The Order Process Tested

How can you increase your sales by improving your completed sales ratio? | Section 2 (Analysis)


In 1937, retail visionary Sylvan Goldman invented the shopping cart. It was not an instant success. Customers were confused. Just how was a shopper supposed to use this new, state-of-the-art contraption?

Mr. Goldman was not daunted. Reacting swiftly, he hired models to demonstrate the convenience of his revolutionary “basket on wheels”.

Eventually the shopping public accepted, even appreciated, Mr. Sylvan’s contribution.

But today, some 65 years later, customers are confused again. Shopping online is supposed to be more convenient, but for many it is a frustrating, disappointing process.

How can we improve? How can we simplify the online buying experience? To answer that question we need to examine 9 key principles.

What are the 9 principles of an effective order process?

  1. Track the customer’s buying experience.
  2. Avoid surprising the customer with negative information.
  3. Help the customer understand.
  4. Save the customer time.
  5. Give the customer options.
  6. Help the customer feel safe.
  7. Incentivize the customer to continue.
  8. Help the customer select everything they need.
  9. Solve the customer’s credit card problems.

So these are the principles, but how do you apply them? We have prepared a list of 29 ways to improve your order process. We know that the average merchant cannot implement all of these ideas, but we suggest that you take time to consider each point.

How can we track the customer’s buying experience?

This is one of the MOST significant improvements you can make to the order process.

IMPROVEMENT 1: Set up a form that notifies you the moment a customer begins the order process. If possible, the form should collect the buyers contact information BEFORE allowing them to proceed.

Visit the resource section of this report to see an HTML sample from the Journal.

————————————–Sample Step 1 Form

> Step 1 of 3

A. Tell us where to email your reports:


B. Please provide customer service with your phone number. This number is used ONLY if there is a problem completing your order.


We promise to protect your privacy! See our POLICY.

Here is a brief note Regarding Customer Support:

Dear Dr. McGlaughlin:

THANK YOU! I want to tell you how much I appreciate your personal (and very timely!) attention to my problems. I have to run right now, but just wanted to tell you, immediately, how much of a difference your personal touch made to me in cementing my interest in your site/research products.

Must run,

Kerin 🙂

——————————————–End Sample

The wording of this form helps to persuade the customer to provide the requested information. It is effective because:

  1. It indicates to the length of the order process
  2. It gives the buyer a specific reason to cooperate.
  3. It promises to protect the buyer’s privacy.
  4. It reassures the customer with a note regarding the quality of customer service.

This form might be further improved by adding a “Shop with confidence message.” that is designed to resolve any latent doubts. It should emphasize the guarantee, security, return, privacy, and shipping policies.

When you notice that a customer has not completed the order, contact them immediately. This enables you to:

  1. Save the order, by assisting with credit card problems, answering questions, or helping resolve the buyer’s hesitancy.
  2. (and) Discover any errors or problems with your order process. This is invaluable information that can be used to correct your system.

Merchant C, in our test, was able to save 18% of their orders with this improvement.

But how can you approach an “almost buyer” without giving him the impression you are attempting to sell him?

Here is a sample telephone script:

——————————–Sample Telephone Script


This is _________ with customer support for We noticed that you had some difficulty completing your order. We just wanted to call and see if there is any way we can assist you…

——————————————–End Sample

Here is a sample email template:

———————————-Sample Email Template


Thanks for visiting

We noticed that you did not complete your order, and we are just curious as to what happened.

Did you change your mind, or did you experience difficulties with our system? 🙂

We’d love to hear from you. It helps us to improve our service.

Thanks for your consideration.

Customer Support For:

——————————————–End Sample

How can we avoid surprising the customer with negative information?

Negative surprises intensify customer frustration. We need to be very careful not promise anything we cannot deliver.

IMPROVEMENT 2: State any order limitations (i.e. available to U.S. customers only) early in the process.

IMPROVEMENT 3: Notify the customer of any inventory shortage before they proceed with the order.

IMPROVEMENT 4: Help the customer anticipate shipping costs. Do not surprise them with hidden or excessive charges.

Why do buyers abandon their order? 24% of the time, it is because shipping and handling costs are higher than they expected. (Stat provided by NPD Group and BizRate.Com)

IMPROVEMENT 5:Tell the customer how long it will take to complete the order.

At MEC, we have determined the average order time to be 74 seconds. We place that information beneath the order button.

How can we save the customer time?

IMPROVEMENT 6: Position the link to the cart so that it is easy to find for a customer who wants to review the items currently selected.

IMPROVEMENT 7: Minimize the number of required fields. The order form should not only be short and easy; it should “feel” short and easy.

IMPROVEMENT 8: Do not ask customers to provide information that can be automatically collected. This includes dates, or data, which can be propagated from other fields.

IMPROVEMENT 9: Remember the customer’s contact information so that subsequent orders require less manual entry.

How can we help the customer understand?

IMPROVEMENT 10: Carefully label text fields so that the user clearly understands the required information. Use terminology appropriate to your entire customer base.

For example, the term “state” is appropriate in the USA but not in Canada, where the word “province” is more suitable.

IMPROVEMENT 11: Whenever a form field is sensitive to formatting (like a cc expiration date). provide a drop-down menu.

IMPROVEMENT 12: Place extra notes and instructions near “problem” areas on your form, i.e. the cc expiration date field or the email address field.

You can find a link to an excellent example in the resource section of this report.

IMPROVEMENT 13: Use pop-up menus (judiciously) to provide extra clarification without cluttering the appearance of your form.

You can find a link to our preferred script in the resource section of this report.

IMPROVEMENT 14: Make it easy for the reader to determine which fields are required and which fields are optional.

IMPROVEMENT 15: Guide the customer’s eye-path through the form. There are at least 5 ways:

  1. Alpha/Numeric Symbols (numbering the sections)
  2. Size
  3. Shape
  4. Position
  5. Color

IMPROVEMENT 16: Help the customer correct their errors with CGI messages that are clear, simple and polite.

According to marketing expert, Marty Foley: “The quality of the error message often means the difference between a successful purchase and a failed attempt”. (*3)

Marty cites an example from eToys: (*4)

eToys’ error message creates a good customer experience for three reasons:

  1. It is written politely: “Oops! Before we can go on, please see if you can fix this.”
  2. It is communicated clearly: The message is displayed in bright red text, beside a large graphic.
  3. It is worded simply: The message clearly explains how to fix the error and continue with the purchase.

eToys could improve the message further by moving the credit card number field closer to the error message itself.

Jeffrey Eisenburg, of adds, “When composing these messages, take the blame for the error; don’t let the customer feel it was their fault.”

How can we give the customer options?

IMPROVEMENT 17: Offer multiple payment options. This means multiple credit card types; it also means multiple payment methods. i.e. electronic check, or “pay by phone”.

IMPROVEMENT 18: Offer multiple order options. i.e. web, fax, phone.

IMPROVEMENT 19: Enable the customer to change the item details in their shopping cart. Make certain that the cart automatically recalculates, tax, shipping, etc.

How can we help the customer feel safe?

IMPROVEMENT 20: Assure the customer that their information will be kept confidential.

Bryan Eisenberg, (Jeffrey’s brother) of, recommends this simple phrase: “We value your privacy.” You can read more in his article “The ABCS’s of GTC and POA”. There is a link in the resource section of this report.

CAVEAT: Be careful that you do not send the buyer away from your order page to read your privacy statement.

IMPROVEMENT 21: Use an SSL encrypted server, but be careful to design your form so as to minimize secure server warning messages.

IMPROVEMENT 22: Place credibility indicators on the order page. These include:

  1. Certifications from a sanctioning body or association i.e. the Better Business Bureau
  2. A testimonial from a customer who has had a good experience with your support team

IMPROVEMENT 23: Reassure the customer while they are waiting for their transaction to clear.

We recommend using a Javascript submit button that can generate a message. Tell the customer that their order is processing and ask them to please be patient.

You can find a link to our preferred script in the resource section of this report.

IMPROVEMENT 24: Confirm all orders immediately. You should do this in two ways:

  1. With a thank you confirmation screen
  2. With a follow-up email

IMPROVEMENT 25: Place your toll free support number on every page of the order process.

How can we incentivize the customer to continue?

IMPROVEMENT 26: Surprise the customer with a bonus that is referenced only on the order form.

It is important to recognize key leverage points in the buying process. These are the times you need to provide extra value or assurance.

Here is an example from an order form used by Marty Foley:

——————————————-Sample Incentive

New Customer Bonus: 100 Extra Subscribers

We know that a certain percentage who give List Builder a test run will be happy to use it over and over, so we’re giving away 100 free subscribers to new List Builder clients, just for trying it out. (Since this offer is just a test, we’re not sure how long it’ll last.)

If you’ve never used our List Builder service before, you can claim your 100 extra subscribers by entering the words Trial Bonus: 100 in the Promotional Code field of the web page that appears after this Order Form is submitted. (It may be a good idea to write down Trial Bonus: 100 now on a piece of paper, so you don’t forget to enter it on the next page.)

———————————————–End Sample

How can we help the customer select everything they need with their purchase?

IMPROVEMENT 27: Use the final stages of the order process to offer your buyer ancillary products. This simple connection from a present purchase to a potential purchase can increase your revenues by as much as 30%. We may dedicate a future issue to this point. (*5)

How can we solve the customer’s credit card problem?

IMPROVEMENT 28: Note the error code generated by the payment processor, and provide the customer with specific instructions for correcting the problem…

This effort can be combined with the point outlined in IMPROVEMENT 1.

Here is the list of errors referenced earlier in the report:

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.)

Here is a sample email template:

———————————-Sample Email Template


We noticed that you experienced some difficulty with your order and we have discovered a small problem with your credit card. It is easy to correct.

  1. Just click on this link:
    (Insert link to order form)
  2. Now change the…
    (Insert recommended fix).

If you have any questions, you may contact: (Insert toll free phone number)

Thanks for your trust.

Customer Support
(insert company name)

P.S. We want to say thank you for taking the extra time to complete your order. So… we’d like to offer you (insert extra incentive)

———————————————End Sample

IMPROVEMENT 29: Design your cart so that it will save an uncompleted order. If a customer fails to complete a transaction, send an email reminder with an extra incentive.

(*1) We have not been able to verify this number, or study the researchers methodology.

(*2) This number is only an estimate. Future data may help to further quantify this statement.

(*3) The editors wish to acknowledge Marty Foley for his assistance with this project. He was exceptionally helpful, providing both data and insight.

(*4) Marty is referencing data gleaned from the helpful site –

(*5) This number is only an estimate. Future data may help to further quantify this statement.

::Back to Section 1::

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