Window shopping

Jun 01, 2005 9:30 PM  By

Delays are frustrating, and none more so than those of the shopper who dithers for weeks before buying or walking away empty-handed. This “just looking” behavior is highly prevalent on the Web, according to a new report, “A New Era of Digital Window Shopping,” published by security auditing company ScanAlert. Retail sales data gathered from more than 130 companies between June 2004 and March 2005 reveals that the average consumer took just 19 hours to make a purchase after a first visit to a Website. Thirty-five percent of shoppers took more than 12 hours to buy; 21% dawdled for more than three days, with 14% of this supercautious group taking more than a week to decide where to buy.

One of the reasons for this lengthy window shopping, notes ScanAlert CEO Ken Leonard, is that online shoppers have learned to use shopping carts for comparison shopping, clicking in and out of a number of sites and abandoning carts at whim. They do, however, return to buy from the site that scores the highest on four main criteria:

Price and availability

Is the product exactly what is desired? Is it the model/color/design preferred? What are the added shipping costs? How does the total item price compare to that on other Websites?

Safety and trust

Can the company be trusted? Will it send the product quickly — or at all? Will the firm take care of any returns or warranty problems, and will credit-card and other personal information be safe on the site?

Shoppers are also more likely to purchase something when they see security certification marks or seals on sites. In an A/B-split test, says ScanAlert, the conversion rate increased 14% for consumers who saw its certification mark. Consumers who take the longest time to make a decision are also the most concerned about Website security: ScanAlert’s certification mark netted up to 20% higher conversion rates for shoppers who delayed their purchases for more than three days.

Based on these results, Leonard offers two key recommendations for converting shoppers into buyers. The first and most important strategy, he says, is to create a “comfort zone” for comparison shoppers. Since the survey data show a strong correlation between risk aversion and time spent considering or researching a purchase, merchants should emphasize site security and address privacy issues in a prominent place on every page. This will increase the likelihood of cautious shoppers returning to make a purchase.

The second tactic is a more unusual one. Leonard says it is essential to shift the sales focus from shopping cart abandonment (a longstanding problem, with 50% or more of online carts abandoned) to site abandonment. Shoppers tend to use the add-to-cart function as part of their comparison shopping strategy — they simply abandon the cart when they move on to the next comparison opportunity. To encourage shoppers to return and buy, online merchants must convert carts into convenient shopping tools. One way to do this is by creating a saved-search function whereby returning purchasers can easily pick up where they left off.