding a product

The first thing we want a customer to do is find the product they are looking for, and successfully add it to the cart. This sounds like a simple enough exercise, but on my sites it is unnecessarily complicated. Lets say a customer finds your site and lands on the home page. How easy is it for them to find what they are looking for? Do you have a search function that is easy to find and use? Is your category navigation simple and easy to navigate? If you have a large number of products, do you give the customer a way to narrow down the choices using a filter or sub-category navigation?

Adding a product to the cart

Once they find a product, it should be very easy for them to add the product to the cart. The add to cart button should be at the very top of the page, and it should clearly stand out. This is done by using a larger button than others on your site, and using a contrasting color to the rest of your site colors. Red is an action color, so if your site isn’t red, this is usually a good choice. The wording of the button is also important – “Add to Cart” is the industry standard, but “Add to Basket” or a variant of that will also work. If the product has any attributes to choose from such as color, size, etc that choice should be just above the add to cart button and clearly defined as to what they need to do. I recommend that you don’t have the first choice set to the default, instead have the first option say “Please Select”. If they don’t make a choice before they click the add to cart button, they should be given a warning that they need to choose an option first. This will help to prevent incorrect orders, which cost you time and money. If the attribute changes the price of the product, the price shown on the page should dynamically update to reflect this. Once they do click on the add to cart button, they should be given a clear indication that the item has been successfully added. I typically recommend a pop-up that confirms this, as that keeps them in the shopping area, and can also be used to push related products to them. Some carts redirect the user to the cart page, which also works, but is not as effective as the pop-up.

The Cart

The cart itself is really just a stopping point on the way to the checkout. Here is where customers are typically looking to see how much shipping is going to cost, so be sure to provide a way to estimate shipping based on their destination. If you offer PayPal, you can have an Express Checkout button here that will send them directly to PayPal to pay. Your regular checkout button should be clear and large, following the same design standards I mentioned earlier with the Add to Cart button. Don’t give them too many options here, just a way to edit the cart and checkout.

Another great thing to do on the cart page is push promotions such as free shipping. If you have a free shipping threshold, give the customer a counter that tells them how much more they n eed to spend to get free shipping. It is amazing how much extra customers will spend to get free shipping.

The Checkout

Here is where the most problems occur in a customer’s shopping cart experience. You want this process to be as seamless as possible, and there are a number of guidelines that need to be followed:

  • The checkout needs to be secure, so you need an SSL certificate. DO NOT use a shared SSL certificate, as that causes the url of the checkout to change. The checkout url HAS to be your url. SSl certificates can be had for as little as $50/year, so there really is no excuse for not having one.
  • The checkout should be one page only, the more clicks you make the user make, the greater the chance they will abandon the process.
  • There should be a clear option to log in at the very top, which will auto-fill all of their information for them.
  • Do not force the customer to create an account, some people simply do not like doing this
  • Make sure you give them an option to copy their billing address to the shipping address – no one wants to fill something out twice.
  • Give them multiple payment options. Some people love using PayPal, others do not. The more options you give them, the smaller the chance someone will abandon the checkout because there is not a payment method they like.
  • Hide all of the site navigation and links. When a customer gets to the checkout page, they have committed to making the purchase, you do not want to distract them or give them an out. Amazon.com has spent a ton of money testing this out, and you’ll notice they don’t give you any options other than ones related to the checkout procedure.
  • Make sure your cart dynamically updates things when they change a shipping method or payment method. Waiting for a page to refresh is yet another opportunity for them to leave.
  • Finally, make the ‘submit order’ button very clear, using the same design rules as the add to cart and checkout buttons.

Shopping Cart Conversion Funnel

One of the best tools at your disposal for analyzing your checkout procedure is Google Analytics. This service (which is free by the way) not only shows you a treasure trove of data on your customers, but allows you to configure a shopping cart funnel which lets you see where in the checkout process they are dropping off. You define the cart page, the checkout page and the order complete page, and then you can see what percentage of your users complete each step. If you find that only 1% of your users are going from the shopping cart to the checkout page, something is clearly causing issues on your cart page.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a way to test different options and the effect they have on your shopping cart. For example, you may want to see what happens when you change a red add to cart button to blue. This method will deliver the red button to some customers and the blue to others. You can then compare the results and see which one works better for your specific cart. This is done by inserting a little bit of code in your templates, which may require the services of a professional. It is a great way to test changes before you make them final, and can have a very large impact on your overall sales and conversion rates.

So in conclusion, be sure you are paying attention to the little things when it comes to the usability of your site. Simple changes can make a huge difference in your conversion rates, and a good customer experience will encourage repeat purchases as well. If the shopping cart software you are using doesn’t follow the guidelines above, it is time to think about migrating to one that does.

We can help!  Hire us for a detailed site analysis and we’ll give you at least 5 items you can improve.