The Order Process Tested

How can you increase your sales by improving your completed sales ratio? | Section 1 (Research)


Test Number: #090501-SD

Word Count: 3300+

Focus: 17 Questions

  1. What percentage of sales are we losing in the order process?
  2. What is happening to these “almost buyers” after they abandon the shopping cart?
  3. Why are we losing so many potential buyers?
  4. What percentage of sales are we losing due to payment processing errors?
  5. Why are so many credit card transactions declined?
  6. Which payment processing errors are the most common?
  7. Is it really possible to improve our completed sales ratio or are these problems due to factors that are mostly beyond our control?
  8. What are the 9 principles of an effective order process?
  9. How can we track the customer’s buying experience?
  10. How can we avoid surprising the customer with negative information?
  11. How can we save the customer time?
  12. How can we help the customer understand?
  13. How can we give the customer options?
  14. How can we help the customer feel safe?
  15. How can we incentivize the customer to continue?
  16. How can we help the customer select everything they need?
  17. How can we help the customer solve their credit card problems?


  1. Writer – Flint McGlaughlin
  2. Contributor – Marty Foley
  3. Contributors – Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg
  4. HTML Designer – Cliff Rainer

060501-AWA – We study 600 awards sites to select and test the top performers.

Can you attract traffic by winning recognition? What does it take to win? How do you prepare your site? What is the easiest way to submit?

Editor’s Note: We are still working on this test. We will publish the results just as soon as feel that we have conclusive data.

Test Summary

We analyzed three different order processes to determine how much money we are losing due to shopping cart abandonment or credit card failure.

Test Product

We deliberately sampled a diversity of products.

MERCHANT A – Online Service with monthly hosting fee

MERCHANT B – Marketing Product with a one-time purchase ranging from $200 to $1000

MERCHANT C – Online Publication with a monthly subscriber fee

Test Costs

  1. Design Costs For Order Forms (Labor) = $3200
  2. Data Analysis (Labor) = $6000

Why would 32% of our “almost buyers” take the time to visit our site, study our offer, click on our “order” button, and begin entering their most personal data… only to, suddenly, without any apparent reason, abandon the whole process?

Every day, highly qualified, clearly motivated prospects are vanishing without a trace; it’s as if they were swallowed up in some fathomless void – A Virtual Bermuda Triangle.

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According to one research group, shopping cart abandonment is costing online merchants more than 6.5 billion dollars a year. (*1)

Is the design of our order form costing us money? Are we losing customers because of simple, easy to correct credit card errors? Can we develop an effective system for re-capturing the “almost buyers” who abandon a sales transaction?

Even a minor improvement to our completed sales ratio has a dramatic effect on the balance of our marketing numbers. It reduces our cost per customer, and it increases our yield per visit.

Before we spend more money to capture more traffic, maybe we should spend more time to capture more of our “almost buyers”.

Researchers at MarketingExperiments.Com created and/or analyzed the order process of three different web offerings. Here is what they discovered.

What percentage of sales are we losing in the order process?

Merchant A was an online service. We analyzed their numbers, over a one-month period, to determine their percentage of incomplete orders.

Total Sign-ups Started 384
Total Sign-ups Completed 268
Total Sign-ups Uncompleted 116
Uncompleted Sign-ups As A Percentage 30%

Both Andersen Consulting and Forrester Research show shopping cart abandonment rates at 25%. Jupiter Communications reports shopping cart abandonment rates at 27%; eMarketer reports the rate at 32%.

Regardless of which number you accept as the median…one thing is certain, we are losing far too many hard-won, prospects in the convoluted, tedious, often frustrating order process.

What is happening to these almost buyers after they abandon the shopping cart?

In a study released by and The NPD Group, more than 10,000 consumers were surveyed. Respondents indicated what occurred after they abandoned the shopping cart:

  • 39% did not purchase the item at all
  • 26% purchased the product from a competitor
  • 17% made their purchase offline
  • 18% returned to the site to make the purchase at a later time

Why are we losing so many potential buyers?

There are two primary reasons:

  1. Problems with the order form
  2. Problems with the payment processing system

Later in this report we examine 29 specific ways to improve your order form. But for now, let’s examine the second reason: problems with the payment processing system.

What percentage of sales are we losing due to payment processing errors?

We analyzed three months of credit card charges for Merchant B:

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Month 1 Number Amount
Total Transactions 91
Approved Transactions 63 $14,609.82
Declined Transactions 28 $4,656.00
Percentage Declined 31%
Month 2 Number Amount
Total Transactions 70
Approved Transactions 53 $9363.07
Declined Transactions 15 $2167.77
Percentage Declined 22%
Month 3 Number Amount
Total Transactions 89
Approved Transactions 64 $17,700.56
Declined Transactions 23 $1822.87
Percentage Declined 26%

Why are so many credit card transactions declined?

Here is a list of the typical error messages generated by a payment processing company:

  • 0005 (The transaction was declined without explanation by the card issuer.)
  • 0013 (The transaction amount is greater than the maximum the issuer allows.)
  • 0014 (The issuer indicates that this card is not valid.)
  • 0043 (The card has been reported stolen.)
  • 0051 (The credit limit for this account has been exceeded.)
  • 0054 (The card is expired.)
  • 1015 (The credit card number was invalid.)
  • 1511 (Duplicate transaction attempt.)
  • 1899 (Timeout waiting for host response.)
  • 2075 (Approval from the card issuer’s voice center is required to process this transaction.)

The astute marketer will track and quantify the error messages from a failed charge. These numbers can be used in two key ways:

  1. To determine problems with your order form
  2. To assist your buyer in completing the transaction

Which payment processing errors are the most common?

Transaction Declined 52%
Invalid Card Number 17%
Card Expired 17%
Server Problems 14%

This simple table is rich with insight. It is important to note that it may have been possible to save 48% of these transactions.

It is even more important to note that 14% of Merchant A’s “almost buyers” received this horrific message:

“Error Occurred During Processing. Please wait 5 minutes.”

Is it really possible to improve our completed sales ratio or are these problems due to factors that are mostly beyond our control?

With Merchant C, we implemented a simple improvement; we added a single form field. This change took less than 20 minutes.

Here is what we discovered.

Completed Sales Ratio BEFORE Improvement 68%
Completed Sales Ratio AFTER Improvement 80%
Sales Ratio Improved By This Percentage 18%

We believe that through careful attention, the completed sales ratio can be increased by 18-45%.

The next section of this report outlines, in detail, 29 ways to improve your results. It also provides customer service telephone scripts, order follow-up email templates, customer messaging javascripts, etc.

Section 2 (Continue…)

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