This guest post was written by Jason Ferguson, a Communications Specialist for Volusion, an ecommerce shopping cart platform based in Austin, Texas.
Every element of an ecommerce site has the untapped potential to convert more visitors into customers. Design elements can draw attention to featured products, effective navigation can reduce site abandonment and creative product descriptions can lead to more items in more carts. Shipping, however, brings unique conversion potential: shipping options are easier to modify than your design and your site-wide writing content and, as we will see below, customers rate shipping options as one of their chief ecommerce considerations. Here are 5 ways that shipping impacts conversions.
1.) Customer ratings, shipping and service after the sale
If you sell physical products online, there is no escaping the fact that you are running an after-sales service operation, and shipping your products is your primary service. Delayed shipments, lack of shipment tracking and poor communication with your customers during the shipping process will impact customer ratings and reviews just as much as product quality.
Communicate every aspect of your shipping policies as clearly as possible, process orders quickly and keep the communication process going even after the item has shipping. Customer ratings are reviews are more persuasive than any marketing material you have written yourself, so keep your reputation clean and your conversion rate strong.
2.) Free shipping is a closing tool
If you offer free shipping, chances are that you are already generously advertising it on your website. There is nothing wrong with that, but be sure to prioritize your site’s real estate. Many of your visitors are just there to explore or are otherwise not ready to make a purchase; they are at the beginning of the sales cycle. Free shipping is a closing tool. Focus it towards visitors that have their wallets ready—they already know they want to buy the product, and they are just deciding whether to buy from you or switch to another tab and buy from a competitor. Display your free shipping offers more prominently on “deep” pages of your website, especially product pages or pages devoted to competitor comparison. And always make the terms of your free shipping clear from the beginning. Customers do not like see surprises on the checkout page.
3.) Free returns shipping
Even if you are not able to afford to ship the majority of your products for free, you may want to consider free return shipping. Few customers will take advantage of the offer, but all customers will see your confidence in your products if you promote this policy. Unlike free shipping, free return shipping has a place in multiple stages of the shopping process. Visitors that are not ready to commit to a purchase will not be drawn to free shipping offers, but a generous return policy puts their minds at ease and can make your shop more attractive than a competitor’s. If you are just now considering a new wardrobe, which online store would you start with, the one that will ship your order for free or the one that makes the shopping experience less risky to begin with?
4.) More options mean fewer abandoned carts
What leads to more abandoned carts than any other factor? Usability Sciences has done some extensive research and has found an unsurprising answer: most visitors report that they back out of their order because “the shipping costs and options were unacceptable.” Offer a mixture of low cost and high-speed shipping to satisfy both impatient and cost-sensitive customers.
5.) The 2-day exception
Most of your customers will opt for the cheapest—ideally free—shipping option available; however, larger stores will always alter shoppers’ expectations. If the products that you offer are also available on Amazon, remember that you are competing with Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping. For now this is something of a gold standard, but the future could bring an even more competitive playing field. So how do you compete? You probably cannot afford free 2-day shipping, even for your more expensive products. Your best option is to offer a wide range of shipping, including separate free and 2-day options. This, combined with a generous helping of visitor ratings and reviews, will make your own offering more compelling.
And always remember that, in the end, you are not competing with Amazon; you are competing with your own sales from last year. Focus on improving on your previous successes rather than the enviable successes of larger operations.
For more advice on tapping into your site’s conversion potential, from design to marketing and positioning, be sure to check out Volusion’s free Ultimate Field Guide to Ecommerce Conversions.