As our prior post on the MarketLive Performance Index revealed, merchants need to optimize their sites to the utmost to improve performance in 2014 — especially when it comes to converting engaged shoppers who’ve added items to the cart into committed buyers. A survey of sites reveals one area to prioritize when it comes to fine-tuning: the shopping cart itself.
The importance and function of the cart has changed since the early days of e-Commerce, when featuring complementary items as upsells was considered cutting-edge cart technology. Features such as estimated shipping costs are more or less considered standard. At the same time, as we chronicled in an earlier post, the very path to purchase has changed, so that only 22% of shoppers now proceed to the “cart page” of old after clicking the “add to cart” button; on some sites, it’s possible to skip the cart altogether and proceed straight to checkout from the drop-down global cart display or a pop-up window.
But with consumer research activities more intensive than ever, there’s no denying the importance of the cart page — which we define as being the page preceding the first step of checkout that’s accessible from the “cart” link in global navigation. The cart can both serve as a comprehensive order information resource, and offer enticements to spur shoppers onward into checkout and purchase. In short, it remains a vital decision point on the path to purchase, and one merchants should ignore at their peril.
Our survey of some 70 sites from among the top 100 merchants on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 list revealed how the biggest brands with the biggest resources at their disposal are positioning their shopping carts for maximum sales. Even among these cutting-edge brands, some information was being effectively conveyed — while some surprising areas were overlooked.
Specific contrasts that caught our eye:
Shipping vs. promo codes vs. tax. Merchants are rightfully catering to consumers’ obsession with shipping. As we’ve detailed on numerous occasions before, shipping costs are the prime cause of purchase abandonment, while free shipping promotions are by far the most popular discount shoppers seek, especially during the crucial holiday season.
As a result, merchants are doing well when it comes to using the cart to convey shipping costs and free shipping opportunities. Close to three-quarters of the carts we viewed include an estimated shipping cost, while 60% display the free shipping threshold, free shipping promo codes, or even the amount shoppers should add to meet the threshold.
Fewer merchants, however, back up these two key pieces of information with a description of timeframes for each tier of delivery service; just 54% list the options or even link to them via a popup window. While that’s still over half, there are plenty of carts displaying shipping costs without letting shoppers know what, exactly, the charge buys them. More merchants, 56%, are enabling shoppers to enter promo codes and view the associated discounts in the cart — a welcome feature, but one that serves just a subset of shoppers. Shipping, by contrast, is a universal concern, and one merchants should address with details that should be relatively straightforward to display.
Similarly, whether sales tax will be assessed is a question affecting every potential order — yet just 43% of merchants display this information, with most sites stating tax will be calculated iin checkout (or, worse, failing to mention it at all). While implementing estimated tax by ZIP code within the cart requires more technological moxie than displaying a table of shipping timeframes, the information is a crucial component of the total order costs, and therefore should be a priority.
Convenience boosters vs. basic customer service vs. in-store shopping support. The good news is that merchants are responding to shifting consumer behaviors and implementing key features that smooth the path to purchase, especially across touchpoints. We’ve long recommended implementation of alternative payments, as they’re increasingly popular (and downright crucial when it comes to mobile). So it was a relief to see the sites we surveyed positively festooned with alternative payment buttons, with close to 60% of merchants highlighting the availability of Paypal or another service enabling shoppers to skip entry of credit card data and other checkout steps.
Similarly, it was gratifying to see that more than half of merchants enable transfer of items from the cart to the wish list or other repository of saved products. This functionality not only caters to researchers who would otherwise use the cart — and likely abandon it at some point in their travels — but it signals an attempt to cater to cross-touchpoint activity, such as researching online and then looking up products selected earlier via smartphone while in-store to complete purchases.
But when compared with the startlingly low percentage of merchants displaying the most basic customer service information, these innovations seem like putting the cart (as it were) before the horse. Fewer than half of merchants displayed an 800 number or chat link within the main cart content area (as opposed to in global navigation) — and less than 40% included links to product guarantees or information about returns, information consumers deem crucial to the purchase decision. As with delivery timeframe details, this information requires little technical prowess to incorporate, and should be a priority for every merchant to display at the cart level.
Similarly, while not every merchant can offer site-to-store shipping, it’s relatively easy to provide a “print cart” link so that shoppers can carry product information with them — and yet fewer than one in five merchants offer it.
The upshot? When it comes to optimizing the cart, there’s some low-hanging fruit even the largest merchants have yet to seize — and small- to mid-sized merchants should follow suit. In an upcoming post, we’ll survey how the cart experience appears on mobile devices. But meantime, tell us: what cart features do you deem essential, and which are merely nice-to-haves?