Think about the eCommerce innovations of the last fifteen years that have had the most impact: one-click checkouts, single-page checkouts, social media eCommerce, eCommerce chatbots, voice ordering with smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo.
What do they have common? It’s not that they use hyped new technologies or introduce radically original shopping paradigms, although many do. Instead, innovations in eCommerce are all about making it easier to buy.
Friction is a jargon word that means “frustrating to use.” It represents the ways in which an eCommerce store can make a shopping trip less pleasant than it could be.
A store with a lot of friction is frustrating for shoppers to interact with. Friction is correlated with reduced revenue. To state the obvious, customers are less likely to complete a purchase if you present them with a challenging experience or ask too much of them.
But let’s talk
specifics. What effects can eCommerce merchants expect to observe on a
Reduced sales. The ultimate consequence of high-friction stores is that people buy less. The amount of friction they’re willing to put up with is a function of the desirability of the product. For a highly desirable product — an in-demand pair of sneakers, for instance — shoppers are prepared to put up with a lot of hassle.
The same is true of products that are rare. But for the normally desirable and available products that many retailers sell, friction kills the desire to buy. Shoppers know they can buy an alternative or shop elsewhere. They’re also less amenable to cross-selling and up-selling.
Fewer return customers. Return customers are more cost-effective than new customers, who represent a considerable marketing investment. It has been shown that stores with more return customers are more profitable.
Customer loyalty makes a real difference to the bottom line. But a high-friction store with a poor user experience cannot expect customers to be loyal. The marketing team may be able to get customers to the store, but one bad experience can dissuade them from returning in the future.
Smaller carts. A fast and well-designed eCommerce store is a pleasure to use. A pleasant shopping experience encourages users to browse, to follow suggested product recommendations, and to engage with the site.
In contrast, a frustrating shopping experience will, at best, encourage shoppers to finish their session as quickly as possible. They buy only what they need and are closed to serendipitous encounters with compelling products they didn’t know they wanted — and those impulse buys are what makes for a healthy eCommerce bottom line.
Friction On eCommerce Stores
We’ve discussed the
effects of friction. They can be summed up in a couple of words: less money.
Now let’s turn to the causes of eCommerce friction and some possible solutions.
Poor performance is probably the leading cause of eCommerce friction, especially for shoppers using mobile devices. Poor performance manifests itself in slow-loading pages and excessive latency on interactive elements, including the shopping cart and checkout interface. Shoppers have become less tolerant of slow stores over time. Large online retailers, including Amazon, have invested heavily in performance, creating fast and responsive experiences. Smaller stores that don’t provide an equivalent experience are at a disadvantage.
Web performance is a
complex topic, but tackling the low-hanging fruit should be a priority.
- Web hosting. An eCommerce store with
inadequate disk space, bandwidth, memory, and processing power is slow under
load. If your store is slow, consider upgrading to a more powerful hosting solution
or migrating to a more capable hosting provider.
- Reduce page weight. Larger pages take longer to
download. Reduce page weight by optimizing images and removing unnecessary
Google PageSpeed Insights to reveal opportunities for optimization.
- Implement caching. Caching reduces the load on
your eCommerce store by serving pre-generated content were possible. All
leading eCommerce applications, including Magento and WooCommerce, include
caching and can take advantage of advanced caching extensions.
- Use a content distribution network (CDN). A content
distribution network uploads a store’s static assets, including images and
scripts, to servers around the world. The assets are then served from the
nearest CDN server to the shopper, reducing latency and the load on a store’s
shopping, but no one enjoys the process of checking out when it involves
filling in multi-page forms. Convoluted checkout processes cause abandoned
carts and discourage first-time visitors from returning.
- Shorter is better. With the expiry of Amazon’s
one-click patent, every eCommerce store can offer one-click checkouts for
logged-in users. Plugins exist for most eCommerce applications, including WooCommerce, and
Magento provides the built-in Instant Purchase
- Social logins can also reduce the amount of
time it takes for shoppers to complete their purchase. Social logins leverage
single sign-on systems from Google, Facebook, and others to provide a quick and
easy registration and authentication process. As a bonus, they also provide
retailers with rich information about their customers.
In addition to refining on-site checkouts, retailers might also consider off-site sales strategies, including sales via social media networks and instant chat, both of which can reduce the complexity of sales interactions.
Quality Copy and Images
If you think of your store as a sales funnel, a journey with the checkout as its destination, on-page content is responsible for moving shoppers to the next stage of that journey. Shoppers need relevant and information-rich images, video, and sales copy to make informed decisions. Poor quality content is confusing. It creates uncertainty. An uncertain shopper is less likely to make a purchase.
Many eCommerce retailers I have spoken to see on-page content as an afterthought. They prioritize offsite marketing content and design, neglecting on-page content. That’s a mistake. Site content can make an enormous difference to a store’s conversion rate.
There is no simple solution for creating world-class sales content. If you don’t have a flair for writing, hire someone who does. A professional copywriter can bring sales
Sam Makad is a business consultant. He helps small & medium enterprises to grow their businesses and overall ROI. You can follow Sam on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.