By Kate Salkin, Senior Interactive Designer
January 14, 2014
Websites like Amazon and Zappos have really set the bar high for the online buying experience. They have convenient shopping carts, painless information entry processes, helpful error-resolution messages and instant access to help through online chats.
Now, everyone expects the same smooth, seamless buying experience everywhere they go, regardless of the size of the company they’re buying from or the amount of money that company has to invest in a dazzling, user-friendly online store.
Of course, fancy e-stores aren’t cheap. As with any other purchasing decision, a CXO’s first instinct is to balance potential sales coming from the e-store against the cost of implementing customer experience improvements and solutions.
But here’s the thing: if your e-store doesn’t work that well, it makes your company look bad. This is true even if you’re a small company. It’s true even if your e-store is bringing you peanuts in revenue.
Therefore, if you want to maintain an e-store, there are some things you’re just going to have to do for the sake of usability, regardless of ROI. That’s right: these are things that you might not be able to justify financially. They are black-and-white expenses.
To help you get the most bang for your buck, I’ve put together a list of minor workflow improvements that can make a huge difference to your e-store’s usability. These are all changes we implemented recently for a client, and we were able to do all of them for very reasonable costs.
1) Send buyers an email confirmation post-purchase that includes an order number.
Even if your purchase process includes a confirmation page, it’s comforting for buyers to get that extra notification from somewhere other than your website. The order number is helpful for both sides, in order to simplify customer service troubleshooting.
2) Make error messages helpful and personal.
Error messages should never be overgeneralized, meaningless expressions filled with technical mumbo jumbo. They must explain the problem in customer-friendly English and include steps for resolution. Messages should also include up-to-date customer service contact information for further assistance.
3) Capture identification information early in the checkout process.
This gives customer service reps the ability to follow up with potential customers, should they run into a problem later in the checkout process that causes them to abandon ship.
4) Log all errors on the backend.
Error logs should include the page the error occurred on and a brief description of the error, if possible.
Error logging can be beneficial both for issue resolution and for triaging future usability improvements. For example, it can help determine whether customers are running into the same error on the same page because they’re not being guided through a specific piece of the checkout process well enough.
5) Set up an automatic email to be sent to your customer service team anytime a payment fails.
This is, again, for follow-up purposes. A customer might assume that a transaction failure is your website’s fault rather than an issue with their payment information.
6) Highlight the fields on the form where errors occurred.
Don’t just put an error message at the top—show customers exactly where to go to fix it.
7) Support easy navigation with prominent action buttons.
It needs to be painfully obvious where you want users to click to proceed. We reworked our client’s checkout page design to make the buttons for Create an Account, Login and Checkout as Guest more prominent and clearly presented as equal (just pick one) options. We also added a button for Calculate Shipping Costs, to make some existing functionality more apparent.
Pick your battles
Any company that’s not Amazon or Zappos knows that it’s not as easy as consumers may think to make an e-store work the way they expect it to. Often, it’s more of a question of how deep your pockets are.
But if your e-store isn’t as snazzy as you’d like it to be, you don’t necessarily need to take it back to the drawing board. A few minor improvements can make a big difference.
And even if these changes don’t pay you back, your company’s brand will thank you.