Best practices for your e-commerce shopping cart

After engaging in effective web design, SEO, and various forms of online marketing, your e-commerce site should be easy to find, attracting the right people and designed to move them swiftly along the sales funnel. That's well and good, but all of that work could be in vain if you take a seemingly simple thing for granted: the shopping cart. By keeping a few basic best practices in mind for your shopping cart, your site will convert more customers and generate a lot more profit.

Understanding e-commerce analytics

Without keeping an eye on a few key statistics, there's no easy way to determine whether or not your e-commerce site is living up to its full potential. It's easy to overcomplicate things and get bogged down in a confusing morass of meaningless numbers. Without a doubt, there are a lot of different statistics to keep an eye on, but in reality, there are two main factors: the abandonment rate and the conversion rate.

Abandonment rate
In brick-and-mortar stores, people rarely abandon their shopping carts. The same can't be said about e-commerce sites, where people abandon their shopping carts all the time. In fact, according to Baymard Institute, 60 to 80 percent of online shopping carts are abandoned before sales are finalized. Track this rate now, and then track it after implementing shopping cart best practices. You're sure to see an improvement.

Conversion rate
As the owner of an e-commerce site, you should already be tracking your conversion rate. Like many people, though, you may not realize how much your shopping cart is affecting it. As with the abandonment rate, take a look at your current conversion rate and check it again after changing a few things. There should be an uptick once everything is in order.

Shopping cart best practices for e-commerce sites

Think about the most successful e-commerce sites and how they handle their shopping carts. Chances are that your shopping cart is sorely lacking in many regards. Fortunately, bringing it up to speed is fairly easy. Just put these best practices to work for you.

Don't require registration to complete checkout
Nothing irks a customer more than being forced to create an account in order to buy something online. After all, online shopping is supposed to be easy. Sure, having an account will make future purchases easier, but it does nothing for the situation at hand. Instead, give shoppers the option of creating an account once the transaction is complete.

Offer multiple shipping and payment options
Cast the widest net possible by accepting lots of different forms of payment and by offering several shipping options.

Try to keep it to one page
If at all possible, limit the checkout process to a single page. If you must spread it out across a few pages, include a progress bar to show people how far they have left to go.

Allow shoppers to email or print their shopping carts
People sometimes deliberately add items to a shopping cart and then abandon it in order to get approval from bosses, parents, or others. By allowing them to print or email their carts, they're far more likely to return.

Instill confidence with logos and seals
People sometimes have second thoughts about completing their transactions when they're not reassured about the security of a site. Instill confidence in those who shop your site by prominently displaying credit card logos and security seals. Make sure to include prominent links to your security policy as well.

Make your site and cart mobile-friendly
Nothing can send would-be buyers scrambling quite like being unable to easily load and view e-commerce sites on their mobile devices. Responsive web design, which allows a single site to render correctly across all devices, is the simplest and most effective solution.

Display promo codes on your site
Show customers that you want them to get the best deal possible by displaying special offers and promo codes right on your website. You can even offer a reminder near the end of the checkout process for them to enter their codes.

Include product ratings and testimonials
One of the best ways to show customers that your products are worth their while is by including ratings and testimonials in product descriptions. Someone who is initially on the fence about adding an item to their cart may be swayed after seeing positive reviews and ratings.

Include checkout buttons at the top and bottom of the screen
As fickle as it may seem, people will quickly abandon their shopping carts if they're unable to locate checkout buttons right away. Your shopping cart should make it as easy as possible for people to buy your products, so include checkout buttons at the top and bottom of the screen. Use A/B testing to figure out the most effective designs and colors too.

Allow customers to save their carts to their wish lists
Sure, it's better when people complete their transactions immediately. Sometimes, though, shoppers are just trying to get an idea about how much things will cost. Let them save their carts to their wish lists so they can easily retrieve them and complete their purchases later.

Let shoppers edit their carts as needed
Give people the opportunity to change quantities or to delete items all the way up until the final step of the checkout process. Not allowing this won't force them to proceed, anyway. Instead, it will most likely cause them to abandon their carts entirely.

Recommend related products
A great way to increase sales is by suggesting relevant or related products during the checkout process. For example, if you have a product that works better with a complementary item, be sure to include a link to it. A customer may not realize he needs the item until it's offered to him, and it certainly doesn't hurt to make a few friendly suggestions.

Offer incentives
By the time they get to the end of the checkout process, some shoppers start having second thoughts. Could they get a better deal elsewhere? Are they paying too much for shipping? Help to keep these thoughts at bay by offering incentives during the checkout process. For instance, offer free shipping or provide a promo code for a special discount. Many times, a seemingly small offer can mean the difference between making a sale and ending up with yet another abandoned shopping cart.

Conclusion

Even if you implement every one of the above suggestions and see noticeable improvements with regards to your abandonment rate and conversion rate, don't rest on your laurels. Like SEO and web design in general, effective shopping cart design is an ongoing process. What works well now may fizzle out later. Without keeping track of statistics and important metrics, you could end up losing out a lot down the road. When you see a dip in sales or conversions or an increase in your abandoned shopping cart rate, you'll be able to quickly implement changes that will hopefully get things back on an even keel again. This proactive approach will serve you well and should help you achieve unparalleled success with your e-commerce site.

Thom Robbins is chief evangelist at Kentico.

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