There is a reason why shopping therapy exists. Its not by chance that some people are compulsory buyers.
Then why on Earth is online shopping so tedious? Because information Architects, designers, marketers and managers have lost sight. They have focused too much on usability (if they have succeeded or failed is matter for a separate discussion, and particular for each case) and too little on something else.
Buying stuff should be fun. Or as close to fun as it can get. It must be a pleasurable experience. Once we understand that our abandonments will invariably go down.
Let’s take a look at the typical shopping process:
So, on this fairly simple process a regular customer has 4 different moments where he can change his mind and decide to abandon the transaction. (Actually: 3 to abandon, 1 not even to start it). There is a reason why they call it a “funnel”; it grows smaller towards the bottom. There’s no way to avoid this, at least not until marketers are granted mind-controlling powers.
Now, let’s break things apart.
I won’t focus on advertising / ads / the like since it is not my area of expertise, and even if it were it deserves a post by itself.
These are usually dull, factoid filled, uninteresting and marketing-messaging overloaded. The fact that sites can still sell stuff despite landing pages talks loudly about the urge people have to buy stuff. And that is when those landing pages are not entirely built around flash, take forever to load and/or say absolutely nothing.
Landing pages should be:
a. simple, clear call to action, uncluttered and fast to load.
b. a continuation of whatever creativity you displayed on advertising (if you didn’t use adwords, that is)
Overall a landing page should be no more than a revolving door towards the “real” shopping process. Demanding users to spend time on yet another page of the process is a bad idea. A Terrible idea, as a matter of fact.
Landing pages should be little else than just a hook, some sort of very quick “click on me” glimpse that should engage, pump-up and excite customers. Massive information, details, galleries are all out of place on 90% of sales-intended landing pages.
If the landing page is just a hook, product pages are where the fireworks should happen.
When you walk into a store to buy a new shirt you don’t go and see the tags on the shirts and then decide if they are nice. You do it the other way around. You go for the shirt you like, take a good look at it and then check the tag to see if it is the right size, if it should be ironed, if it made out of cotton, etc.
Humans are visual animals. It takes a nanosecond to like or dislike something. Details come into play afterwards. Product pages should be designed and wire-framed around that very concept.
That being said, people also go and take a look at the tag inside the shirt at some point. Information should be easily available upon need, but it must not take real estate out from the visual and more appealing tidbits of content.
Ease of use is crucial, since everything people would normally want to know should be only 1 click away. Everything “secondary” can lay a little deeper, but not too deep.
Fast loading times are also very important. Every second a user stares at a blank or partially loaded screen is a second they have to change their minds.
Now, what about that “entertainment” part I mentioned at the beginning of the post (some 600 words upwards)? How can anyone make a product page entertaining? It is all in how stuff is presented.
Given the exact same content, designers and IAs have the ability to make something either dull or appealing. Forget usability for a second and think if the way you present information, pricing and pictures is going to be eye-catching and, more importantly, if it will get the user craving and wanting more. Try to make them desperate to get that product.
It is very hard to make a cart look interesting. Tons of potential sales are lost at this very single type of page. The only way to “fix” this to a certain extent is with surprises.
Toss in a killer offer to add to the cart. Set shipping date before what you promised on product pages. Offer some sort of free / cheap upgrade. Do something, anything that sets the customer’s mind in a “I should take advantage of this” mindset.
Sorry. Not much to do about this. Copying credit card numbers, filling out forms, inputting tons and tons of data is never going to be fun.
The only thing that can alleviate the pain for customers is allowing them to use services where they might have already created an account (PayPal comes to mind as an example).
Picture online purchases as a water stream. If there are no obstacles or curves everything flows. If you start adding rocks and meanders things will slow up. Let purchases free-flow within your sites from entry to payment. Make call to action links and buttons clear. Keep messaging short. Rely heavily on images.
Test. Analyze. Test again. Do Multivariate. Try different things and try bold things. The worst assumption people in charge of websites make is that anything even a little bit radical will confuse users. That is not the case if innovation is clear and natural.
And, remember, with shopping process' web analytics are the only thing that will help you put your mouth where your money is.