Thursday, September 17, 2009

How to court your customers

“When wondering what to say or how you look, just remember she’s already out with you. She said yes, and she could have said no. It’s no longer your job to make her like you -- it’s your job not to mess it up” -- Will Smith giving dating advice in the film "Hitch"

Retailers spend a lot of time, energy and resources on luring shoppers to their sites. But consumers often face online usability issues that cause them to leave sites once they're there, costing retailers a significant amount of money in potential sales. It's also these small mistakes that that could stand in the way of building a strong customer-retailer relationship.

In my August/September e-commerce column in Chain Store Age, I discuss some low-cost, low-risk tips on how to avoid the small errors, and Megan Burns, senior analyst of customer experience for Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., weighed in.

Here are some teasers:

- Eliminate unnecessary content. Users shouldn’t have to wade through extraneous information to get to want they want. Make it easy for them by highlighting the most popular areas on the site, and remove what’s less important. But be cautious: Research shows that people often can’t find the content they want on the site. (A low-trafficked page might actually be high in demand and just harder to locate). Retailers should cross-reference their analytics data, and re-evaluate where certain features should be placed on the site so consumers can effectively find what they want.

- Help users recover from errors. Consumers often get far in the checkout process and end up leaving their cart due to unclear error messages. Burns said there are three characteristics that make a good error message. “They should be integrated into the page, explain the problem clearly and show how to fix it,” Burns said.

In the design process, many retailers allow the developers to write error messages. “But don’t,” she warned. “Give the error messages extra care and let the right people write them. Also, be sure to inform shoppers explicitly why an error occurred.” (e.g., The ZIP code doesn’t match the city and state.)

- The order review page shouldn’t look like a confirmation page. Shoppers often mistake the second-to-last step as the final one. Be sure to make the text, design and location clear, so people know they have one more step to go.

To read the full story, click here.

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