Small Business Saturday: Survey Says (Part 2)

Last time, we took a look at a couple of interesting findings from a recent comScore/UPS poll of online shoppers. We found out they really like free shipping and hate hassles when they have to return a product.

But free shipping and easy returns alone probably won’t make the sale for you.

So what else can we glean from this survey to help us close more sales, generate more leads, or sign up more subscribers?

Simplify, simplify.

This famous bit of advice from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden also applies to our websites — particularly the checkout process.

In the survey, 68% of respondents cited “ease of checkout” as contributing to their satisfaction with the purchasing process. They defined an “easy checkout” as one that could be accomplished with one or two clicks.

Take a look at your checkout process. How many screens do customers have to go through? Every additional click increases your cart abandonment rate, as more customers decide the ordeal isn’t worth it. Strive to keep the process as simple and quick as you can.

People like choices.

Of the survey respondents:

  • 65% said they wanted to see a variety of shipping options.
  • 64% were looking for alternative payment options (such as PayPal or Google Checkout). About 25% of the respondents said they had abandoned a shopping cart because their preferred payment option wasn’t offered.
  • 58% wanted the ability to check out as a guest, without being forced to create an account. In fact, 28% of the respondents reported they had abandoned a shopping cart because the store tried to force them to create an account just to make a purchase. On the other hand, 57% said they liked the ability to have their customer profile pre-populated with information to save them time when checking out, and 51% said they wanted the option to create a personal login to save purchasing preferences.

That last bullet point might look a little strange, since based on the numbers it appears there has to be some overlap between the people saying they want to be able to check out as a guest and the people saying they want to be able to save a personal customer profile.

But the point is: your customers want the choice.

Don’t force them to create an account; give them the option of creating one. Don’t force them to use a single class of shipping (even if it’s free); give them the option of paying more to get faster delivery. Your customers are telling you: choice is good.

Be upfront.

If you don’t offer free shipping, you might be tempted to save shipping costs for later in the checkout process. After all, those shipping costs do drive up the order total, and perhaps people will be “scared off” by the new total. However, over one third of the respondents, 37%, reported they have abandoned a shopping cart because shipping and handling costs were listed too late during the checkout process.

I once worked with a small merchant who didn’t tell people the shipping costs at all when they ordered online. She would take their order information online, then calculate the shipping offline and email them with the revised total.

Fortunately for her, she sold a specialty product that was hard to get otherwise, and worked with a fanatically loyal clientele who were accustomed to this process. For any other business, I wouldn’t advise this method. Most pro-quality store/shopping cart software can be connected to the Fedex, UPS and/or USPS interfaces. With a little setup on your part, your store can accurately calculate shipping right up front and let the customer know right away how much it will cost to ship.

Our values matter

When asked what values would positively influence their decision to shop with a particular retailer, the vast majority were interested in how well we’d protect their personal information (74%), and our track record on fraud prevention (54%). But a surprising number said they’d be influenced by our company’s values, including social responsibility, environmental sensitivity and local sourcing. For instance:

  • 45% said they were more likely to shop with a retailer who features “Made in the USA” products.
  • 35% would be more likely to shop with a retailer who’s committed to sustainable products and packaging options.
  • 31% prefer to shop with socially responsible companies.
  • 29% want their retailer to focus on local sourcing.
  • 28% are impressed with retailers who use sustainable materials in their stores and other buildings.
  • 25% would be more likely to shop with a retailer who offers organic products.

Wrapping it up…

  • Customers love free shipping, and many will jump through a few hoops to get it — but whether you offer free shipping or not, they really love having a choice of shipping method.
  • They also like to have a choice of payment method. If you don’t offer their preferred method, they’re liable to leave rather than use a less-favored payment option.
  • Offering free and easy returns can help make the sale.
  • To minimize shopping cart abandonment, keep your checkout process as short and simple as possible, and let people know all the costs (shipping, taxes, etc.) as early as possible in the process.
  • Never force your customers to create an account simply to make a purchase. A substantial number will leave instead of buying. Rather, give them the option — and many will take you up on it.
  • Your corporate values matter. If you source products locally, use sustainable packaging, work with “fair trade” suppliers, etc. — trumpet the news on your website. For many customers, your commitment to the environment, social responsibility, or local sourcing could be what makes the difference between buying from you and buying from your competitor.

I’ve still only scratched the surface of the insights offered in these survey results. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can access an interactive version of the report here.

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