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… And What You Can Do to Fix It

In a recent Facebook poll in which we asked people what they hated most about shopping online, the prevalent answer was “everything.” Despite low or no shipping fees, next-day delivery, and a dizzying array of choice, some people would rather walk into the dentist for an afternoon than buy something online.

Why all the angst? Largely because online shopping, despite the decade’s vast improvements in logistics, choice, and even customer service, is still largely devoid of common-sense design or well thought-out pathways.

Want proof? See if any of these ring a bell:


Issue: “Continue shopping” Apparently Really Means “Take Me to the Home Page”

After finally making the decision to purchase, a site visitor excitedly clicks the “add to cart” button and finds herself on the shopping cart page. Good enough. Now what? The friendly “continue shopping” button should do the trick. What would a reasonable shopper expect to happen? She would hope to be returned to either the page she just left (presumably the product page), or at least the search results that yielded the product she ultimately added to her cart.

What actually happens 9 times out of 10 is that she’s instead taken to the home page or, slightly less rage-inducing, to her most recently visited category page. At this point, the likelihood of abandoning her cart skyrockets, to say nothing of the opportunity that you, the retailer, has to offer her additional products based on her last search.

Research and experience tell us that, for many online shoppers, the cart is as much a browsing and comparison tool as it is purchasing tool. Creating a dead end out of the shopping cart is a drop of the ball for online retailers, making it harder for shoppers to use your site they way they want.

Research and experience also tell us that if people can use your shopping cart as a browsing and comparison tool, they are more likely to complete their purchase, even on another visit. In addition, an abandoned cart is a huge marketing opportunity. Armed with an abandoned cart and an email address, you can nudge abandoners to come back and complete their purchase, offer them a brief discount, or tee up similar items that might fit the bill even better.

Confronting It

To avoid ticking online shoppers off and missing some additional sales opportunities, consider a light shopping cart module that lives in the header or layer above the content, ever present and interactive. There’s really no reason a shopper has to go to a traditional shopping cart page anymore, when so much can be done in a well-designed and efficient module that tucks out of the way until it’s needed. This solves the problem in a very direct way: rather than helping shoppers find their way back once you drop them on their shopping cart, why not never lead them away? Do as much as you can on the page they’re currently occupying and they’ll thank you for it.


Issue: Sorting, Filtering, or Refining a Search Is Like a Hall of Mirrors

One of the most beautiful attributes of the online shopping experience, staggering selection, is also often the most maddening: sorting and refining the display of that staggering selection. This is handled more callously by the travel industry than almost any other, but retailers are often just as guilty. Having a vast catalog of products is key to online domination, but the ability of your customers to easily and intuitively find, sort, refine, filter, and re-search those products is a source of great consumer frustration and represents a true category leadership opportunity.

We’ve found that this system breaks down in a host of ways: an enterprise eCommerce engine that was implemented by systems engineers (no offense, guys; we love you) rather than user experience experts; internal merchandising methodology dictates the customer-facing online catalog mix instead of common-sense taxonomy; the same short-sightedness that led to the “continue shopping” scandal above.

Who’s Doing It Right?

National home furnishings leader Conn’s partnered with GDD Interactive to create an upgraded site experience that reduced road blocks and drove credit applications up. Read the case study.

Regardless of how the issue arose, it is risky and costly to leave sorting and filtering to the out-of-the-box settings or to ignore it altogether. Making it difficult to effectively manipulate search results is irritating for online consumers. If you want to really send them running, however, try this: lead an online shopper to a detailed search result, then offer her a “refine your search” button. When she clicks that button, take her back to the original, unpopulated search page where she has to fill out all her information again.

Confronting It

This is easy enough to solve technologically, but it needs to be carefully thought through. Do your best to talk through as many search refinement scenarios you can and set yourself the challenge of maintaining the fidelity of your customers’ previous searches as completely as possible. Just remembering the previous search and pre-populating the information into the original search form is a start, but don’t be afraid to be innovative. Like the shopping cart suggestion above, try to keep your shopper’s search with her as she refines and explores. Again, remember: online shopping is really online researching. Don’t think of your site as a way for shoppers to buy your stuff. Think of your site as a way for them to browse through your stuff and ultimately make a selection. Imagine if, every time you went into the dressing room at your favorite brick and mortar clothing retailer to try something on, they rearranged the store and you had to find the section you were browsing in all over again …


Issue: Show Me Yours First: Asking for Information Before You’ll Show Products

Your average online shopper likely does not understand the complex interplay between your local distribution center, your central warehouse, and his shipping address. It is therefore annoying that he has to tell you where he is via zip code or address before you’ll show him your catalog. For combination online/brick and mortar retailers it’s understandable why this matters to you, but it’s a real deterrent for shoppers and reduces the likelihood of online purchase. Any unexpected information asked of an online shopper is trouble, especially as they are trying to view your products. This is often the case with restaurateurs who can have disparate menus from one location to the next – before a visitor can see what’s on the menu they have to pick their “favorite location.” This rises to the top over and over again of things people hate about restaurant web sites now that Flash intros are (almost) off the scene.

Confronting It

Give shoppers a little something before asking them for information. Even the largest online retailers have something in their catalog that can be displayed before asking. Big box hardware stores are a good case study here. Do you really need to know my zip code before you can show me a selection of your finest rakes – especially if I can purchase one online? Restaurants can really win here, too. If you’re a chain, you almost certainly have a core cadre of items that are consistent from locale to locale. Present the basics to them to give them a taste (da dum dum) of what you offer before having them zero in on a specific location. Remember, if someone online is looking for your products, including your food, it is very likely they are researching before they decide to buy. By striving to give them as much as you can before asking them for any information you are helping them with the decision and greasing the wheels towards an ultimate purchase or visit.



These are just a few of the many roadblocks online shoppers face as they interact with your brand. Consumers will put up with a lot, and if they’re really determined to buy your stuff maybe they’ll find a way to do it. But is that good enough for your brand or your customers? Making the online researching and shopping experience as fluid and utility-focused as possible ensures a lift in conversion, drop in abandonment, and more dollars for you.

To see how GDD Interactive can help you smooth out the rough edges of your customers’ online experience, contact us or visit us at