10 ways to keep e-shoppers from ditching carts

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Some get their kicks zipping on the freeway to work.

This year more than 16 million of Canadians will have a blast cruising the information highway for their holiday shopping.

Will this mean a bonanza for e-retailers? Could be – if they take steps to ensure their online stores are not littered with abandoned virtual shopping carts.

Online purchases are expected to hit an all time high of more than $32 billion in North America, but retailers selling via the Internet lose more than $362 million every month due to ditched shopping carts, according to an Atlanta-based Web application company.

“Too often online shoppers get cold feet just at the point of concluding a sale,” said Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media Inc. of Atlanta.

He said a recent survey of 1,100 online retailers in North America indicate that nearly 60 per cent of online shopping carts are dumped by customers before a purchase is ever made.

What are the main reasons for shopping cart abandonment? “We found out shoppers were either frustrated by a slow site or weren’t confident with the retailer,” said Harpointner.

A Canadian-based e-commerce expert ascribes the problem to poor customer service in online stores as opposed to bricks-and-mortar outfits.

Some online retailers simply forget customer service still applies on the Internet, noted Tim Richardson, professor of e-commerce, marketing and international business at Seneca College and the University of Toronto. “Some e-commerce software focus so much on getting people to buy that they end up irking the customer instead.”

It could be too late to do some dramatic Web site changes for this holiday season, but here are a few suggestions from Harpointner and Richardson on how to prevent shopping cart abandonment for next year.

Feed the need for speed

Pick a host site and e-commerce software that can handle your traffic. Some retailers spend a vast amount of money in marketing and other areas of their business, but scrimp on their budget when it comes to choosing a Web host and e-commerce system, says Harpointner.

“Previous surveys showed that online shoppers get turned off when they have to wait 30 seconds for a site to process orders. This year that number just went down to seven seconds.”

Check out the competition

Before settling for an e-commerce software product, ask to check it out. Better yet, check out how it’s performing at a competitor’s site.

Answer known-unknown

Provide adequate product information on your Web site. Richardson said this worked wonders for Canadian Tire Corp. The retailer has attracted a core group of customers who spend time researching products on the company’s site, canadiantire.ca, and then go to a store to make their purchases.

How much information is too much? Who knows says Harpointner “Put as much as you want. People can always stop reading and start buying.”

Privacy and security

Identity theft and online fraud is a major concern for almost anyone on a computer. You can mitigate customer’s fears by employing adequate security features and limiting request for personal information to just what is needed. A few strategically placed messages and links to your privacy and security policies can never hurt.

Cash, credit or bottle caps

Provide payment alternatives. Empowering the customer to choose on a method of payment can increase your market coverage by five to 15 per cent according to Harpointner.

The price is right

Everyone loves a sale. Emphasize price savings, offer coupons and special deals.

Return to sender

One reason people are wary about online shopping is because they don’t want to be stuck with a product they don’t like. Offer a clear, fair and reasonable return policy. Make this information easily visible to the buyer.

Provide human contact

Some retailers believe the Internet provides them refuge from the public. Although, they’re buying online, shoppers still appreciate the human touch. Make 1-800 contact numbers easily visible and strategically located in areas of the site where they might be needed.

Dell Canada Inc. in North York offers an innovative take on this idea. The computer firm’s site has a chat feature that enables customers to engage in instant messaging conversation with company representatives and technicians.

“It gives customers a level of reassurance that they are not being left alone,” said Anwar Sumar, director of e-business, Dell Canada.

Use feedback to innovate

Following a review of their Web site, Dell found out customers often needed assistance navigating the site or ordering the systems they needed. Sumar said his company incorporated a digital avatar or personal assistant, which helps out users.

A validation system also does a final check of a customer’s purchases to determine if the components will work together. The system can recommend alternatives as well.

No way out

People will eventually want to leave your site but goodbye doesn’t mean forever. A drop down list mentioning your physical stores, might just be what customers who have dropped their virtual shopping carts need. “Besides if they click on the locator you’ll get a hint that they’re still interested,” said Richardson.

But he noted that e-commerce is different from physical shopping. One reason people shop online is to escape the pushy sales rep and get up and leave when they want to.

“People will window shop and drop the shopping cart if they don’t like what they see or don’t see what they like.”

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