You've gotten your customer on your site, and even to the checkout page, but (as you well know) your efforts don't end at the "Add To Basket" button. If you want to encourage your website visitors to complete their purchases, you need to double-check your checkout process.

Any e-commerce site owner knows the frustration resulting from the abandonment of a full shopping basket; all online shops suffer from a certain amount of checkout abandonment. But the most likely causes of a high rate of abandonment are few, and they're relatively simple to rectify.

Here are three key areas that can generate improved conversions if you pay attention to them. I explain what steps to take in each area and why doing so will improve conversion rates.

1. Optimize the checkout process

You don't have to look far to find one of the main reasons for customers' abandoning their purchase at the checkout: your checkout process.

Making sure you comply with the following three checkpoints will maximize completion rates:

  1. You do not force registration for purchase.
  2. You offer more than one payment option.
  3. Your procedure is simple and quick.

Forcing registration to your site in order to complete the checkout stage does little more than cause potential customers to abandon their purchase.

Many customers will be first-time purchasers, and they may not initially plan on using your site to purchase again. Trying to force the issue will often put such buyers off. So make sure you include a "Checkout as Guest" as well as a "Register and Checkout" option.

Offering a single payment option may be simpler for you, but doing so will put off those whose preferred payment option is not the one offered.

For example, if you offer payment via PayPal only, you automatically exclude potential customers who do not have a PayPal account and have no desire to create one simply to buy from you. Having the option of PayPal among several other options is a good thing, however, because it is some people's preferred payment method.

Of course, make sure you allow people to use all major debit and credit cards.

Too lengthy a checkout procedure causes about 10% of people to abandon their shopping at the checkout stage.

Make it simple for customers by allowing them to enter their delivery and billing addresses together if they are the same, and never make extraneous questions mandatory to answer in order to complete the process (for example, "How did you find our site?").

Also make sure that completed fields in the forms are retained, customer security permitting, should a customer forget to check a box or fill in a mandatory field and be directed away from the checkout. Most customers will not have the patience to fill in an entire checkout form more than once.

2. Cut down on hidden charges

Almost half of those who have abandoned a shopping cart at checkout cite their unwillingness to pay hidden charges.

Make sure you are as transparent as possible with all pricing. Most customers expect being charged a small amount for shipping or delivery at checkout, but displaying prices on product pages without, say, VAT included (in Europe), can be misleading.

If you charge extra for a service that is needed for the product (for example, fitting a glass curtain pole) either incorporate that charge into the price on the product page or make it clear on that page what additional amount will be added at the checkout stage.

Ensure that your shipping and handling prices are reasonable and transparent.

If possible, offer standard delivery for free (factor the cost into the product price, or decide to absorb it in anticipation of increased sales), and offer the option of quicker delivery at a higher price.

Also, consider flat rates for each option (standard, next day, named day) rather than calculating amount, size, or weight of the purchased goods.

3. Use a lead-recovery service

Using a lead-recovery service can help you pick up those customers who still abandon at the checkout stage. If the potential buyer has entered an email address or a telephone number, he can be contacted to prompt re-entering the site and completing the purchase.

Email reminders can be sent a short time after the abandonment occurs, offering a helpful reminder to customer that they did not complete the checkout. The reminder can offer an email address or local-rate or free telephone number to call if the purchase abandonment was the result of an unanswered question—whether a query about the product or a difficulty with the site.

However, contact via telephone is the most direct way to pick up sales leads, as it does not require any action by the customer, and it gives a straightforward way to find the cause of checkout abandonment. The caller is able to unknot any uncertainty on the customer's part and answer any queries, so you retain the sales lead.

* * *

Have you put any of these ideas into play? How have they improved your checkout abandonment rates?

Author's note: This article was written for UK-base lead optimization firm Optilead, on behalf of which I write about cart abandonment and the merits of using geographical phone numbers.

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Three Steps for Stopping Checkout Abandonment

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James Duval is a technology and business expert for GKBC and a freelance journalist.