Grabbing and Keeping E-Shoppers

Among the tips listed here: Make your commerce site honest, respectful of privacy, and as easy as possible to navigate

By Karen E. Klein

A 2001 holiday-shopping survey done by a customer-experience management consultancy shows that consumers plan to spend less overall this season -- but also that they plan to do more online shopping due to security concerns about crowded shopping malls.

With more consumers doing business on the Web, what can small e-tailers do to maximize online purchasing and minimize customer frustration and mistrust? San Mateo (Calif.)-based Vividence, which performed the survey, analyzes consumer behavior for small businesses and Fortune 1000 companies. President and CEO Jeff Greenberg believes that e-tailers should grab every opportunity to create loyalty and long-term business. He put together a list of tips for successful holiday e-tailing that he shared with Smart Answers.

• Save customers' shopping carts for later visits. Vividence surveys show that shopping-cart abandonment can run as high as 75% and that customers do return later to purchase items left in their carts. "Let them know that they can come back to finish their shopping later, and keep their cart items for 30 days or more," Greenberg urges.

• Show shipping prices and options early, rather than tacking them on at checkout. Unexpectedly high shipping costs are the No. 1 reason that consumers abandon their shopping carts, Greenberg says. "Customers prefer choosing shipping options, and 82% said they would like to see shipping prices in the shopping cart," he says. "If you stick them with a shipping whammy after they've spent a lot of time shopping and checking out, you've lost their trust, and you'll have a big problem getting it back."

• Make site registration optional. Vividence surveys show that 52% of online consumers are more likely to abandon their shopping carts if Web-site registration is required before purchase. "People don't want to give away a lot of personal information, especially on their first or second encounter with your Web site, so don't look at it as a marketing opportunity and force them to," Greenberg says. "They're not ready for that relationship with your firm yet. But if they buy something and it works out well, they will be more likely to register."

• Shorten the checkout process, making it quick and painless. Greenberg's research shows that 60% of customers prefer checkout entry fields on a single screen. Yet some of the sites he has surveyed have checkout procedures that are 12 to 15 pages long, he says. "That takes too much time. Nobody wants to spend an hour waiting in line at a store, and they don't want to do it at home, either," he says. Don't ask for too much detailed information during checkout, and make sure that the point-and-click process is streamlined and easy to navigate.

• Keep products in stock, take out-of-stock products off your Web page, and let customers know as soon as they click on an item if it's out of stock. "Spending a lot of time shopping, and then finding out after I press "buy" that the item I want is not available, is very frustrating," Greenberg says. "Even worse is getting a package in the mail and finding two of three items there, with a note explaining that the third is back-ordered and I'll have to wait. Again, it goes back to trust and not wanting to destroy customer relationships."

• Provide order-tracking and be very clear about delivery time. Good communication helps reduce the uncertainty about delivery time and reduces the volume of calls received by your customer-service department. If you can't afford order-tracking software on your e-tail site, link to your shipping company and give customers an order-tracking number that they can use there.

• Offer a promotion or incentive to purchase. Free shipping is the best incentive, but it gets expensive, Greenberg admits. "Your customers should feel like they're getting a good deal. You can "up-sell" by offering something free if they buy two items, or [by] giving them a percentage off their next order if they buy over a certain limit," he says.

• Consider a charitable-donation tie-in. Vividence surveys show that 69% of customers are increasingly interested in donating to charities. Sites that contribute in some way will engender customer goodwill.

• Provide paper gift certificates that look classy enough to go inside a holiday card or gift. Gift certificates are great at influencing purchasing, Greenberg says. In fact, 34% of the consumers he surveyed said they made purchases because they had gift certificates, but 36% said they preferred giving and receiving paper certificates rather than those that arrive via e-mail.

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