Your checkout is not just bleeding visitors …
It’s a burst artery.
And all those prospects you worked so hard to attract and persuade are gushing out of your site at a mind-boggling rate.
Studies show that 67.89 percent of online shopping carts are abandoned.
To put it in perspective, that’s like walking into a grocery store and seeing seven filled carts just sitting there, abandoned, near the checkout … while only three people walk out with groceries…
But we can fix it.
To start, we need to identify what’s going wrong.
Why are online shopping carts abandoned?
Price is the number one (and number two, three, four, and five) reason people abandon online shopping carts, as studies show.
In addition to high shipping fees and other price problems, users take issue with:
- Long checkout processes
- Security issues (e.g., excessive security checks, sense of poor security)
- Forced registration or account creation
- Too many fields or too much info required
Right now, your cart and checkout is a friction-filled, value-free, sandpapery tunnel.
But you’re about to learn seven secrets of boosting conversions — simply by focusing on the pages in your checkout.
These proven methods will make it so unimaginably easy for your users’ credit card details to fly off their fingertips, you’ll think you’re running a luge … not an ecommerce site.
1. High-converting checkouts make prices more palatable
The top reasons people abandon carts almost all have to do with cost. We do not want to part with our money — not necessarily because we’re cheap or poor, but because it causes us pain. Real pain.
In fact, this study shows that the part of your brain that is stimulated by pain — the orbitofrontal cortex — is the same part of your brain that’s stimulated when you have to part with your hard-earned money. Which means, for your user, entering your checkout flow is like stubbing a mental toe.
The principle working against you (and your checkout) is called loss aversion, which holds that your users would rather avoid acquiring something new (i.e., your solution) than give up something they already have (i.e., money) to acquire it.
When it comes to penny-pinchers, you have to work pretty damn hard to grapple a dime out of their hands. But can you work against loss aversion for those visitors who are not uber-frugal?
Science says yes.
Compare the pricing display for A and B here:
The prices in Display A are more prominent than those in Display B.
That increased prominence — including size, positioning, and use of symbols — can actually cause people who are not price-conscious to become price-conscious, according to this 2000 study.
So the way you display your prices, in and out of the cart, may actually make people clutch their wallets harder.
More food for thought:
- This Cornell study showed that people respond better to prices when they are listed without dollar signs; note that this study was conducted on restaurant menus, but the results are supported by the above retail study.
- Another study found that decreasing the size of the type in which you present a price can tweak the impression of the price amount — as if a price that looks small is small, and a price that looks big is big.
The goal is to make your price appear insignificant — especially at the point of purchase.
In their cart, Neiman Marcus does not use dollar signs, and the type size used to show the price is both small and neutrally colored versus, say, large and green or red.
To make your prices more palatable, avoid drawing attention to them in your checkout.
2. High-converting checkouts include free shipping (not just % off)
Did you know that high shipping prices are the number one reason people abandon carts?
Did you know that, according to OneUpWeb, 59 percent of your visitors expect to see the total cost — including shipping — before they go to checkout?
Did you know that, in 2010, Free Shipping Day (December 17) was the third highest spending day of the holiday season, right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday (then known as “Green Monday”)?
And did you know that, according to David Bell of the Wharton School of Business, free shipping offers can be more compelling than price discounts for online shoppers. As he says:
A free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase by $10.
So it may actually be a great strategy — or at least an informed A/B test — to switch from percentage discounts to free shipping offers.
Because the cost of shipping is clearly a barrier to conversion.
But do you just roll out free shipping across the board?
Saul Torres tested free shipping against $2.99 shipping and saw a nearly 25 percent lift, justifying the investment. But if you’re a small business, simply switching to free shipping may not be an economically viable option yet.
So do you offer free shipping during short campaign periods only? You could, but that will only impact your business during campaign periods.
Instead, you might take a cue from Macy’s, which offers free shipping every day for orders over $99:
Why is free shipping only offered on purchases over $99? Why not purchases over $100?
According to Linda Bustos of Elastic Path, triple-digit prices can be more intimidating — or require more thought — than double-digit prices in and out of the cart. Thus, the idea of spending $99 to get free shipping is easier to swallow than the idea of spending $100 for it.
So offering free shipping on the highest possible double-digit number may be the happy solution.
But might Macy’s, or you, do better to offer free shipping on an even lower cart total — say, on orders over $49? What would that do for your conversion rate?
Amazon originally offered free shipping on orders over $99. They then lowered that number to $49 … then to $25 … and now they offer free shipping “memberships” with Amazon Prime. Although the impact of these changes on conversion rate and repeat purchases is unreported, ComScore reported that Amazon’s customers a) purchased fewer products and b) spent less with the $25 free-shipping threshold.
The lower your free-shipping threshold, the less likely cart totals are to exceed that threshold. So you may boost your conversions by offering free shipping on $25 orders, but your average order value is likely to go down.
BONUS TIP: What the customer thinks of as free shipping is actually your business paying the shipping for them. So why not say so?
My clients and friends have positioned “free shipping” as “we’ll pay your shipping.” They have, in turn, seen conversion lift. Plus, some even get emails from customers thanking them for paying the shipping.
3. High-converting checkouts make account creation feel less painful
Which of these two buttons do you think is worth $300 million?
It might not surprise you to learn that, as Luke Wroblewski shares in Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks and as author of this test Jared Spool describes here, a “Continue” button brought in 45 percent more sales than a “Register” button.
These buttons — and a supporting message about registration being a) optional and b) beneficial — were tested on the first page of the checkout for a $25B online retailer. The boost in conversions amounted to $6,000,000 in its first week alone.
Those results teach us a valuable lesson: If you have an “account creation” step in your checkout that you can’t remove, you can still boost your conversion rate and reduce cart abandonment by:
- Modifying the language on the button to remove a friction-y sense of doing work
- Adding a supporting line of copy explaining reasons to register and if registration is optional
If you think that $300 million sounds a bit crazy, others have seen massive drops in abandonment, too, by minimizing the focus on account creation.
As shown in this study, here’s what retailer ASOS was using as a checkout page for a while (blue box highlights for demo only):
They tested repeatedly to arrive at the following streamlined page:
The result? Approximately 50 percent more people continued to the next page in the new design versus the original.
So although account creation is one of the top reasons for cart abandonment, you may not have to get rid of your account-creation step to win more sales.
If you insist (or your business insists) that your visitors create an account, even if it might keep them from purchasing, then at least make the experience faster and better.
LongHaul.com.au asks guest visitors not to “create an account” but to enter their email address to continue, dramatically reducing the friction of this step:
And once you complete registration on Wiltshire Farm Foods, your checkout experience is nicely personalized from that point on, using the info you provided during account creation:
4. High-converting checkouts keep forms super-lean and extra-smart
Every field you add to your checkout cuts into your conversions.
Studies of forms outside the checkout — such as on lead generation pages and contact forms — have shown that lean forms lead to higher success rates. For example, one company reported a 160 percent increase in form completions when they moved from 11 fields to 4 fields.
In 2011, Expedia deleted one field in their checkout to increase profits by $12 million.
If a field isn’t required, then what’s it doing in your cart?
Think of every field in your checkout as a hurdle your prospect has to leap over. Then ask yourself if it’s worth the possibility of losing a sale — or thousands of sales — because you want to fill a database.
After the Great Field Culling Exercise, as it will come to be known in your office, you’ll want to make sure the forms that remain are so frictionless, users will barely notice they’re doing actual data entry.
Top tips to boost form completions include:
- Pre-populating as many fields as you can
- Offering a tickbox if billing and shipping are the same, to reduce the need to complete two forms
- Placing error messages near the point of error
- Showing coupon code fields only to visitors arriving via email or affiliate links
Some checkout form fields are necessary but feel superfluous to your visitor. For example, you may need an email address to send a receipt to a customer, but they may think you just want to market to them. So quell their concerns by using benefits-focused inline microcopy, like this:
Email address (so we can send you a receipt)
Also, the more fields you have, the more errors your users may encounter.
Form-creation guru Luke Wrobleski found that inline error validation, shown below, reduces errors by as much as 22 percent and nearly halves the total time it takes a person to complete a form.
For best results, don’t validate while someone is completing a field, which Wrobleski found leads to user confusion; rather, validate after a field is populated.
Now, if we’re talking about forms in checkouts, we must talk about credit card forms.
Credit card forms house the most critical fields in the entire checkout process — no, on your entire site.
Most credit card entries look like this:
That’s fine – but it’s not exactly simplifying things for your prospect, is it? We can do better, can’t we?
Compare the above to this:
New solutions like Skeuocard and TryChec allow businesses to use skeuomorphic design to minimize the friction created by most credit card forms in checkouts … so your user can simply type in exactly what they see on their card.
This might seem a little hokey, but did you know that tech and innovation giant Intuit credits their early success to the skeuomorphic design of the “check” that was part of the Quicken software UI?
5. High-converting checkouts make buttons do more than “proceed”
Earlier, we saw how the word “Continue” on a button can work better than the word “Register,” but we don’t necessarily want to stop at basic or placeholder text. After all, what does the word “Continue” mean to your users?
“Continue” on its own leaves much to interpretation. Your user might think, Continue where? Continue forward to enter my payment details? Or continue shopping?
Ambiguity is friction – so get rid of it.
And, while we’re at it, re-consider these common button labels in carts:
Does “Back” mean back to the previous step … or back to the website … or back to the future?
In this example on American Apparel, Christian Holst found that users misunderstood the “Apply” button as the action that would move them to the next step in checkout, which wasn’t true at all. Their confusion led to their inability to complete the purchase.
Check this out and see if you’d know what the “Apply” button means here:
In the study conducted on the above, test subjects misinterpreted “Apply” as the form submission button, not a button for selecting shipping options. This confusion kept them from completing a purchase.
With so much riding on the checkout, it’s important to push your button copy so it’s not just placeholder text but truly meaningful and helpful to your user.
In a test I described here, Gumballs.com saw a 20 percent increase in paid conversions when they switched their checkout button copy from “Proceed to Checkout” to “I’m Ready to Checkout”:
For best results:
- Stick with one button per page of your cart (plus a PayPal button on the payment page)
- Optimize the Helsinki out of that one button
- Turn all other buttons into text links that can’t be mistaken for actions that will move a user forward in your checkout
6. High-converting checkouts reassure prospects all the way to the last step
Neil Patel’s “Quick Sprout Traffic U” is designed to reassure prospects in those critical final moments of closing:
Neil’s designer positioned two important assurances — security and a money-back guarantee — near the critical credit card fields.
Studies have shown that website users, especially non-technical users, are generally not concerned about security until the moment they’re about to enter their credit card details. (In fact, this study showed that removing security icons earlier in an experience actually boosted opt-ins, but I digress.)
So positioning the McAfee Secure logo next to the credit card fields can give users the extra assurance they need at an important moment.
Now for the interesting part:
Check out the photo of Neil Patel and the quote beside it. For prospective customers of Traffic U, Neil Patel is a major draw. He’s the expert everyone would love to hire but can’t afford. So using his photo, complete with his stamp of approval, may be the last nudge a prospect needs to transform into a customer.
7. High-converting checkouts stay in a prospect’s head from start to finish
Conversion happens in our heads.
Your checkout’s role is simply to facilitate conversion by making it extremely easy and desirable for your prospect to buy.
Never forget to keep the ultimate goal — acquiring the solution to one’s pain — front and center.
Vistaprint does this well in the earliest parts of their checkout, where they show large product shots:
Vistaprint Step 1:
Vistaprint Step 2:
Your visitors need to be reminded of the solution they’re about to purchase — and the value associated with it — throughout your checkout, not just when they enter the cart.
But we rarely do this. Hell, we rarely optimize our carts at all!
This is because we’re so often restricted by the pre-fab layouts of our checkout, we don’t have the room to continue messaging our value proposition, incentives, and anxiety-reducers / reassurances, like social proof.
We forget that persuasion doesn’t stop when someone clicks “Add to Cart,” and we tell ourselves that A/B testing in our cart is too hard.
But if you haven’t yet been convinced that it’s time to optimize your checkout experience, here’s one last data point for you …
With a redesigned checkout page, shown below, one company was able to decrease abandonment from 80 percent … to a mere 54 percent.
In other words: They brought their cart abandonment from 10 percent above industry average to 15 percent below the average!
Of those seven secrets, which one will you test in your cart to lower abandonment — and increase conversions — today?
We’re ecstatic that Joanna will be speaking at our content marketing and networking event — Authority Intensive — taking place May 7-9, 2014, in Denver, Colorado. The show is sold out, but stay tuned for details on next year’s Authority Intensive.
About the Author: Joanna Wiebe is a conversion copywriter and the founder of Copy Hackers, where startups and marketers learn to convert like mofos. You should get her free 4-part course on copywriting fundamentals by signing up here and follow her on Twitter to stay in constant supply of conversion-boosting copywriting techniques.