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Experts Speak Out on Improving Sales Conversions, Part 2 : Page 2

By James Maguire     Feedback
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Continued from Page One.

High on his list: the need for e-tailers to provide shoppers with a progress indicator during checkout. Page by page, you should keep customers updated about how much further they have to go. The checkout process "is an investment in time," Eisenberg noted. "If I don't know how long it's going to take me, I'm not sure I'm going to stick around."

By the same token, "the shopping cart is one of the few areas where you really don't want to make people scroll too much," he said. Someday, an e-commerce theorist will develop a mathematical formula that correlates length of check out process with conversion rates, and undoubtedly they'll conclude that a shorter checkout equals less cart abandonment.

Eisenberg also stressed that it's important to remind shoppers of your guarantee and return policies throughout checkout. "Keep building up their confidence along the way that they're going to be okay," he said.

He points to Amazon's checkout language as a good one to emulate. It reads: "We guarantee that every transaction you make at Amazon will be safe. This means you pay nothing if unauthorized transactions are made to your credit card as a result of shopping at Amazon." The statement is clear, simple and short -- and reassuring.

Also highly important: let customers know total cost -- including shipping and any sales tax -- as soon as possible.

"Remind them from screen to screen -- people forget," Eisenberg said.

While you're at it, make two other factors clear: product availability and shipping date. "That's really critical, it helps people make a decision -- people want that instantaneous thing," he added.

Eisenberg is a big believer in what he calls the "GTC" theory of e-tailing: "get the cash." This means offering as many payment methods as possible, from credit cards to e-checks to PayPal. Even offer fax order forms, if it makes sense for your business, he said.

"The more options that you give people to give you money, the more likely that they will," he said.

Reading the Tea Leaves
Like almost all techniques for improving conversion, tweaking the shopping cart process will work for some e-tailers, but not others. There's only one piece of advice that analysts give to all e-businesses: Understand and study your site's stats as if your business depends on them -- because it does.

That's because there's a clear correlation between understanding your metrics and having higher conversion rates, Freeman Evans noted.

"What we know is that people who look at them more in-depth, and use those metrics strategically, have higher conversion rates," she said.

The problem is that many e-tailers do indeed peruse their stats, but their efforts are too casual to produce real knowledge. "One of the biggest pitfalls is that retailers may have the data, but they don't invest enough in analyzing the data," she said. "If they don't have someone who's clearly focused on it they're never going to get the value they hoped for."

If not the site's president, someone on the staff has to be specifically assigned to the task. Some of the better software packages also offer professional analysis help, she noted.

As you dive into your stats, be prepared to make decisions that may go against industry trends. "One size is not going to fit everybody," Freeman Evans said.

For example, even for sites selling expensive products, not all of their customers will want extensive product detail. "There's a whole lot of people who just don't want a lot of product detail and they want to make a quicker decision," she said.

Again, your best conversion strategies are based on understanding customers on your site -- not your competitors.

"Prioritize based on your largest groups and how they like to shop on your site," Freeman Evans said.

The Future: The Personalization Debate
The ability of a site to customize itself for each individual user -- personalization -- was once seen by man as the future of sales conversion. Amazon, of course, is a leader in this. It can address you by name and offer recommendations based on past purchases.

But personalization has been taken off its pedestal. According to a study conducted by Jupiter Research in November 2003, only 14 percent of online shoppers say that a personalized site induces them to buy more. (In contrast, 54 percent pointed to faster-loading pages and 52 percent pointed to better navigation as likely purchase inducers.)

Still, many analysts continue to see personalization as a conversion increaser in the years ahead. "It's just a matter of time," said David Berkowitz, an editor with research firm eMarketer. Simply setting up a workable site is not enough to keep pace with the competition as online standards keep increasing, he said.

In other words, those sites that don't incorporate personalization could fall behind.

Eisenberg noted that one of the reasons consumers haven't embraced personalization is that some sites haven't done a good job of it.

"Amazon spent millions on their site -- it takes millions to pull it off right." He points out that some newer tools are emerging for a broader spectrum of e-tailers. "The algorithms are getting smarter, and people are beginning to see the need for it."

James Maguire is a contributor to eCommerce-Guide.com.

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This article was originally published on July 2, 2004
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