The tenet of customer service in the online shopping process is simple: the more you engage potential customers, and provide links relevant to their needs, the more they’ll buy and the longer they’ll remain a customer. As it turns out, the solution to that challenge may be as simple as using shopping cart functionality to its fullest.
User-initiated actions like printing out the items in the cart or emailing a copy of the cart to a friend should be as simple as one click. Some carts offer “Save for Later” functionality, as well. “Giving them these options creates a bond between your customer and your site,” says MarketLive’s “The Perfect Shopping Cart” report. “They’ve left something behind, something they put time into, and they can return whenever they like.” Merchants in The E-Tailing Group’s 7th Annual Merchant Survey Report reported cart-integrated “email a friend” tools are in the top-half of their cart add-ons with value.
It also helps to boost sales if the cart offers a gift registry or wish list, with reminders, for items customers don’t buy now but may later. “Fifty-six percent of consumers out of 1,000 surveyed say they’ve purchased off of someone else’s wish list,” says Lauren Freedman, founder of The E-Tailing Group. Shareable wish lists and cart contents are “proving to be an amazing way to drive traffic to your site,” she says.
Cart modules like Zen Cart and CS-Cart have wish list features built in. Others require additional “add-ons” to do the job. Prices for wish-list modules vary from Firetanksoftware.com’s $29.95 add-on for X-Cart (which includes merchant views of customer lists, and marketing email prompts) to Make-A-Store.com’s $499 add-on for its Heavy Metal-brand basic licensed cart. The Heavy Metal module, which comes free with its advanced carts, lets customers build an email address book to send wish-list contents to their friends and create multiple lists to send to specific individuals, while automatically removing items from the list once they’ve been purchased.
Interactive tools such as profilers and wizards are just one part of this category.
“With these wizards, customers can input information to get a complete shopping list,” says The E-Tailing Group’s Lauren Freedman. “Say they’re building a deck. They can enter in the dimensions and come back with everything they’ll need to buy, and do it directly through your site.” Only a few carts integrate this tool now. One is from ecommerce host and software maker Fortune3. Its hosted carts, which run $29.95 to $159.95 per month, include prompts for customers for related upgrades and components, parts and accessories.
Email interactions on autopilot—Many carts build in customer email contact tools that can be put on autopilot. Carts can send an e-mail message to customers when 1) an order is placed, 2) an order is processed, 3) an order is shipped, 4) an order is canceled, 5) a request for a “Return Authorization” is approved or denied, 6) a customer forgets his or her password or 7) when an out-of-stock product finally becomes available. Indeed, merchants in The E-Tailing Group’s study rated “Reminder Services” among their valued auto-cart activities.
“After the purchase, make sure the customer feels like they shopped at a professional store, and show that you’re on top of/for the order process,” says Massimo Arrigoni, co-founder of Early Impact, the developers of the Product Cart shopping cart software ($695 as is or $1,495 built to suit). He suggests automatic emails throughout the order management process--when it’s processed, billed and shipped--and an automated help-desk ticket with a message like this: “I just wanted to make sure your product arrived and that you’re happy with it.”
“Having a help desk system that’s built in is very useful for eliminating charge backs and professionally handling returns, especially if it automatically issues a return code that would track the merchandise back,” Arrigoni says.
These days, some carts offer programming for click-to-call and click-to-chat services like Click2Call or eStara. Instead of dialing a phone number, customers can enter their own phone number and immediately be called back by a merchant representative. “On typical ecommerce sites, our service is used either in the buy process at the checkout level or when they’re just looking for more information on a product,” says Vitor Magalhaes, in business development for Portugal-based BySide, developers of the Click2Call technology. “We also combine our service with analytics, so if we see a user taking too long in a checkout, we can provide an active communication with the user saying that ‘If you need some help we can call you back for free.’ As a result, we’re the star product in Portugal telecommunications at this moment. We are generating conversions with telecom websites where they’re getting 33 percent conversion rates, and on banking websites it’s between 20 to 30 percent. These are customers that are actually signing a contract for service, or buying a new product.”
According to MarketLive’s “The Perfect Shopping Cart” report, “one of the most effective techniques to up-sell in the cart is to embed multiple product suggestions with ‘Add to Cart’ functionality.” One click is all that is needed to add a suggested item.
“This is the online equivalent of product displays near the checkout register or at the end of each aisle in a retail store—it is easy to grab an item you may have forgotten,” states the report. Highest margin items and highest volume movers should be featured here.
At CashCowCart, a San Diego-hosted cart and webmail system, this feature is working well for its merchants. “We provide log files for the merchants, who are using that to see where customers are adding additional items to their cart,” says Bernard Kohan, director of technology for Comentum Corp., developers of the CashCowCart. “Those reports show that customers are adding items based on suggested up sells. One to five percent of purchasers are actually buying something in an up sell. The pricing structure and it’s relation to the original product are both major considerations for whether or not they buy. If it’s a printer cartridge suggested for a printer, there’s a 10 to 20 percent up sell advantage. Comparing one product with other products with more features, and overall better value, is another way to up sell.”
With carts like the GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart, “merchants can create promotions and bundle products,” says Warren Adelman, president and COO of GoDaddy. “When customers do a category search, merchants can show multiple products within that category, they can determine discounts based on sales periods and allow customers to identify for themselves other products that they would want.” According to GoDaddy.com’s data, merchants who enable the “Cross Sell and Featured Items” elements of Quick Shopping Cart see an increase of 40 percent in the number of items averaged per order.
Many carts now can integrate messaging that highlights the benefits that can be earned through membership in a customer loyalty program. This can be a great revenue builder. For example, Morehousefarms.com, an online retailer of woolen products, uses its frequent-buyer loyalty program to drive not only consistent visitors to the site but also additional revenue. The site’s webmaster, Gene Cetrone, says more than 3,000 customers have paid $45 each to be eligible for 10 percent off all of their purchases for the year-long membership timeframe.
“With this, it’s a matter of retaining people who do happen to stumble in,” Cetrone says. “The frequent buyer program encourages people who don’t even know they’re going to buy, but think they will, to sign up. It’s not always the discount: it’s the sense of exclusivity.” That exclusivity has grossed the site an additional $135,000 over the years, and many, many life-long customers. “We started out thinking about how much we'd lose by giving 10 percent off,” he says. “Now we realize that we've gained so much more.”
Carts that allow input boxes for customer reviews and ratings are becoming customary. Offerings for the Miva Merchant shopping cart system alone range from the $119.95 Product Reviews and Ratings v5 module, with Amazon.com-like stars and comment fields and a one-review limit per customer, to the $35 Rate This module, with plug-in “Rate This” buttons allowing daily reviews and aggregated ratings.
“When consumers believe that they’re getting honest information, they trust it more and reward the company posting it,” found Internet marketing strategy firm E-consultancy.com in its “Social Commerce Report 2007.” Indeed, the report shows that after adding customer-created reviews on web sites, U.S., U.K. and European etailers increased traffic by 77 percent, conversion rates by 54 percent and order values by 42 percent.
Last but not least, “The Perfect Shopping Cart” from MarketLive reports that “the edit function is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal to create the perfect shopping cart because it keeps your customers in the cart, increasing the likelihood they will complete the transaction. Being able to add, delete, and modify items without going back to the product pages keeps them in the flow.”
In all, online sellers can do so much more with today’s shopping carts than the once-standard single-product “Buy Now” buttons. After all, finds Forrester researcher William Band: The transformation of customer service from a cost-center model to a profit-center model entails a commitment to change.
Indeed, advances in interactive cart features, like those covered here, present an opportunity for ecommerce merchants to make that change seamlessly, while also building their bottom line.
by Jennifer D. Meacham