Website to Wonderful, 5: Are you losing your customer at the checkout?

December 5, 2011

Do I like these tigers? I’m not sure now.

My son’s worst shopping moment with me took place last Christmas. We were out shopping in the January sales, and I went into WH Smith (a newsagent) to buy a few things. They had some brand new self-service checkouts. I ignored them (hate them with a passion) and queued up to pay a real live person. Then one of the sales staff wandered up and pointed out the self-serve checkouts.

I said I didn’t want to use them.

He said they were really easy to use if I would just try.

We had a little stand-off. A little voice in my ear started going ‘Nooo please Mum nooo, don’t make a scene’ as I launched into my Self Serve Checkouts Spell The End of Retail Civilisation Socialist Worker Rant.

So yes. Checkouts. Can make or break you.

Here’s my take on the online sort.

Your customers love what you do. You’re offering the right product at the right price, and now your customer is whipping out her credit card, ready to buy.

It’s a golden moment.

Unfortunately, this is the point at which many online  sellers mentally check out, too. They leave all of that nasty detail to the shopping cart system, and heave a sigh of relief. Job done, game over, just count the profits.

Of course, sometimes the detail doesn’t matter much. The sellers of popular concert tickets figured out years ago that they could throw rocks at you, and you’d still trudge through the godawful mess that is Verified by Visa. Because you want those tickets very, very badly.

Other purchases can be thrown right off-course by an insensitive or awkward checkout process.   If you don’t end up losing the customer altogether, you may acquire a customer who still sort of loves your product but is beginning to have tiny doubts.  Or at worst, has already decided that she’s going to buy the damn thing somewhere else next time.

Understand the psychology of the online buyer

Let’s explore the buyer’s state of mind a little bit longer.

Think about your buyer. If you have limited knowledge of your buyer, think about your own experience of online buying.

Here’s my take. The resolute buyer is pretty excited. She’s made a decision, and now she’s ready to see it through.

She is probably also a bit nervous. If your stuff is expensive, she may be damping down all the little critical voices in her head that suggest that a red cashmere mini-dress might not be a great use of her money, pre-Christmas. But she really wants it…

So now your revved-up, nerve-jangled actual customer is putting her doubts aside and …buying! Or to be more accurate, making her way through the checkout process.

Your task is to make this process as lovely as you can.

Easy. Straightforward. A process that will basically make your buyer feel (all the way through) that she absolutely made the right decision to buy from you. (Even if she returns the dress a bit later).

Here’s my 5-part checklist for keeping your customer.

1. Match your tone to your brand voice

The language used in the checkout process should match the rest of your site.

It might be slightly more formal (money tends to do that), but you don’t want to mix your, say, urban hipster approach with checkout instructions that sound like a debt collector on commission.

Be friendly, be nice, and be reassuring.

Check the automated error messages that your customer sees when they get something wrong.  These are often written in red boilerplate technical-speak, and can be seriously off-brand. Reword them so that they’re positive – make it easy for the customer to get it right. If necessary add help, to explain what you need and why you’re asking.

2. Request an appropriate amount of personal detail.

Your buyer will probably expect to give you a full postal address and a phone number, but he might balk at supplying the ages of all three of his children.  Yes, the marketing department really want that information, but this is not the time or the place.  It’s about making this sale successful.

Too many extra questions (especially if they ask for private information), and the buyer starts to get irritated with you.

Don’t ask for anything that you a) don’t use or b) don’t really need.

Those ‘where did you hear about us?’ questions can be quite offputting – for some reason they never include the real answer, which is that angels whispered the website name to you when you were fast asleep.  If necessary, get the Marketing Department to role-play their own answers. How do real customers come across you?

Basically, you should match the detail to the appropriate depth for your relationship.

3. Create a sequence that flows naturally.

For some products and services, this is very obvious.

Others may need some thought and work.

For a physical product, the flow is typically shortlist, choose, specify size and quantity, and check out.

Simple enough, but there are still some decisions to be made. For example, where do you add the postage/shipping information? If high P&P charges lead to customers frequently abandoning the checkout, you might want to put that information somewhere very clearly.

Go right through the selection and buying process, and make sure it flows.

Some purchases are very complex: buying an airline ticket, for example, is often part of a much bigger process where the buyer is trying to work out the lowest price in a given time period.  Services which make the buyer start from scratch each time, when they just wanted to check the prices on different days can really frustrate your buyer.

To create an experience that flows, you need to understand how real people buy your stuff.  Talk to your customers. Talk to other people’s customers. If you have competitors, look at what they do, and then try to make your own experience nicer.  Spot the pain points, and remove them. Customers love it when you make things easy.

4. Keep the customer informed throughout

If this is Step 3 of 5, tell them (you can just display it visually).

Show them what’s in their basket/their running total/ the time left to complete the sequence.

Use little connecting words if this is a sequence. First, we need your name and address. Next, your credit details. Be aware of it as a connected sequence.

Make sure they get the opportunity to confirm and check their purchase before they authorise the final payment.

Basically, nothing should be a surprise. Your customer should know where they are and what is happening right through the process. You keep them informed, you keep the flow natural, and they should continue to engage happily with you.

5. Give them a very, very happy ending.

(I think this came out wrong).

Make it very obvious that they’ve successfully completed the transaction.  Confirm that payment has been received, and give them important information about the next steps (for example, tracking their order). This immediate post-purchase moment is incredibly important in determining how they feel about you.

Generally set their expectations about what happens next and how long it will take. Give them clear information about what to do if there’s a problem.

And then thank them, congratulate them, welcome them in as users of your product or service.

If there is going  to be a wait until they receive your stuff, give them some things they can do to prepare.  At this point, your nervous yet excited buyer should feel that they’re getting a great product, and they’re now pretty much part of your family – and that sets a nice, positive frame for their experience of your actual product.

Now it’s up to the cashmere dress.

So: test it, check it, run it through with some willing customers. Large corporate entities test this stuff very carefully. You may not be Tesco or Wal-Mart, but you still owe it to yourself to get this right.


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