If the present isn’t under the tree on Christmas Day, customers are more likely to blame you for shipping delays than the delivery man.
Most commerce brands rely on FedEx/UPS/USPS to deliver their packages on time during the peak holiday season. Last year, bad weather and unexpectedly high order volume resulted in over 2 million late packages, which was a severe blow to online commerce. The good news is that FedEx and UPS have staffed up significantly for the 2014 season.
Use these tips to protect your brand and give your customers what they expect: accurate information and packages delivered on time. Many brands use multiple shipping carriers to achieve the cheapest and fastest customer delivery. At Symphony, we created a detailed delivery grid by carrier and US US timezone to help brands communicate accurate shipping tiers to customers.
But it is important to remain vigilant throughout the season for early warning signs that your packages aren’t arriving on time. Be proactive: every day counts during this crucial period.
Have a daily huddle with your team to ensure:
- Orders are being fulfilled at your warehouse within 24 hours, or 48 hours at the latest.
- Customers are receiving their packages consistently for the tier they paid for: whether that is standard ground (3-5 days), 2-day ground or overnight.
- Incoming inventory is being received and stocked within 24 hours and that inventory counts are immediately updated on the website.
- Out of stock items are pulled out of prominent positions on the site.
- Alerts, banners, and emails are ready to go just in case you cannot fulfill orders by the holidays. It’s best to alert customers to unavoidable delivery delays (snowstorms) so they at least have a chance to buy replacement presents.
- Digital gift cards are ready for those last-minute shoppers. They’re a great way to keep revenue coming in even after Christmas delivery windows have passed.
- You can get on the phone with your 3PL and FedEx/UPS/shippers immediately in case of troubles.
At the first sign of delays, take action swiftly to avoid disappointing customers:
- Encourage customers to order earlier to avoid the last minute surge with a schedule of expiring promotions. “Save $5 on shipping when you order before December 15” is a great incentive that rewards shoppers for planning ahead and shifts demand away from the peak cut off periods.
- Set earlier cutoff dates to encourage urgency, and then extend the dates if your carriers can handle it. For example, set shipping cutoff to December 20, and then move it up to Dec 23 if your fulfillment and shipping providers can realistically deliver overnight. If not, you got the last minute lift from promoting the cut off date. If yes, you get to promote “extended shipping for 2 more days!” to last minute shoppers.
- Encourage customers to purchase digital gift cards to avoid disappointment (and avoid shipping altogether!)
- Remove shipping options from a carrier that is not delivering on time. If ground shipping is not arriving within the 2 – 3 day window, remove that option and only offer customers premium options such as a “2nd Air” or “Overnight Delivery.”
- If one carrier is getting behind, switch more order volume to a different carrier. If FedEx is bogged down, ship more orders through UPS
A surge in orders is often accompanied by a surge in customer service requests, and news media about shipping delays will cause a spike in jittery customers calling your customer service agents for delivery updates.
Take steps to ease pressure on your customer service team:
- Automate email order updates at each step of the process so customers can monitor their package progress without calling your customer service agents.
- Allow your customers to get SMS updates for package tracking.
- Offer package tracking on your site, so customers revisit your website for updates (rather than the carrier’s site). This is a great time to add additional messaging to address customer concerns.
- Have your email marketing and social media teams keep on top of weather news,so they can proactively inform customers before your customers flooding you with calls (ie. the Noreaster will not affect any of our orders, hooray!)
For most brands, the holidays represent a significant opportunity to increase customer acquisition and brand awareness. Some of the brand experience is directly within your control, such as your products, your web experience and your packaging. Don’t let your brand suffer from the things that are out of your control, like shipping and delivery. Communicate proactively with clear cut off dates and delivery options as well as automated delivery tracking to keep your customers informed and up to date at every step of the way.
Over the past year, Symphony has re-launched wide range of ecommerce websites. Depending on which platform the brand migrated from, we typically see 10 – 50% increase in conversion rate. How is Symphony able to achieve such consistent results? Here are the five key areas that we focus on to improve the customer experience and drive more sales.
Page Load Speed
Everyone hates to wait, and impatient consumers can’t be bothered to wait for your slow website to finish loading. Every second counts – especially for mobile shoppers. In fact, 40% of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Speed up your site by cleaning up code bloat, use image compression, defer non-essential scripts, and cache locally.
There are so many benefits to responsive design like improved SEO, consistent site experience on mobile and desktop, and faster load speeds due to the streamlined codebase. In the last year, we’ve seen a massive shift away from desktop shopping. In fact, across our brands, we typically see 50% or more visitors shopping via a smart phone or tablet. Bottom line, if your site –especially your site’s checkout – isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re leaving money on the table
Expand Catalog Navigation
Symphony’s robust catalog navigation ensures that describe search, filtering, tagging, and pagination all work together with shareable links and without refreshes. When we released this for a large apparel brand we saw an immediate 30% boost to conversion rates because shoppers were able to find the products they want in the sizes they need.
Sticky Shopping Cart
In A/B tests, sticky carts provided a visual nudge that gets customers to make the transition from shopping to buying. Simply displaying the contents of the shopping cart (instead of allowing the shopping cart to roll back up) increased the likelihood that visitors would begin checkout by over 35%, with the biggest increases happening on mobile and tablets. Best of all, average order value (AOV) and shopping cart completion rates remained constant: more people starting the checkout resulted in more people completing checkout which translates to more revenue for our clients.
Exit Intent Technology
According to a recent benchmark study, many conversion rates (from visiting a page to checking out) are less than 1%. “Exit intent technology” has emerged as one of the most powerful ways to re-engage the other 99% of visitors on your site. Exit intent technology detects when a user is about to leave your site, and triggers a pop-up ad with an incentive or promotion in exchange for an email address. This works on two levels:
- Instant coupons such as “save 20%” or “free shipping” are powerful incentives to buy now.
- Email capture arms brands with an inexpensive way to follow up with the visitor after the session with additional offers and promotions.
Sites that employ exit intent pop-ups garner up to 400% higher email opt-ins than sites that don’t use exit intent pop-ups.
At Symphony, we’ve developed a streamlined approach to boosting conversion rates for new clients. First, our technology is built with speed in mind so visitors enjoy blazingly fast load times and site navigation. Second, all of our sites use responsive design to leverage mobile and tablet traffic. Third, best in class catalog navigation helps customers quickly locate the exact product they want. Fourth, we launch all brands with sticky shopping carts which have been proven to increase the number of shoppers who start checkout. Finally, we include exit intent technology to offer promotions to defecting visitors, and capture emails for targeted marketing follow up. This culminates in significant conversion rate improvements for our clients across all verticals.
Anyone who runs a business knows that there are two key drivers for additional revenue: either increase conversions or increase customer engagement. Put another way, sell more to your existing customers and/or sell to new customers.
If your marketing efforts are bringing sufficient traffic to your web store, then conversion rate optimization is the key to unlock additional revenue. Are site navigation, searching, and filtering features helping customers find the right product? Are cross sells effective at showcasing more products to customers? Is your checkout flow encouraging or discouraging purchases?
But once you’ve solved these major problems, the next step is to identify small tweaks that can cause big changes in customer behavior. By testing what works for your customers, you can gain an edge over competitors and deliver a more enjoyable checkout process to every customer.
This is where the concept of the conversion funnel comes in. You’ve probably thought about this already. How many site visitors are coming from my marketing efforts? How many people completed checkout?
Once you get the results and see the drop off in numbers between the users coming into your site and the users actually buying from your site, you’ll see that many potential customers drop out at various stages of the conversion funnel.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of the conversion funnel, Symphony Commerce breaks it down into ten steps. This allows us to set granular goals and accurately gauge performance against them. For example, improving engagement doesn’t directly impact conversion. If the only thing we track is conversion, we’ll miss any engagement improvement. Likewise, if we only track conversion rate between the first and last steps, then any improvements at earlier steps of the funnel will be diluted at the end. A visitor to shopper ratio of 100% will only result in approximately 1% increase in revenue, because of the attrition throughout the rest of the funnel.
With mobile commerce comprising more and more of our clients’ revenue, we noticed a gap between mobile traffic and mobile conversions. Some clients were already accruing more than 50% of their traffic from mobile and tablets, yet the conversion rates on these devices was less than 30%. Specifically, mobile shoppers were 50% less likely than desktop shoppers to start the checkout process.
Conventional wisdom suggests that shoppers are using their phones to look up information with the intention of purchasing the item later on a computer or in person at the store. According to Google, 90% of smartphone shoppers use their phone for pre-shopping activities.
But we wondered: could we nudge some of those mobile shoppers to actually start (and complete) their order on their phone?
Our hypothesis is that visual prompts will encourage checkout engagement. Symphony’s “Sticky Cart Split Test” was designed to see if we could increase sales and enhance the shopping experience by changing just one aspect of our standard checkout flow. Specifically, will consumers be more likely to start the checkout process if the shopping cart is more visible?
We designed an experiment to show some customers a stickier shopping cart banner after they added a product to the cart. The experiment was conducted across several client sites where we could accrue enough traffic in a short amount of time to achieve statistically significant results.
To eliminate any effects of seasonality, we created an A/B test where 50% of site visitors were our control group, and would experience the original checkout flow. In this flow, when a shopper adds an item to the cart, the shopping cart drops down and then rolls back up after 5 seconds.
Here’s what the sticky cart looks like on a desktop or tablet browser. The cart does not roll up after 5 seconds; it stays visible until the customer clicks away.
Here’s the smaller version of the sticky cart that is seen on mobile.
The remaining 50% of visitors were shown an altered flow. When the shopper adds an item to the cart, the same shopping cart drops down. However, it remains static until the customer takes an action (such as tapping elsewhere on the page).
We ran the test for 20 days in early June with 134K visitors.
- Tablet N = 7,188
- Mobile N = 51,630
- Desktop N = 75,076
Because the customer experience is dramatically different across web, tablet, and mobile, we tracked results separately to see how each group performed.
- Mobile users who were shown the new sticky cart drop down were 92% more likely to start the checkout process: a HUGE change resulting from a small UI change.
- Tablets users also were 85.6% more likely to start the checkout process.
- Desktop users were 8.1% more likely to start the checkout process.
Overall, the consumers who were exposed to the extended shopping cart were 35% more likely to initiate check out.
CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS
Sticky carts, it seems, really do provide a visual nudge that gets customers to make the transition from shopping to buying.
There were two additional considerations for further down the conversion funnel. First, if we made it easier to check out quickly, will it prevent people from browsing and adding more products to their cart? Second, if we dramatically increased the number of checkouts started, would we observe an increase in abandoned checkouts because some of the new shoppers were less qualified?
Our concerns were unfounded. Expected revenue for the test group and the baseline group were almost identical, so we did not encounter any erosion in AOV. Likewise, there was no statistically significant difference for conversion rates. Thus, by encouraging more shoppers to initiate checkout (with the same AOV and the same conversion rate), the sticky shopping cart increased our clients’ revenue.
Thanks to our cloud-based infrastructure and agile ecommerce platform, Symphony Commerce implemented Sticky Shopping Carts across our entire network with minimal friction. Clients did not have to manually upgrade, opt-in to a program, or pay extra for this feature. Symphony – a company dedicated to democratizing commerce – implemented this newly confirmed best practice to every client. When we get the data in hand, Symphony will continue to innovate and experiment in order to deliver the best shopping experience and induce greater ROI.
Wish your site ranked higher on Google’s search algorithm? Starting last week, all Symphony sites do.
Have you ever noticed that some website starts with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP?” That extra “S” stands for “Secure.” Essentially, it means there’s an extra layer of encryption in the data between the browser and the site (Forbes does a good job of explaining it). Google recently announced they’re starting to use HTTPS as a rankings signal, meaning sites using HTTPS will rank higher than sites using HTTP.
Symphony sites have always run on HTTPS, so they’ll automatically see a rankings boost. Our philosophy is this: while you dedicate yourself to creating the best content for your site, we’ll worry about security, stability, speed, and the rest.
Symphony is committed to providing best-in-class security across all our sites. On the Qualys SS Labs test, our sites achieved “A” scores in security when they followed our best practices. A rankings boost on Google is now a nice bonus. High fives all around
Fraud is a big deal. The average profit for ecommerce businesses is 2%, and the average fraud rate for the industry is 0.09%. In other words, fraudulent claims consume about 4.5% of industry profits: an estimated $3.5 billion lost to online fraud.
Small businesses are at even greater risk. Not only are small businesses less sophisticated in detecting fraud, but small businesses generally lack the resources – time and expertise – to do a good job of processing fraudulent claims. In fact, businesses under $5MM often do not bother tackling fraud at all, and swallow fraudulent claims as a cost of doing business.
But there’s good news, too. No matter what size your business, there are easy steps you can take to reduce the impact of fraud on your bottom line.
Watch out for these two main types of fraud:
- Credit card fraud, and
- Friendly fraud, returns, and credits requests.
If you’ve selected a reputable payment gateway (there are over 70 ecommerce gateways), chances are that your credit card processing company is already doing a pretty good job scanning for credit card scams. Standard features include asking for CVC codes, matching addresses, and validating numbers against their database to see if the card number has been flagged in the past.
The key here is make sure your business is working with a company that has a strong track record in fraud prevention, keeps your customer’s details secure, and gives your customers the confidence to transact with you online. So even though most people associate fraud with fake credit card numbers, credit requests actually comprise the majority (58%) of fraud claims.
In other words, the highest exposure to fraud is occurring due to subpar customer communications, not malicious intent.
Proactive merchants can take a more disciplined approach to combatting chargebacks to reduce profit-eroding claims. Typical examples include:
- Customer didn’t recognize the business name on their credit card statement, so customer reversed the charges
- Item isn’t what the customer ordered, or doesn’t work/fit/look as promised
- Return policy was unclear so customer did a chargeback instead of taking the time to return the item
- Item was damaged during shipment
- Customer couldn’t track the package in progress, so customer cancelled the order before it arrived
- Item was delivered, but customer was unaware of delivery (someone else signed for package)
Here are steps merchants can implement to immediately reduce the incidence of these types of claims.
1. Ensure the name and description on the credit card statement matches the name of the online store where the customer made the purchase (example: Dave’s Flowers or www.davesflowers.com, not DFCo.) This is especially true for small businesses that may not have high brand recognition, or are operating as a DBA. Customers are less likely to reverse a charge they recognize.
2. The easiest way to reduce returns is to start with great product descriptions, photos, videos, and reviews.
- Writing great product copy is an art form, but at its simplest level product copy must deliver an authentic and realistic description. Customers who receive exactly what the product copy promises are less likely to return items.
- Clear return policies (and ease of returns) might not prevent returns, but they will cut back on chargebacks. Admittedly, the business takes the hit on unpacking and re-shelving, but a modest return shipping fee (or better yet, free returns) encourages customers to “do the right thing” instead of a merely reversing the credit card charges.
3. Tightly integrate purchase data with fulfillment tracking. Customers who believe they have not received their package, or who can’t access shipment tracking are more likely to cancel an order. At a minimum, your shipping provider must provide package tracking to customers. Merchants must be able to quickly access inventory, fulfillment, and shipment tracking data to respond promptly and efficiently to damage or non-delivery claims.
Even if your business doesn’t have an API integration between your online store and all of your logistics partners, creating a well-defined plan to track your inventory as it moves from vendor to vendor to customer is a critical step to reducing time and money spent on claims. By focusing on these areas – select payment gateways with best in class fraud prevention techniques, use a consistent brand name across all customer communications, write great product and return copy, and tightly integrate your order and fulfillment tracking – your business can significantly reduce fraud occurrences.
Fraud will never go away, but you can reduce your profit loss and protect your business from preventable fraud claims.