21 E-Commerce Shopping Cart Best Practices

 image Why eCommerce & Shopping Cart Usability Matter:

eCommerce and shopping cart usability matter mostly due to the fact that if a store is not easy to use, and simple to buy from, it can greatly affect it’s ability to generate regular sales or increase those sales over time, which makes it more difficult for merchants to grow their stores to the next level. Many of the most successful merchants got that way by following strict usability guidelines, search engines guidelines and by abiding by other Online selling best practices. It’s no accident that the best eTailers got where they are by doing what works and continuing to try to improve, although little bits of luck here and there certainly help and may sometimes also contribute to many of the big named companies success.

Online store usability and eCommerce shopping cart usability are extremely important factors for all online sellers, especially for the ones who hope to improve over time and are serious about increasing online sales to their potential. Many merchants forget that even the most simple changes can dramatically effect how their stores perform, both for users and search engines. In this article I will be mentioning 21 different factors that can dramatically increase results for nearly any type of Online store, especially ones that focus on an industry niche or cater to mass amounts of shoppers.

21 E-Commerce Shopping Cart Best Practices

01. Use Headlines, Subheadings and Breadcrumb navigation to show shoppers where they are.

  • Page elements like large text headings and subheadings can help customers establish which page they are on and what the topic of the page they are viewing is. Breadcrumb navigation helps customers establish how deep they are within the site structure and what is available to view before and after the page they are on within the site structure. Breadcrumbs and page headings are also beneficial from a search engine standpoint, since they use those kinds of page elements to classify a site and to understand what words you target.

    Breadcrumbs Headlines - Walmart.com

    By showing your visitors where they are on the site and giving them headings and subheadings which are easy to read, you will be effectively making your site more usable to each visitor and are aiding them in being able to find what they are looking for. It should help make the shopping experience faster and gets shoppers to the products they want so they can add it to their cart and buy it with ease. It also aids search engines who crawl your site for more information on what you sell and who your target market is.

02. Make sure contact information and a phone number are visible above the fold and easy for shoppers to see.

  • eCommerce sites make it easy for customers to find items and buy them Online, however it is also a great way to obtain leads and establish new customer relationships from individuals who may alternately call or email rather than place an order through the Online checkout process. By keeping contact information prominent and including it on each page, you are effectively making your site more usable to each visitor who may wish to do business with you over the phone or by email rather than electronically Online.

    Promintent Contact Information - Zappos.com

    Many of your orders will be made through the site, but a majority will also be made through alternative means like phone or email. If you do not have this information in an easy to find location on the site, you may be missing out on new business and establishing new customers who prefer phone ordering or inquire via a Web form or email address. Above the fold means a place which can be accessed with limited or no scrolling down the page by the visitor. Typically, eCommerce site owners will display their contact information in the top right or top left or each page. Where ever you decide put it, be sure it is consistently in the same place, not in a different place on each page.

03. Keep the site search function above the fold and in plain view so shoppers can query the catalog anytime.

  • All sites should have a search function of some sort. eCommerce stores with many products must have a search function so customers can easily find what they are shopping for within a particular site or section of the site. In addition, the search function must be within the customers reach and easy for them to spot and use in order for it to properly work within your site. Site searches are typically near the top or middle of each page, but can be included on a sidebar. It is a good idea to put your site search above the fold and make it easy to see.

    Site Search - Walmart.com

    Some newer eCommerce sites have utilized state of the art site search technology and even have smart search bars that finish typing your phrase for you or even suggest words that are close to what you are typing, as you are typing them in. Anytime, any page, for any reason a customer may wish to perform a search instead of using alternate navigation or sorting options. By keeping your search function within reach and by making it easy to use you are making the site more usable to each visitor that enters your store and hopes to find something to buy. It should help shoppers find what they are looking for easily and makes the whole shopping process much more simple.

04. Consider adding a search by category refinement into the site search for easier access to site sections.

  • We have already explained why site search functions should be placed above the fold in an easy to find area on the site. Having a site search is only the basic form of searching eCommerce sites. As we mentioned, there are new site search technologies, but there are also less complicated more common improvements that can be made to site search functions. Many eCommerce stores are now using category search refinements and sorting options within the search area so visitors and shoppers can search for certain keywords within particular categories from any page any time they choose.

    Search by Category - Zappos.com

    It is kind of like an advanced search option that shoppers can use without going to a separate page altogether. By offering a search function with a keyword field, category refinement and catalog sorting capabilities you are effectively making the site more usable. It should help visitors find what they are looking for quickly and easily no matter what page they are on. It is also a great way to display the category offerings and show visitors which categories they can shop within (similar to breadcrumb navigation, but in the search area).

05. Allow shoppers to refine product results by color, shape, size etc. and allow them to clear those refinements anytime.

  • A customer must be able to find the products they are looking for quickly and easily. Another great way to keep items within reach for customers is to implement refinement features that allow visitors to sort products by color, shape, size, brand and more. Many eCommerce sites do not have the capability to use refinement features, others are more flexible in their designs and allow for such customizations.

    Sorting Options - Zappos.com

    If you have the resources available, it is something I highly recommend you consider adding into your store functionality. Some customers are looking for a particular size, some may be interested in items that are available in only certain colors or available through particular brands. By adding product refinement and sorting options into your eCommerce site, you are effectively making your site more usable. Allowing customers to refine and sort will help them find the perfect item and makes the shopping process fun at the same time. It should help customers find what they are looking for in a fast, efficient manner so they can proceed to the next step in the buying process. It also helps increase conversions, sales, order amounts and raises customer retention.

06. Allow shoppers to show a designated number of items per page anytime with a “show per page” sort option.

  • We have already covered refinement and sorting options, but there are other display options that can also assist shoppers in finding the items they hope to purchase. Besides product refinements and sorting options, you may also wish to implement features that allow customers to sort and refine the product results that are displayed within categories, sorted searches, brand searches and more. Display sorting may include a grid layout, list layout or hybrid (uses a combination of both). You are essentially giving shoppers different ways to view lists of items once they are displayed on a results page.

    Sort Per Page - Zappos.com

    It creates a more custom shopping experience and gives customers the ability to view lists they way they prefer. Offering a way for customers to customize their display will help with usability by making the site more user friendly, easier to use and gives off the impression that they are able to customize what results they see, how many are shown and what type of view to display items in (list, grid, both). By making it easy for visitors to refine item results you are effectively making your site more usable. It should help shoppers to remember their experience with you, come back again in the future and makes their shopping time on your site an exciting, semi-custom and usable experience. It may also increase conversions and raise user registrations or retention.

07. Show related products and cross sell before the checkout process and after items have been added to the cart.

  • Grouping products, showing related items and cross selling is important for customers and helps lower shopping cart abandonment rates. Many eCommerce stores show related items on each page or for each product rather than showing items directly related to a product that has already been added to the cart. Make it easy for shoppers to add items related to what they have in their cart and don’t take them back to the index page or make it difficult to edit the cart contents. A lot of carts get abandoned when a customer finds that they cannot easily edit the cart or that they get redirected back to the index page once they add an item to the cart.

    You May Also Like - BarnesandNoble.comCross Sell Grouped Items

    Some merchants have found that by directing their customers back to the page they were previously on, or by allowing them to add accessories or similar items that may accompany the product they are buying to the cart during checkout, has improved their abandonment rates. This strategy works particularly well if the customer sees the item groupings or option to add similar items right before they login to pay or enter their payment information. Be sure the carts seamlessly adds the item and updates the price in the cart without them having to click an “update cart” button. By grouping items and cross selling related products you are effectively making your store more usable. It should help to retain users, lower cart abandonment and increases overall sales, even average order amounts.

08. Use product page copy that answers shoppers questions about products they may be interested in buying.

  • Page and product copy (text headings and descriptions) is an important aspect of usability for both shoppers and search engines. The headlines you choose for product pages as well as the home page copy, messages, buttons and calls to action can all influence whether a customer buys, add something to a wishlist, clicks through, subscribes, or whether they move along to another site. Ideally, the headlines and other page copy should be the first thing your customers see upon landing on a specific section. Keep the headlines simple and direct, making sure to clearly state that customers will be able to complete a purchase or find an item they seek from that page. Use keywords that describe the item on that page within your headings and elsewhere within the copy.

    Page Copy Answers - BarnesandNoble.com

    Make the point of the page clear and be sure to include main points or highlights within your main message. Include a small area with copy that is designed to sell your product and persuades the customer to move along to the next step in your conversion process. Use informative descriptions with product specifications, details, sizes, colors and anything the customer would possible ask about the item. By writing compelling copy and including it in all the right places you are effectively making your store more usable for both search engines and customers. It should help you to convert more visits, convey a particular message or inform visitors about the page they are viewing. It may also help with search engine keyword classification and can potentially increase sales or average order amounts.

09. Allow shoppers to add items to their cart before making them register for an account.

  • Many eCommerce sites will not allow customers to add items to the shopping cart until they have registered for a site account. This means the customers have to take an extra step in the buying process and could cause them to leave the site before they buy. It is important to allow guests or window shoppers to add items to their cart and checkout before registering as a customer. We all know how great custom accounts can be, but it doesn’t make sense to collect user information when buyers will already enter in much of the same information upon ordering (info that can also be used to create a customer account for future visits).

    No Registration Required - BarnesandNoble.com

    Some merchants have found that by allowing guests to add items first and giving them the option to register AFTER the order, that it increased sales, helped to retain users and lowered cart abandonment rates. Keep the account process after the order or give shoppers the option to register for an account once they but. Do not make someone register before they enter in payment and billing information. By allowing shoppers to add items to their cart and view the contents before registering for an account you are effectively making your site more usable. It should help speed up the ordering process, makes it easier for a custom to buy and also removes an extra, unnecessary step in the order process. It can also help with customer retention when otherwise there wouldn’t be a customer to retain.

10. Make sure shoppers can easily access their cart contents and that it can easily be modified or adjusted.

  • Keeping the contents of shoppers’ carts in an accessible, easy to find location on each page will help increase conversions and assist shoppers in finding what they are looking for and makes it easy for them to check out quickly. I see many eCommerce sites that have the contents of the cart on a separate page altogether and not in the sidebar or near the top right corner, where shoppers expect it to be. Not only should you keep the contents of shopping carts accessible, you should also make it easy for shoppers to edit the contents of their carts during each phase of the checkout and anytime before they enter the checkout process.

    Easy Update Cart - BarnesandNoble.com

    Shoppers often times change their minds after adding one item to their cart and may wish to replace it with another item they found while shopping deeper into the site. Remember to make the cart accessible and be sure your shoppers can easily modify the contents, you will find that you’ll get less support calls, less abandoned carts and more orders. If you have a good cross-sell platform, you may even increase your average order amount. By keeping the cart in an easy to reach location and allowing easy editing you are effectively making your site more usable which also helps to retain your buying customers and may attract better brand awareness, which may lead to increased new registrations and first time orders.

11. Use “add to cart buttons” with larger font, that are easy to see and consider different wording like “proceed to checkout.”

  • The “add to cart buttons” you choose can make or break a store, especially new eCommerce sites. If the checkout buttons are not visible to the shoppers or they do not stand out in some way from the rest of the page, you will have a difficult time converting many of your shoppers to buyers. The smallest changes in color, font, size and wording have been proven to increase conversions, increase sales, raise average order amounts and helps direct shoppers towards the next step in the buying process. Keep your checkout and cart buttons within reach on each product page and anywhere else you display cart buttons.

    Add to Cart Button - Buellparts.net

    Make them easy to spot and use larger fonts and bold colors like reds, blues, yellows and greens so they stand out from the rest of the content on the page. Choose wording like “proceed to checkout,” “add to bag,” “add to cart” and “add to basket” rather than wording like “buy now,” “order now” or “buy.” The word “buy” and “order” may scare a shopper from adding the item to their cart, since they may not be ready to buy. Of course savvy shoppers already know that “buy” and “order” is usually the first step, but non-savvy shoppers may get confused and think they are going to be taken directly to the billing and payment page if they click it. Some sites actually take shoppers to the billing and payment page, so be sure you know the process your shoppers take through checkout and plan accordingly. By making checkout and cart button with larger fonts, bolder colors and the right wording you are effectively making your site more usable which helps to increase conversions, increase sales, increase order amounts and much more.

12. Make sure other page items are visually appealing to shoppers and keep unnecessary elements off checkout pages.

  • Part of making an eCommerce site more accessible and easier for shoppers to use involves keeping the checkout process or path clear and simple. Shoppers will not buy from sites they do not trust and generally sites that don’t take certain “best practices” into consideration (on purpose or by accident) will have a harder time becoming successful right away. Part of those best practices are how landing pages are displayed and what is on them. It is best to keep checkout pages (product pages, add to cart pages, landing pages) as clutter free as possible (limited to no navigation and few graphics), but obviously there will still be some graphics, shopping cart contents and possibly a link to the main page or back to the page they were previously viewing.

    Uneccessary Elements Off Checkout Pages - BarnesandNoble.com

    Be sure that any of the elements that are left on checkout pages are visually appealing and serve a purpose on those pages. If possible, try to use page that are distinct and make it easy to move along to the next step in the checkout process. Keep anything that is not needed off checkout pages and keep anything that must be there attractive and appealing to shoppers. By making a checkout page with visually appealing elements and keeping unnecessary clutter off of them you are effectively making your eCommerce store more usable which helps increase conversions, increase sales, raises order amounts and keeps customers coming back. Additionally, you may gain more word-of-mouth exposure and create a pleasant feeling around your brand.

13. Allow shoppers to add items to a wishlist using appropriate wording like “add to wishlist” rather than “buy now.”

  • Many merchants (even shoppers) get confused when eCommerce site they use do not have a clear distinction between adding an item to a wishlist and adding an item to their cart for purchase. I have seen many sites that allow shoppers to add items to their cart and then from the cart to a wishlist. This, in my opinion is the wrong way to do things. I think it is far better to have two separate options for shoppers when viewing the product page or similar pages with checkout options on them. Instead, use a distinct add to cart button and somewhere near it have another option for shoppers who would rather add the item to a wishlist.

    Add to Wishlist - BarnesandNoble.com

    I recommend making the add to wishlist link or button less obvious, but in a place where shoppers still look. It is also a good idea to have the wishlist contents displayed somewhere on the site from each page. Many sites use a space below the shopping cart content since customers will generally look there for items they have added to either their cart or wishlist. If you keep the wishlist contents next to the cart contents, make sure there is a clear distinction between the two areas either by changing background color or adding appropriate wording above each. By making a clear distinction between purchase options and wishlist options you are effectively making your site more usable which will help increase conversions, increase registered users, increase repeat buyers and first time orders.

14. Make sure shoppers can easily see the items in their cart or wishlist and that they appear above the fold rather than another page.

  • We have already discussed why you need to separate wishlist contents from cart contents and we briefly brushed on keeping cart contents accessible, but we haven’t discussed sites that keep cart contents on their own pages. Some eCommerce sites only display the content of a shoppers’ cart on a separate page altogether rather than on the sidebar or up towards the top right are of the header section. In my opinion, it is wrong to keep cart contents on page that has to be navigated to each time a shopper wants to see whats in their cart and what the total purchase amount is. It is still OK to have a page that they can navigate to if they choose to, but the idea is to make the checkout and buying process simple and easy.

    Easy to See Cart - Petco.com

    If you keep cart content somewhere in the sidebar or near the top right of your pages, you are taking away extra steps in the checkout process and make it easier for shoppers to move throughout the site and keep track of items and order totals the whole time. It is not a good idea to just add the cart contents anywhere, it should be displayed above the fold on each page rather than making the shopper scroll down to view it. By keeping cart and wishlist contents above the fold and displaying it on every page rather than a separate page that shoppers have to navigate to, you are effectively making your site more usable. It can help to increase conversions, increase sales, raises order amounts and even helps shoppers get through the checkout process more efficiently.

15. Keep important page elements like update cart, display refinements and cross sell items within reach and easy to spot.

  • The most important elements like cart contents, contact information, wishlists and add to cart buttons should all be on your checkout pages and should be in areas on the page that are within shoppers reach and easy for them to spot (near the header or above the fold on the sidebar). A few of the other important elements on a checkout page may include an update cart feature, product or catalog display refinements and group or cross sell items. All of these elements are things that shoppers may need or want to see before entering the checkout process or before completing their order.

    Easy to See Refinements - Petco.com

    Generally, you will see all of these items above the fold on checkout pages, but they can be anywhere as long as they are within reach and you make shoppers aware that they are available if they need them. Keeping these items within reach also assures shoppers that they can use them anytime and makes it easier for them to add similar items to the cart, update it and proceed to the next step. By keeping other important elements such as update cart features, cart refinements and cross sell items on the page within reach and easy to spot you are effectively making your store more usable. It can help to increase conversions, overall sales, raise order amounts and even helps to retain more loyal shoppers.

16. Show the price of the item, amount saved and any applicable shipping or taxes as early in the process as possible.

  • Some eCommerce stores, like wholesale sites, choose not to show prices of their items, but generally all other eCommerce sellers should make an effort to display product or item prices, applicable taxes, any money saved and cost of shipping as early in the buying process as possible. Shoppers want to see how much they are spending and what their total is up to after each item is added to a cart. Online shoppers are usually looking for a deal, are on a budget and have searched other sites before entering yours.

    Saved On Item - Petco.comShipping Information - Petco.com

    They want to know what they are up to, what they are getting charged for shipping and any amount they have saved along the way. eCommerce merchants should make an effort to put into place the proper tools so that their shoppers can easily spot the order total, shipping calculations and any taxes that may be charged during their order. By keeping an easy to view cart contents area on your site you are effectively making your store more usable. It will reduce cart abandonment, makes for good customer service and may even help to increase overall orders or sales.

17. Show stock and availability of products as early as possible within the checkout and order process.

  • As we stated previously with order totals and shipping amounts, it’s also a good idea to show product inventory and item availability as early in the buying process as possible. The best place, in my opinion is on the individual product pages, before the shopper adds the item to their cart. Many merchants choose to make their inventory visible to shoppers upon entering the site or within product descriptions and from category pages. No matter which areas of your site you choose to display stock and availability, be sure it is before the checkout process.

    Item In Stock

    As long as the inventory is available before the shopper adds the product to checkout, you are effectively making your store more usable. If the inventory appears after the item has been added, you’ll find that you get more abandoned carts and more calls into your customer service line inquiring about product availability. Showing stock and availability as early in buying process as possible should help reduce abandoned carts and will make the job of customer service easier in the long run.

18. Keep security badges, trust certificates and an updated SSL certificate in place so shoppers can tell your site is secure.

  • It is important to portray to your shoppers that they are buying from a secure store and that you make an effort to protect their privacy, personal information, billing information and any other private information shared during a transaction. Many eCommerce merchants use security badges and trust certificates from places like Hacker Safe, VeriSign or STruste to show shoppers that they are buying from a secure store or brand. It is also necessary to have an updated SSL certificate so the appropriate “lock icon” appears in the lower right hand corner of shoppers’ browsers when they enter a secure section of your store or a secure checkout page.

    Secure Badge Trust Certificate - Woolrich.com

    Many merchants choose SSL certificates from places like GeoTrust, VeriSign, Network Solutions or DigiCert. By implementing the appropriate security badges trust certificates, SSL certificate and any other applicable privacy, store or checkout policies you are effectively making your store more usable. Implementing badges and certificates should help to reduce cart abandonment and may even help to increase overall orders or store sales.

19. Offer a variety of payment and shipping options so shoppers can pick the one they have an account with or most often use.

  • Many eCommerce merchants have found that shoppers will hesitate to checkout when buying from certain stores that do not offer the customers payment method or shipping method of choice. Shoppers are picky and some of them will only use certain payment methods or shipping companies when making purchases online. I know people who prefer PayPal over their credit card and vice versa. Likewise, i know others who can only accept shipments at thier location from UPS or USPS and not FedEx.

    Multiple Payment Shipping Methods Accepted

    It would be a shame to loose out on sales simply due to not offering a variety of options to your shoppers that is why many of the most successful eTailers use numerous payment methods (Credit, PayPal, Google Checkout, eCheck, Bill Me Later) and a variety of shipping options (USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHS). By offering a variety of options for shoppers to use when buying you are effectively making your store more usable. Having a variety of payment and shipping options will help to increase overall sales, average order amounts and may even help to reduce cart abandonment rates (since many shoppers will leave the cart once they notice you do not offer their method of choice).

20. Include as many of the important order details as possible within a checkout confirmation page and confirmation email.

  • If you have ever purchased something online, you know how important it is to get the details of your order emailed or confirmed to you right away upon completing a purchase. This is why many merchants choose to include all important order details and confirmation information at the end of the checkout process within a checkout confirmation page and accompanying order confirmation email. The information in the confirmation page and email should tell the customer everything they could ever want to know about the order they just made. The most important thing to include is a shipping tracking number or date of expected delivery, but it should also include things like their address, payment type, shipping method, item details or price, itemized tax or discounts and anything else you find yourself having to answer for customers after orders are complete.

    Google Checkout Confirmation

    This is a huge time saver and will decrease the volume of calls to your support staff and at the same time will create a pleasant buying experience for the customer. By including as many of the important order details as possible within a checkout or email confirmation you are effectively making your store more usable. It will help by creating a more friendly experience for your customer, answers any questions they may have about the order and will generally help reduce the volum of calls you receive after orders are complete.

21. Test different combinations of best practices to see which ones produce the best results for your store and shopping cart.

  • So far we have covered 20 eCommerce and shopping cart usability best practices. There are many more things that can be done to improve specific processes within any eCommerce store, however I believe that these 20 best practices are the most commonly discussed and/or used within different merchant strategies today. It is nearly impossible for smaller merchants to implement all of these best practices and it is not always necessary to use everything on this list. I have found that by using a few of these main rules and by testing different combinations of each best practice that a good majority of merchants are able to find something that works well for them and is capable of improving how their stores perform. Use different strategies and tools to test how changing things within your store effect how shoppers interact while using it.

    Google Website Optimizer

    Almost all merchants who use these best practices are surprised to find that sometimes even the smallest changes can dramatically effect how their stores perform. If you don’t use them you will never know, so test all these things out and find out the best combination of usability rules for you. By testing different strategies and making the most out of your store you are effectively making it more usable. It will increase and benefit the store across the board, including sales, orders and shopper/customer satisfaction.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts:

If followed, these best practices will help improve many of the most common processes and issues faced by online sellers and improve things like cart abandonment, sales, orders, customer service, branding, trust and much more. I find that many eCommerce stores I buy from are lacking the majority of the best practice rules discussed in this article. I think these rules will make a better experience for everyone from manufacturers and merchants to shoppers and customer service agents. It also helps establish a new best practice strategy for other merchants to follow for years to come. We all help each other do better by sharing what works and what doesn’t, these are just 21 of the things that I have found that work great for nearly any type of eCommerce seller.


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