Does Your Checkout Process Maximize Sales?

Most businesses have moved to the internet to some extent. For many, the move has come in the form of allocating some of their advertising budget to a website. For others, the move has meant moving the whole storefront onto the internet. In most physical stores, the checkout process has usually been very similar. The customers shops, then goes to a single area that is almost always near the front of the store, and chooses from multiple registers based on the length of the line. Then he or she is asked to choose a form of payment, a clerk registers the items and bags them. The customer pays and then leaves with the goods. There are some variations, such as stores where the customer is directed to a specific line, but generally this is a culturally engrained process that people learn to do by shopping with their parents as children.

But did you know that your online checkout process may actually drive customers away? In an online environment where a customer can simply go to another store that’s just a click away without any of the sunk costs already incurred by traveling to the store and walk- ing around shopping, errors in the checkout process will cause you to lose conversions (i.e., the number of people who fill a shopping cart, and then convert that cart into a sale).

There are many common mistakes in this process. Shopping is the first part of checkout. In a physical store, you know that you have selected an item because you can see it in your cart. Shopping is a culturally engrained process and deviation is uncomfortable. So, make sure that when an item is selected the customer can see that it went into their cart without moving the customer out of an area of a website where they are exposed to more items.

From shopping, we move to checkout. Again, the analogy to physical checkout is instructive. A website is not like a store where there is almost always a register at the front that the customer will know to go to. On the web, convention is that the checkout button and shopping cart button are at the top right of the web page. A checkout button in any other location will frustrate customers. However, you can increase your conversion rate by adding more checkout buttons. Try adding a second button at the bottom of the page and another that is visible in the center of the page in certain contexts.

Unless you are shopping at very exclusive stores or at bulk stores like Sam’s Club, usually you do not need to create a membership before buying a product. Requiring a customer to create an account before his or her purchase is similarly a disadvantage to making a purchase. Instead, let the customer make his or her purchase (get your conversion), and then use the information from the checkout process to allow the customer to create an account.

Just like in a physical store, you can generate additional sales by placing small add-on items in the customer’s field of view at the checkout line. Think, for instance, of the candy that is ubiquitously available in the checkout line of grocery stores and that has permeated into unlikely locales such as hardware stores. Many websites try to do the same thing by featuring add-on items or items that other customers have purchased in the checkout flow. However, these items may impede conversions by moving customers away from the checkout process or making it unclear how to complete the checkout process. If you decide to utilize an add-on item system, then there should be a visible distinction between those items and the checkout process.

These are just a few of the strategies that can help you generate conversions in a simple e-commerce situation where you have products that are being shipped to customers and are paid for up front. Many of these rules also apply when the product is a downloadable software or a service you are providing to customers. However, in those situations there are also legal issues that need to be considered in addition to conversions. An experienced advisor can help you with both.

Brendan Owens is an attorney with the law firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC., who represents businesses and non-profits in commercial transactions, taxation disputes, data security, and technology licensing matters.