As co-founder of Egg to Apples, a Philadelphia-based marketing agency, Julian Barkat has overseen the e-commerce operations and online marketing for clients that range from big brands like Radio Shack and Toys“R”Us to small businesses like Di Bruno Bros., a local specialty gourmet store. Yet his involvement doesn’t begin and end at a project’s inception. Rather, if a client’s e-commerce site is not performing up to snuff, Barkat parlays his 12-year background in this space to smooth out the glitches. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian spoke to Barkat about how small business owners can streamline their e-commerce site, in particular, the online checkout process.
ID: When it comes to optimizing the online checkout process how many steps should it take to buy?
JB: It all depends on the situation. But in aggregate, I would say it should take no more than three steps to complete the order. The less you can do it in, the better. Some of that depends upon how the cart is set up and what settings they allow for it because sometimes you can even get it done with one or two steps. But three should be the absolute limit.
ID: How do you figure out how much of the buyer’s personal information you’ll make mandatory?
JB: It depends on the business. We have b2b clients that sell online and they require a little bit more information than a direct-to-consumer client. But for the direct-to-consumer client, you want the basic or essential information such as their billing address, shipping address, and credit card information. If you have gift opportunities or gifting products, then you might want to add in a gift message. I would keep it to shipping, billing, and credit card info. Keep it real simple.
ID: Can someone complete a purchase as a “guest” or do they have to “register” and create an account?
JB: Ideally, you should be able to offer both because in my experience you will find typically a good one-third to right around 45 percent of your customers might actually check out as a guest.
ID: How do you walk the tightrope of when to reveal shipping charges and taxes?
JB: While we’re on the Magento e-commerce platform—that’s what we typically use for all of our clients—we provide the tax and shipping quotes right at the front end of the shopping cart. We allow [customers] to put in their zip code and they’ll find out exactly what their shipping costs and taxes will be.
JB: Retailers should look at how much information they require from a customer. Sometimes companies or clients might ask for too much information and that will turn off potential customers. Secondly, how do you lay out your checkout? Is it confusing? Is it simple to understand? The whole stepping process like step one, step two, step three—showing people where they’re at in their online shopping process—is definitely key as well. You need to let people know how far they are from the end. If you keep them blind to that, they’re more likely to drop off. And the third thing if you can do it, is to try to implement a one-page checkout. Put all the information out there in front of the customer so they’ll know exactly how much they’ll have to fill out on that one page and then allow them to do so. We’ve seen one-page checkouts increase conversions over some other implementations of a checkout by roughly 25 to 40 percent. So that one-page check out can definitely help. Also, make sure your different payment and shopping options are clearly defined as well. Sometimes I’ve seen e-commerce retailers just clutter up that stuff, which becomes hard to figure out. So keep that stuff simple as well.
I always go back to a physical retail scenario: The checkout process is kind of like standing on line at a store to check out your purchases. You don’t want to make that process too convoluted because people will leave their shopping carts right in the aisle and go somewhere else. Same thing you want to do here. You want to make things as easy as possible for them. Give them a straight view to the end. And if you do that, then you’ll most likely convert a lot of people.
ID: Do you have an anecdote that illustrates one of your tips?
JB: We have a small business retailer client here in Philadelphia whose online checkout process was convoluted. It had multiple, lengthy processes. We narrowed it down to one page and just asked for the absolute essential information to process an order. In November 2011, we launched a new website for them based upon the Magento e-commerce platform. When we did that, sales went up quite nicely. Comparing the new platform versus the old platform, we are seeing tremendous improvement. The year in total so far is roughly 600 percent year over year. That also equates to the conversion rates, jumping from 1.9 percent up to 3.2 percent.