Just take my money - PUHLEEZE!

Ian Gotts

How can companies get online payment systems so wrong? In his latest column, Ian Gotts counts the ways.

Most, if not all, the Gotts family Christmas presents were bought online. We were not alone in the UK. Early indications suggest Boxing Day was the busiest online shopping day ever in the UK, Experian reported. (See the full report here.)

New records had already been set for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as consumers went online in their droves to buy last minute Christmas gifts and take advantage of early discounting. UK Internet users made 84 million visits to retail websites on Christmas Eve and 107 million visits on Christmas Day up an astonishing 86% and 71% respectively compared to the same days in December 2011.

Taking payment is not exactly rocket science....

UK consumers spent 14 hours online and made an astonishing 113 million visits to online retail sites yesterday, a 17% increase from last year, however 13 million visits lower than previously predicted. The ‘sales creep’ and early discounting in some of Britain’s major stores can be attributed to an increase in visits on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day impacting yesterday’s online visit numbers.

High volumes of visits ahead of Boxing Day can also be attributed to consumers becoming savvier in their sales shopping strategies, using the internet to research the best deals before heading to the high street to purchase.

James Murray, digital insight manager at Experian said the figures were evidence of 'sales creep'. "Five years ago we called it the January sales, before it became the Boxing Day sales, now retailers have to call it the winter sales as discounting starts earlier to encourage higher spending," said Murray.

Figures from IBM analysed web transactions on 150 retail sales to focus on sales. It suggested that Boxing Day sales were 44.95% up on the same day last year. Its data, drawn from the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, also found 30.72% of consumers visited retail sites using a mobile device, while 24.73% of consumers used those devices to make a purchase.

Make it easy

So retailers need to make it easy to buy on-line. But many websites make it difficult for the customer to do just 3 simple steps: Find item, add item to their cart, and pay.

There are lots of mistakes that are made around the layout and operation of ecommerce websites. Here is the harsh reality of e-commerce websites: according to recent e-commerce studies, at least 59.8% of potential customers abandon their shopping cart (MarketingSherpa puts it at 59.8%, SeeWhy at 83% and MarketLive at 62.14%). So I’d like to focus on the final step - "pay" – i.e. the check-out process.

Please let me pay

Firstly, think about the correct sequence of the process – from the customer’s perspective – and make it linear.

The ideal checkout process includes a single page for me to check my order and enter my billing and shipping information, and a confirmation page before I submit the order. Anything more than that is only an obstacle to completing the checkout process.

Leave entering information until it is absolutely necessary. E. G. Please do not make me add a new user account and verify it before I have even decided to purchase. This can be one of the final steps, or allow me to place an order as a guest.

Lay out the basket in the way that Amazon does. It works, and millions of people have trained themselves to use it. Don’t try and be creative. The goal here is to get the transaction closed as quickly and simply as possible. The confused mind says "No".

Make it clear where I am in the checkout process and at what point I am committing to purchase. Do not simply use the word "Continue", but make it more explanatory – "Continue to add delivery address".

If I get something wrong, like forgetting to check "Terms and Conditions" or the credit card 3 digit security code, please do not wipe the credit card details and force me to reenter it.

Finally, make it easy to pay. PayPal must be an option and but also the standard credit cards. Use an established payment gateway which is clear and simple. You may baulk at the transaction fees, but your energy is better spent understanding why 59.8% of potential customers abandon their shopping carts and fixing that.

So again, it all comes down to process. Understand it. Visualise it. Streamline it.

Howler of the week

During the Christmas break I broke the motor in the tail of my model helicopter. So I went online, and through eBay found one at the store it was originally purchased from. I didn’t buy it direct from their ecommerce store as the part didn’t have an image so I couldn’t check I was ordering the right one. Oddly enough the same item on their eBay store did have an image.

So I ordered a new one from their eBay store and as PayPal is automatically linked to my eBay account I paid via PayPal. Simple. Easy.

Apparently not. The next morning I get an email from Kings Lynn Model shop asking me to call them about the order. I try on and off for a week, but the number is never answered and their mailbox is full. 10 days later I finally get through and am told that the reason the order is on hold is that their policy is that addresses from PayPal are not confirmed and they won’t ship until they can get confirmation. To get confirmation they ask me to fax a utility bill to the shop.

Instead I take an easier option. I cancel the order. And place it with someone who is prepared to take my money.

Google nails it

Google has made a number of amusing videos highlighting the problems of getting online ecommerce right. This one, called "Google Analytics In Real Life - Online Checkout:

It would be hilarious if it weren’t so true!