Small Business: Keeping online shoppers on task

A new Senate bill passed Monday will widely

A new Senate bill passed Monday will widely subject online shopping — for many a largely tax-free frontier — to state sales taxes. (Credit: AP, 2011)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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With an average online shopping-cart abandonment rate of more than 70 percent, it's an ongoing challenge to get shoppers to pull the trigger on a sale.

Half the battle is improving the online shopping experience, say experts.

According to a recent comScore study, a hassle-free return policy and flexibility in choosing delivery dates rank high among shoppers for improving customer satisfaction. This represents a significant area of opportunity for retailers to stand out above the pack.

"It's competitive out there in online retail," says Susan Kleinman, senior director at comScore, a digital business analytics company in Reston, Va. "Retailers have to do everything they can to be their best and win the most business."

Online shoppers are most satisfied with ease of checkout, variety of brands/products, and online tracking ability, according to the comScore study commissioned by UPS. They're least satisfied with flexibility to choose a delivery date and reroute packages, and with the ease of making returns and exchanges, notes the study.

There is room to improve customer satisfaction by having a clear returns policy.

"They want to be able to easily find the returns policy up front and then want it to be easy if they do make a return," says Kleinman. Optimally, they'd like a return label either in the box/package or one that's easy to print from the retailer's website, she notes. They also prefer not to pay for return shipping.

Ease of doing business is key, notes Patrick Norton, director of new business development at Active Web Group, a Hauppauge-based online marketing and development firm.

Eliminating barriers: Sometimes retailers erect unnecessary hurdles that deter shoppers from going any further, he notes. For instance, they don't provide shipping costs up front before the customer has to put in all the payment information, says Norton, adding that more often than not shoppers want to know shipping costs before they proceed with checkout.

Some sites also require the shopper to create an account before being able to make a transaction, he notes.

"At least half of the businesses that come to us, require you to create an account before you place an order," says Norton. "Most people don't want to do that." You could always offer that as an option, he adds.

That's what InviteHealth.com in Westbury does. During checkout the customer is given the option to create an account or proceed without one.

Steven Kornblatt, chief executive of InviteHealth.com, which sells nutritional supplements and health and beauty products, says he tries to put himself in the customer's shoes.

"If I go online and it's difficult for me to get what I want, I say forget it," says Kornblatt, who uses Active Web Group. He says he tries to make his company's return policy as easy as possible and makes expedited shipping top priority; most customers get their shipments within 72 hours.

High expectations: "There's no question that customers' expectations around service, delivery speed, shipping costs and returns have ramped significantly in the last few years, mainly because so many larger companies [such as Amazon and Zappos] are doing it so well," explains Sally McKenzie, a Seattle-based retail consultant who authors a blog, ecommerce.consulting.com.

Monitoring and responding to customer feedback is absolutely essential, she notes. It's important to pay attention to both quantitative data and more qualitative things like customer comments, says McKenzie.

Your customer service reps speaking to customers daily can provide valuable insight. Also, simply looking at the top three to five reasons that customers call or email you will offer some great information about things you can improve in the customer experience, she says.

 

FAST FACT

$44.3B
Amount that U.S. online retail spending reached in the first quarter of 2012, up 17% from one year ago.

Source: comScore