Small Business Saturday: And The Survey Says…!

As I mentioned in my last column, search engine rankings are not the best measure of success for a website — utility companies and landlords remain reluctant to accept SEO ranking reports in lieu of cash. A better measure of success, of course, is conversions (sales, leads, subscriptions, whatever it is you most want your website visitors to do). You know, the stuff that actually generates revenue.

As it has become easier over the years to set up an ecommerce site, more and more small businesses have opted to sell their products online, whether as a “pure play” ecommerce site or a “clicks and mortar” multi-channel retailer.

Turns out, for many businesses the mechanics of setting up an ecommerce site is the easy part. The hard part is making sales. Frankly, even now many websites still post abysmal conversion rates. The problem isn’t that our customers don’t want to buy online — we know they shop and purchase online all the time. The problem is our websites have let them down in some way.

We know something needs to change. The problem is: how do we figure out what that something is?

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Fortunately, comScore (a leader in measuring the digital world) and UPS (a global leader in logistics and transportation services) conduct an annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ survey that queries online shoppers about what motivates them to buy. They recently released the results of the third annual survey. Savvy business owners and webmasters can use the results of these surveys to improve the online shopping experience for their customers.

So, what did they find out? Here are a few highlights:

Free shipping is a big deal

A large percentage of survey respondents (81%) want to have a free shipping option. They’ll even jump through some hoops to get free shipping:

  • 58% will add more items to their cart to get the cart value over the free shipping threshold.
  • While 85% of customers would normally like to receive their order within five days (if they’re paying for shipping), 50% will accept a slower shipping option if it’s free.
    • 83% will wait an extra two days for a free shipping option
    • 57% will wait an extra three days
    • A surprising 31% will wait an extra five days or more (wow!) just to get that free shipping.
  • Although 74% of customers most prefer delivery directly to their home, 35% of shoppers will instead choose a “ship to store” option if it includes free shipping.
  • 31% will join a loyalty program to take advantage of a free shipping perk.

Your return policy matters, too

In an ideal world, every customer would be thrilled with every purchase and there would be no need for return policies. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and sometimes it’s necessary for a customer to return an item.

Shoppers know this, and they do take the time to check out how much of a hassle the return process is going to be. In fact, 39% of survey respondents said they check out a retailer’s return policy before they buy anything online. So if you don’t have a return policy posted on your site, you should probably consider fixing that.

Almost as bad as not having a return policy, though, is having a policy with terms your customers hate.

What they want to see: Free, easy returns. Allow buyers to return items purchased online to your store(s) and include with each shipment a prepaid label for free return shipping — 82% of customers said they’d be more likely to buy if this was the case. If you don’t allow online purchases to be returned to your stores, but you do include the prepaid label, this will still positively influence 67% of shoppers.

What they don’t want to see: If you require online purchases to be shipped back at customer expense, you’ll turn off 51% of your potential buyers. If you allow store returns of online purchases and provide a prepaid label for free shipping, but you charge a restocking fee for returned items, you could be losing up to 32% of your potential sales.

And that ain’t all…

There are plenty more juicy insights in this survey, so I’ll be returning to it in a future column. For now, if you’d like to get a jump on things and see all the results for yourself, you can access an interactive version of the report here.

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