July 31, 2009, 12:00 AM

With consumers weighing purchases carefully, e-retailers prioritize making it easy for them to pay

With the economy continuing to lag, merchants are focusing on improving the online shopping cart as a way to capture as many as possible of the dollars consumers do have to spend, a new study says.

There are many places on an e-commerce site e-retailers can finesse to improve the shopping experience, aiming to boost sales. With the economy continuing to lag, merchants are focusing on improving the shopping cart as a way to capture as many as possible of the dollars consumers do have to spend, a new survey shows.

79% of the retailers surveyed say they plan to enhance checkout processes, topping retailers’ list of planned improvements for the rest of the year, according to the recently released survey in the second of three installments of the “State of Online Retailing 2009” report from Forrester Research Inc. and the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org.

90% of medium-sized retailers, defined as those with annual sales of $10 million to $100 million, identified checkout as their top priority, as did 83% of web-based retailers. The 117 retailers surveyed for this installment, which focused on merchandising strategy, also said they planned to emphasize image enhancement on product detail pages, as well as site search to help shoppers find what they want faster.

One step ahead

“In today’s economy, retailers need to be one step ahead, especially when it comes to attracting shoppers who have money to spend,” says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. “Companies are investing in their web site to set them apart from their competition and make the shopping experience informative, efficient and fun.”

To improve the checkout process, most retailers said they’d increase transparency around shipping charges to reduce cart abandonment. 88% said they plan to provide more information on shipping on their sites this year. 67% said they’d place more emphasis on exposing the cost of an order, including shipping charges, prior to checkout.

Improving the information available to shoppers on product detail pages also was top of mind among e-retailers, with 50% saying that they’ll add alternative images of products and 31% saying they plan to add zoom, color or fabric swatches this year. 60% already use customer ratings and reviews on product detail pages, and 55% plan to increase their site’s emphasis on ratings and reviews this year. 34% said they’ll incorporate automated recommendation tools from third parties.

Many of the retailers surveyed also plan to tune up site search this year, with 73% planning to add functionality that will allow shoppers to refine search by choosing among multiple attributes. 41% said they are considering using a different search engine on their site.

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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