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Increasing your Conversion Rate...

There is something amazing, and a little frightening, about the state of information today. In our case, in collecting a ton of digital data, small retailers can now see, in nearly real time, how customers behave when they’re online. And that gives us the opportunity to find little places in the business where improvements might be made.
Today, we’ll be talking about reducing the number of customers that leave your site before checking out, and increasing the number of sales that come through, also known as increasing your conversion rate.

We often remind stores that customers can either get stuck, or get distracted during checkout, for a number of reasons. But, if every customer who got confused or distracted could get their orders all the way through to your Pending queue, it would represent an enormous increase in sales, at least across the industry, if not for each individual store. But, it is at the individual store level that these ideas we’ll be presenting in the next hour or so are best implemented. 

Now, I’ll be honest… in some cases, customers actually get stuck in the checkout process, for reasons that are sometimes beyond their control… but not always. These could be caused by temporary hardware/software issues, or a customer’s own credit card info. Now, to the extent that we can, IndieCommerce already addresses potential hardware and software issues, and customers just have to know which billing address goes with which credit card, so there’s only so much we can do to stave off such issues. 

However, having said that, if you have a customer that complains about getting stuck in the checkout process, you definitely want to let us know. As usual, the more info you can supply to us, the better we’re able to look into a potential problem. We also ask stores to try and recreate the customer’s issue, and to be familiar with their own checkout process in general (because sometimes your customer may just be confused, and need a little guidance). 

But there’s no escaping the fact that a problem can arise at any time (for instance, a server dies unexpectedly), and your customer may be the one who experiences it first. Again, at times like this, let IndieCommerce know as soon as possible, and we’ll do what we do. Most of the time, these are temporary problems that cannot be re-created, and go away on their own, or they are more tangible issues that our team can fix, usually within minutes.


But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Instead, we’ll be talking about seemingly preventable “loss-of-customer” scenarios, wherein a customer has simply decided not to move forward on an order. This won’t be about marketing, since we’re talking about customers who have already visited the site, and even initiated the checkout process. This seems like low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking, but it turns out that on-line consumer behavior is not what we’re used to.

If we look into a list of the most common reasons for customers abandoning their shopping cart, there are still some that appear to be, essentially, out of our hands, for both IndieCommerce and the individual stores. For instance, it appears that some customers don’t like the idea of having an order shipped, because if it goes missing, there’s little or no recourse to get it back (claims can be filed, but these are time-consuming and can be an unsatisfactory resolution). Since shipping is largely left to 3rd-party companies, we don’t have much control over missing shipments, and if a customer can’t or won’t come to the store, and they don’t want to ship, it seems we lose their sale. 

But even in this situation, stores can have more control than they thought. For instance, it is possible for a store to create new shipping methods, controlled by “conditions”, that will allow you to offer, for instance, free local, 2-day shipping to customers within certain Zip codes. This is the kind of thing that Amazon can’t compete with. 

But let’s take a look at some of the other issues that stores might able to address directly.

To give us a hand in identifying other issues, I have a graph that breaks out different reasons that customers tend abandon their carts.

This info comes from the Baymard Inst. (, and is from 2016, the most recent info I could find. 

(1) High Costs at Checkout

(1) Here we can see that the number one reason customers abandon their cart is due to high shipping costs. As I can attest myself (because I’ve done it), customers might drop a number of items into their cart, just to see the final costs when they get to the checkout page. 

Now, of course, stores don’t want to lose money on shipping, and most stores will set up their shipping rates to “pass through” the cost of shipping onto the customer. But using the example earlier, stores can offer free shipping to local customers. In this way, stores can invest a little sweat equity (in the form of driving packages to their destination), and offer customers cheap or free shipping. A lot of customers would likely lose their reticence to ship if they knew their order was being hand-delivered to their current location, by the bookstore, and not a nameless delivery driver. By taking direct responsibility for the delivery, stores can help their customers feel more confident about ordering.

Keep in mind, the high prices that a customer sees on the checkout page could also be due to taxes or other fees (e.g. gift wrapping). It’s a little hard to address the taxes, but if you are charging fees for things like gift wrapping, you might want to consider lowering or removing them. Even a store’s shipping rates can add a lot, per book, to an order. A store could have a $0.99 flat ship rate, but if they then charge $2.00 per item in the order, this racks up quickly. 

There is another situation similar to this, but much harder to turn into a sale. These are customers who are bored (dropping items into the cart for “fun”), or just window shopping. Of course, most people would never drive all the way to a store, load up their cart, and then walk out. But in the virtual world, there is no obligation for a customer to act a certain way when they visit your store. Some of these customers, just like some of them in your physical store, never had any intention of placing an order. They were killing time, playing around, bored, or again, just seeing what the total would be before coming down to the store to pick up. 

The percentage of customers that do this in the store is vanishingly small, but online, it is astronomically large.

But what if they got to your site, even these people who never intended to place an order, and something changed their mind? What if the customer who had no intention of placing an order suddenly saw something that made them decide to buy now? What if they saw a coupon?

How many stores here work with coupons? And do you have a currently active coupon?

I have spoken to people (in some cases, my own colleagues) who have said that, if they see a coupon field during checkout, but they don’t have a coupon, they will drop their order, assuming that there IS a coupon somewhere. Then they’re off to either find that coupon, or find the item cheaper elsewhere.

If you’re not offering coupons, you might want to consider a 5 or 10% coupon. The site can be arranged so as to show a customer the actual coupon code right at the checkout page. That allows them to just copy and paste. Just seeing an available coupon at the time of checkout can sway a non-customer into a sale, but NOT seeing one could also sway an on-the-fence customer OUT of a sale.

Basically, if you’re showing a coupon field during checkout, and you don’t have a coupon to go with it, either turn off the field, or, better yet, create a coupon, and make it readily visible to customers.

Let’s take another look at why some customers drop their orders.

(2) Forced to Create an Account

(2) The next item on the graph says that some 37% of customers walk away from checkout because the site wanted them to create an account. Once again, we run up against the fact that people can act however they want online, and if filling in a few fields is too daunting, those of us with websites will need to cater to them.  Luckily, Drupal has a setting, which IndieCommerce activates by default, that allows a customer to place an order without creating an account. This is called “anonymous checkout”, and while some stores have opted to turn the feature off (thereby forcing customers to create an account), I find it hard to come up with a good reason why. If so many people are dropping their carts because of account creation, don’t force it. With anonymous checkout, a customer will be asked for an email address, and a billing address, and an account will automatically be created for them after the order is placed (the customer will see their credentials on the screen, and receive them in an email). If you’re offering anonymous checkout, you could even let customers know by posting a small block in a sidebar (“No need to create an account… just place an order with us!”)

(3) Checkout Too Long

(Have stores remove Block from checkout pages)

(3) Going back to the graph, we see the next addressable item on the list is a checkout process that is too long and complicated. IndieCommerce has already worked on the checkout process to streamline it as much as possible, but there are still a few things the store can do to help their customers through. 

First, it has been demonstrated that customers can be easily distracted from checking out by other offers or calls-to-action on the checkout page, competing for their attention. For instance, a Block that invites customers to enter a drawing, seen on the checkout page, could lead a customer to click away from placing the order. So we highly recommend that all non-essential blocks be removed from the checkout page. Take a look at your competitor’s checkout page, at 


Notice how there is nothing to distract the customer from placing the order. This is a large company, who has likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on figuring this stuff out, and they also came to the conclusion that there should be nothing to get in the customer’s way, psychologically. 


But that’s not the only possible mine in the field. As I went through the BN checkout, I was confused by so much information competing for my attention, before I got to the clean checkout, that I might have walked away if I had been an actual potential customer, and we occasionally hear the same things from your customers. So there are a couple of tools that you can activate for your site to help with this. 

The first tool is simple: a visible shopping cart. I found, at, that as soon as I put an item in my cart, I didn’t see an obvious way to checkout. Keeping the site visually simple, and allowing me to see my cart would have helped. In the case of IndieCommerce sites, the default behavior is for the site to put the person on the shopping cart page, where they can already see what’s going on. However, the store can dictate what page a customer lands on when they add an item to the cart, by changing the “Add to Cart Redirect” (Store > Config > Cart)

Also by default, if the customer clicks to “continue shopping”, they’ll be taken back to the product page for the last item they put in their cart. But this can be overridden to send the customer to a particular page that you designate. (Store > Config > Cart: Continue Shopping Element)

Even if I navigate away from the cart page, most IndieCommerce sites have a visible shopping cart Block near the top of the site, so I can easily find my way back to the items in my cart, and to the checkout screen.

The next of these checkout tools are the collapsible panes, during checkout. These help keep the customer on track, asking them to focus on only one part of the checkout process at a time. This way, a customer will see a visually short page, and the first thing they’re asked for is an email address. When they input it, they click the “Next” button, and the first field is hidden, and the next appropriate field opens. In this way, the customer is kept from filling out the checkout page in the wrong order (certain fields in the checkout will trigger a response, and if these are done out of sequence, the order can get stuck. For instance, if a customer fills out the shipping address the bottom of the form, and then goes back to the top to select In-store Pick-up).

One caveat here… some of the available Drupal Themes have wide (i.e. tall) fields for information to be entered. On some of these Themes, clicking the Next button will drop a user past the next field they need. Make sure you walk through your own checkout pages, to ensure that, if you’re using the collapsible panes, that they work effectively for your site.

If you find this is an issue for your site, it is possible to enable a different Theme, just for the checkout page. STRUCTURE > PAGE THEME

The next checkout tool is designed to help customers understand where they are in the whole checkout process. In some cases, customers have made it almost all the way through checkout, and then think they’re done, when they’re still one step short. The Checkout Stepper displays 4 colored circles at the top of the checkout page, to remind customers where they are. The colors can be changed, so as to create a nice, visible contrasting display of information, leading them from one step to the next.


(4) Not Being Able to See Costs Up Front / Before Checkout

(4)This issue touches back to the very first item on the list, high costs. In this case, customers like to see those costs (or at least some of them) before they get to the checkout page. 

What we can do to address this is to arrange to have a shipping estimate available to the customer on the cart page. The “Estimated shipping cost” pane allows a customer to get an idea of how much shipping will run. Based on the items in the order, and the address info that the customer fills in, the site will return visible prices for any eligible shipping options. 

Keep in mind, though, that taxes will not be calculated on this page, due to the fact that taxes are calculated against more info than just a Zip code. But seeing accurate shipping costs may help alleviate the shock of seeing all final costs at once.
It is also helpful to have a link to “basic shipping info” on the site, so if a customer has any questions, they might find common answers there. 



(5) Website had Errors/Crashed

(5) The next issue keeping customers from purchasing on line touches on an uncomfortable truth: The Internet is a complex collection of interconnected servers and other various bits of hardware and lots of software, and no one is responsible for all of it. Some of it belongs to IndieCommerce, but some belongs to customers (e.g. their own computer and browser), and some to third parties (like the company that securely stores our physical servers).

As mentioned earlier, ABA/IndieCommerce already does all it can to make sure that the part of the system under our control is maintained, and updated, regularly. We also monitor the system off hours, and over weekends and holidays, so if a piece of equipment does decide to go awry, we’re aware of it quickly, and fixes (when necessary) are most often made within minutes.

But don’t forget that a customer can also have a few issues on their end, either with their local ISP, their physical connection, or any number of software issues, e.g., a browser so out of date that it no longer performs the way it needs to. Aside from convincing a customer to update their browser, there’s not much that can be done.
However, if a customer complains to you that they can get to every site but yours, let us know right away.

(6) Site Untrusted for Credit Card Info

(6) Even when a customer does intend to place an order through a website, everything can fall apart at the last minute if that customer feels that your site is not secure. A customer’s browser will generally tell them what they need to know, but a site can look insecure on some pages, but be completely secure on any pages that deal with account information or payment. 

Because secure pages can easily appear not to be, IndieCommerce strongly urges stores to contact us about making your entire site secure, with our help. There is a procedure to do this, but both IndieCommerce and the store need to schedule a time to get it done.

     From DigiCert: How to Know if a Website is Secure (
Look for Signs that the Company Is Real
There are a few signs that you can look for to help you know if a company is real or not.
Physical address and phone number – If the company lists a physical address and phone number there is a higher chance that they are a real business. Reputable companies will list their information so you can contact them if there is a problem.
Return policy – Reputable sites should list their return policy as well as their shipping policy. If you can’t find these policies on their site, you probably don’t want to purchase from them.
Prices are too low to believe – It’s great when you find a bargain, but you should be wary of sites that offer products for prices that are far lower than they should be. You could end up with knock off merchandise, stolen goods, or not get anything at all.
Privacy statement – Reputable sites should tell you how they protect your information and whether they give your information to third parties. You should make sure a site has a privacy statement and read it before you make a purchase.

Again, stores with their own Authnet account have access to the Trust Seal.

(7) Delivery Was Too Slow

(7) Shipping speed, again, is often one of those aspects that seems out of a store’s control. If you hand a package to a UPS or FedEx driver, all you can do is wait for it to arrive. But, as we saw earlier, it is possible to offer odd and interesting shipping options to customers. Of course, we know that many local customers simply like to come to the store (something that should always be encouraged), but there’s a good chance that there are customers that just can’t get to you, because they’re busy, or just not able to get around easily. But if a customer saw that the store was offering to drop off a book at their doorstep, within the next 12 to 24 hours, that might persuade them to push their order through. Creating a free, 24-hour shipping option, available to customers within a certain Zip code could help to convince those people to order. 

Remember, if you do create a special shipping option, make sure your customers are aware of it. Post it in a Block to the home page, or include mention of it in your newsletter. 


(8)Unsatisfactory Returns Policy

(8) Having potential customers walk away due to an unsatisfactory returns policy falls strictly on the store. These days, customers expect that if they use a credit card to make a purchase, that they will be able to return the purchased item for a full refund, back to their credit card (usually with the stipulation that the item be in salable condition, with receipt, within a certain time frame). Some stores will try to enforce that the customer’s dollars stay at the store, by issuing a “store credit”, or require that items be returned within an unreasonably short period of time, but a lot of customers will balk at these ideas, since their expectation has been raised by other policies around the web. Some customers might interpret a strict returns policy as a sign that a store is trying to take advantage of a sale by purposely making it difficult to qualify for a return.

So, make sure your policy is equitable to your customers, clearly written, and readily available on the site. 

(9) Not Enough Payment Methods

(9) In this ecommerce climate, the standard has largely been set as to what customers expect from their on-line experience. And while an enormous number of customers will likely use a credit card to pay for their order, others will want some other way to pay. 

First of all, we know, historically, that for the average IndieCommerce site, some 60% of store-fulfilled orders are for in-store pickup and payment. If you don’t allow customers to do this, you’re almost certainly excluding orders from being placed. It is true that if you allow this, you could end up with an order for an expensive, non-returnable book,  that no one shows up to pay for. But remember, you’re not beholden to fill such order without question. You can contact your customer to explain that you’ll need payment up front for this particular book, etc. But it’s also worth mentioning that stores don’t report any problems with customers abusing orders like this.

The next fairly obvious option is PayPal. The fact is that many people are wary of putting their credit card info into an unfamiliar site. PayPal allows them to put funds into an account, which is then used to pay on-line merchants for goods and services, while keeping credit card info out of it.

A lot of stores sell Gift Cards or certificates but, to my surprise, I find that some stores don’t want to redeem these online. I will venture that if you sell them, customers will expect to be able to redeem them. 

If you use Givex, you already know that your Givex account can communicate with your website, and thus read the balance on a card, and automatically apply it to an order, and even prompt the customer for further payment. 

But if you have a store-issued card or certificate, of course, the website cannot be “aware” of the balance, etc.

So, if you’re redeeming a store issued certificate, there is a way to set up checkout so as to ask a customer for both the Gift Card number, AND a credit card, to be applied, only if needed. 

Along similar lines, Drupal sites can also offer customers an On-line Only Gift Code. These are similar to a gift card, except that they lack a physical component. When purchased, the gift code is emailed to the recipient, to be entered during checkout. And since they are internal to Drupal, your site will already know the balance, and will actively apply it to the order, and even prompt the customer for further payment.
Online Gift Codes are also great for rewarding customers, for any reason (most orders, submitting a book review, enter-to-win, etc.).

(10) Credit Card Declined

(10) Now, credit cards are declined all the time, for all sorts of reasons. But it’s crucial to understand that, if you are currently using ABA’s account to verify credit cards, then your customers are being subjected to a very strict set of fraud-protection filters, and they may find that the address format they usually use may not work here. 

However, stores can have their own Authnet account, which gives them more control over the severity of these filters. But don’t forget… making it easier to get through these filters consequently makes it easier for fraudulent orders to be placed, so be careful in what you do with this power if it is in your hands.

As well, having your own Authnet account will also allow you to post the Authnet Seal of Approval, so to speak. With your own account, you can display a Trust Seal, an image that links to Authnet for more info. It lends serious credibility to any site that accepts credit cards.


Often, we give stores some bit of homework to do before coming to the Institute, but this time, I have some for you to do after you leave. With all of this in mind, it is now time for you to visit your own websites, and objectively walk through the checkout process, as a customer, and see if improvements might be made. If you feel that you can’t visit your site objectively, try asking a few of your best customers, since they already do that.

While it took a while to get through all of this, the more salient points can be summed up quickly:

As your customers go through checkout, keep things away from them that might distract them from finishing. On the other hand, you can also place markers, guideposts that can encourage a customer to move forward. Put little bonuses along the way, like a coupon for them to find, that could attract them toward checking out.

Make your customers feel comfortable.