February 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

Taking Their Time

ScanAlert CEO Ken Leonard tells why it’s not shopping cart abandonment, it’s comparison shopping

One of the more overlooked elements of online purchasing behavior is the use of the Internet for window shopping. These days, online consumers aren`t in any rush to click the Buy button. Instead, they spend days digitally window-shopping before making a purchase, abandoning shopping carts with an ease that frustrates and often confuses online retailers.

Much of the observed increase in shopping cart abandonment over the past two years can be attributed to the increase in comparison shopping. As shoppers learn to use shopping carts as a comparison shopping tool, abandonment becomes a natural characteristic of electronic window shopping. Web site operators need to concentrate on addressing the factors that win back potential customers who have come and gone without buying. This, of course, has implications for how web sites can be better designed to accommodate digital window shopping, and how well those designs influence a visitor`s original buy decision.

How consumers buy

With the ability to window shop at hundreds of stores online, today`s tech-savvy shopper is quickly learning how to locate the best value. Using the Internet as a vast catalog of catalogs, shoppers typically visit as many shops as they can easily find.

The number of sites visited generally depends on availability and price. Cheaper commodity products like MP3 players and music CDs are easily found, while expensive items like jewelry require greater care in making a buy decision. At each site shoppers typically load the same or similar items into the shopping cart as a convenient way to compare total costs, including that important shipping charge.

Shoppers then return to buy at the site that scores the highest in two basic categories:

1. Price and Availability

  • Do they have the exact product I want? Is it the model/color/design I prefer?
  • What are the added shipping costs?
  • How does the total price compare to other sites?

2. Safety and Trust

  • Do I trust this company? Will they send me the product quickly-or at all?
  • Will they honor any returns or warrantee problems?
  • Do I feel more secure giving my credit card and personal information to this site?

"The path the online purchaser follows is not as simple as people think, even on a site that sells products as unique as ours," says Kevin Beresford, president and CEO of Shari`s Berries. "Understanding all the factors upon which a shopper draws maximizes all of the investment in site design, e-mail campaigns, search engine optimization and online advertising."

Window shopping

The time delay between initial visit and actual purchase measured in hundreds of surveys conducted by ScanAlert, involving the behavior of over 7 million online shoppers, reveals that consumers do a great deal of shopping research before deciding where to buy.

This digital window shopping activity is clearly highlighted in sales data gathered between June 2004 and January 2005 by retailers such as GSI Commerce, Ritz Camera, Tiger Direct, Shari`s Berries and other less well known web sites. The data were gathered as part of A/B split tests each retailer conducted to determine the effects of ScanAlert`s HACKER SAFE certification mark on increasing sales conversion.

Based on aggregate totals from these studies, the average time delay between a consumer`s first visit to a web site and that consumer`s first purchase was just over 19 hours. 35% of shoppers took more than 12 hours to make a buy decision. 21% took more than three days. A full 14%, whom we dubbed "cautious shoppers," took more than a week to decide where to buy.

"Clearly, these results indicate online shopping behavior is becoming more sophisticated, making selling online more and more complex as e-commerce goes mainstream," says Joe Romello, vice president of technology solutions at e-commerce services provider GSI Commerce Inc.

The increasing length of time from initial visit to actual purchase shows that consumers do a great deal of shopping research before deciding where to buy. The largest influencers of this time delay that we were able to clearly identify were competitive scope of product, followed by purchase price.

Other factors which clearly cause time delays include customer age demographics, overall brand recognition, and the number of competitors online. In particular, the data suggest that shopping cart abandonment is actually a habitual part of many consumers` shopping behavior. Shopping carts are regularly loaded and abandoned for up to several days prior to purchasing.

The data also show that shoppers spending the longest time shopping are also the most concerned about the safety and security of the sites where they shop, with ScanAlert`s trust mark providing up to 20% higher conversion rates for customers who delay their purchase for more than three days.

Recommendations

With the ability to quickly comparison shop, online retailing is far more competitive than in the brick-and-mortar world. ScanAlert`s findings regarding shopping behavior point to both motivators and barriers to online shopping. They clearly indicate that for those who comparison shop the most, trust factors can act as strong motivators when present. Conversely, they can also be strong barriers when absent. Contrary to the popular notion, these elements can be the deciding factor for a large portion of shoppers. As cautious shoppers are more worried about online shopping security, they are thus more responsive to the appearance of security trustmarks on sites.

Two other key recommendations for converting shoppers into buyers include:

Create a comfort zone for comparison shoppers. With more online experience and more search tools making comparison shopping more common, concerns about the security of private information, such as credit cards, have a greater impact on the growing population of cautious comparison shoppers.

ScanAlert`s survey data show a strong correlation between risk aversion and time spent considering or researching a purchase. To alleviate these concerns, elements creating a comfort zone must be memorable. Online merchants should make it easy for window shoppers to have a positive experience where safety and security are emphasized. This will actively address window shoppers` concerns, increasing the likelihood that they will return to make a purchase.

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