The Order Process Tested


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Topic: The Order Process – How can you increase your sales by improving your completed sales ratio?

In the September Edition of the Journal, we posed a thought-provoking question:

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.

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

More pointedly, we focused on 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?

You can view the full experiment here.

So what have we learned since this report was published?

In the final paragraphs of Section 1, we reported that we were able to increase the completed sales ratio for MERCHANT C by 18%. We accomplished this fairly significant improvement in just 20 minutes (by adding a single form field).

Recently, we found yet another way to improve MERCHANT C’s performance. We discovered a critical flaw in their iBILL interface.

If you are an international customer trying to make a purchase through iBILL, you will be asked to select your country from a dropdown menu.

These are options; can you detect what is wrong with this list?

<“AE”>United Arab Emirates
<” AF”>Afghanistan
<” AG”>Antigua And Barbuda
<” AI”>Anguilla
<” AL”>Albania
<” AM”>Armenia
<” AN”>Netherlands Antilles
<” AO”>Angola
<” AQ”>Antarctica
<” AR”>Argentina
<” AS”>American Samoa
<” AT”>Austria
<” AU”>Australia
<” AW”>Aruba
<” AZ”>Azerbaijan
<” BA”>Bosnia And Herzegovina
<” BB”>Barbados
<” BD”>Bangladesh
<” BE”>Belgium
<” BF”>Burkina Faso
<” BG”>Bulgaria
<” BH”>Bahrain
<” BI”>Burundi
<” BJ”>Benin
<” BM”>Bermuda
<” BN”>Brunei Darussalam
<” BO”>Bolivia
<” BR”>Brazil
<” BS”>Bahamas
<” BT”>Bhutan
<” BV”>Bouvet Island
<” BW”>Botswana
<” BY”>Belarus
<” BZ”>Belize
<” CA”>Canada
<” CC”>Cocos Keeling Islands
<” CD”>Congo, D.P.R
<” CF”>Central African Republic
<” CG”>Congo
<” CH”>Switzerland
<” CI”>Côte D`ivoire
<” CK”>Cook Islands
<” CL”>Chile
<” CM”>Cameroon
<” CN”>China
<” CO”>Colombia
<” CR”>Costa Rica
<” CU”>Cuba
<” CV”>Cape Verde
<” CX”>Christmas Island
<” CY”>Cyprus
<” CZ”>Czech Republic
<” DE”>Germany
<” DJ”>Djibouti
<” DK”>Denmark
<” DM”>Dominica
<” DO”>Dominican Republic
<” DZ”>Algeria
<” EC”>Ecuador
<” EE”>Estonia
<” EG”>Egypt
<” EH”>Western Sahara
<” ER”>Eritrea
<” ES”>Spain
<” ET”>Ethiopia
<” FI”>Finland
<” FJ”>Fiji
<” FK”>Falkland Islands Malvinas
<” FM”>Micronesia
<” FO”>Faroe Islands
<” FR”>France
<” GA”>Gabon
<” GB”>United Kingdom
<” GD”>Grenada
<” GE”>Georgia
<” GF”>French Guiana
<” GH”>Ghana
<” GI”>Gibraltar
<” GL”>Greenland
<” GM”>Gambia
<” GN”>Guinea
<” GP”>Guadeloupe
<” GQ”>Equatorial Guinea
<” GR”>Greece
<” GS”>South Georgia/Sandwich Islands
<” GT”>Guatemala
<” GU”>Guam
<” GW”>Guinea-bissau
<” GY”>Guyana
<” HK”>Hong Kong
<” HM”>Heard And McDonald Islands
<” HN”>Honduras
<” HR”>Croatia
<” HT”>Haiti
<” HU”>Hungary
<” ID”>Indonesia
<” IE”>Ireland
<” IL”>Israel
<” IN”>India
<” IO”>British Indian Ocean Territory
<” IQ”>Iraq
<” IR”>Iran, Islamic Republic Of
<” IS”>Iceland
<” IT”>Italy
<” JM”>Jamaica
<” JO”>Jordan
<” JP”>Japan
<” KE”>Kenya
<” KG”>Kyrgyzstan
<” KH”>Cambodia
<” KI”>Kiribati
<” KM”>Comoros
<” KN”>Saint Kitts And Nevis
<” KP”>Korea, D.P.R.
<” KR”>Korea, Republic Of
<” KW”>Kuwait
<” KY”>Cayman Islands
<” KZ”>Kazakstan
<” LA”>Lao
<” LB”>Lebanon
<” LC”>Saint Lucia
<” LI”>Liechtenstein
<” LK”>Sri Lanka
<” LR”>Liberia
<” LS”>Lesotho
<” LT”>Lithuania
<” LU”>Luxembourg
<” LV”>Latvia
<” LY”>Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
<” MA”>Morocco
<” MC”>Monaco
<” MD”>Moldova, Republic Of
<” MG”>Madagascar
<” MH”>Marshall Islands
<” MK”>Macedonia
<” ML”>Mali
<” MM”>Myanmar
<” MN”>Mongolia
<” MO”>Macau
<” MP”>Northern Mariana Islands
<” MQ”>Martinique
<” MR”>Mauritania
<” MS”>Montserrat
<” MT”>Malta
<” MU”>Mauritius
<” MV”>Maldives
<” MW”>Malawi
<” MX”>Mexico
<” MY”>Malaysia
<” MZ”>Mozambique
<” NA”>Namibia
<” NC”>New Caledonia
<” NE”>Niger
<” NF”>Norfolk Island
<” NG”>Nigeria
<” NI”>Nicaragua
<” NL”>Netherlands
<” NO”>Norway
<” NP”>Nepal
<” NR”>Nauru
<” NU”>Niue
<” NZ”>New Zealand
<” OM”>Oman
<” PA”>Panama
<” PE”>Peru
<” PF”>French Polynesia
<” PG”>Papua New Guinea
<” PH”>Philippines
<” PK”>Pakistan
<” PL”>Poland
<” PM”>Saint Pierre And Miquelon
<” PN”>Pitcairn
<” PR”>Puerto Rico
<” PS”>Palestine
<” PT”>Portugal
<” PW”>Palau
<” PY”>Paraguay
<” QA”>Qatar
<” RE”>Réunion
<” RO”>Romania
<” RU”>Russian Federation
<” RW”>Rwanda
<” SA”>Saudi Arabia
<” SB”>Solomon Islands
<” SC”>Seychelles
<” SD”>Sudan
<” SE”>Sweden
<” SG”>Singapore
<” SH”>Saint Helena
<” SI”>Slovenia
<” SJ”>Svalbard And Jan Mayen
<” SK”>Slovakia
<” SL”>Sierra Leone
<” SM”>San Marino
<” SN”>Senegal
<” SO”>Somalia
<” SR”>Suriname
<” ST”>Sao Tome And Principe
<” SV”>El Salvador
<” SY”>Syrian Arab Republic
<” SZ”>Swaziland
<” TC”>Turks And Caicos Islands
<” TD”>Chad
<” TF”>French Southern Territories
<” TG”>Togo
<” TH”>Thailand
<” TJ”>Tajikistan
<” TK”>Tokelau
<” TM”>Turkmenistan
<” TN”>Tunisia
<” TO”>Tonga
<” TP”>East Timor
<” TR”>Turkey
<” TT”>Trinidad And Tobago
<” TV”>Tuvalu
<” TW”>Taiwan
<” TZ”>Tanzania, United Republic Of
<” UA”>Ukraine
<” UG”>Uganda
<” UM”>US Minor Outlying Islands
<” US”>United States
<” UY”>Uruguay
<” UZ”>Uzbekistan
<” VA”>Vatican City
<” VC”>St Vincent/Grenadines
<” VE”>Venezuela
<” VG”>Virgin Islands, British
<” VI”>Virgin Islands, U.S.
<” VN”>Vietnam
<” VU”>Vanuatu
<” WF”>Wallis And Futuna
<” WS”>Samoa
<” YE”>Yemen
<” YT”>Mayotte
<” YU”>Yugoslavia
<” ZA”>South Africa
<” ZM”>Zambia
<” ZW”>Zimbabwe

The list is NOT in alphabetical order and worse — at some points, it appears as though it were. International customers must scroll through this ponderous mix of 238 names; if they don’t immediately see their country in the pseudo-alphabetical list, they may conclude that it is not there at all. Consequently, they abandon the cart.

We contacted iBILL regarding this problem and we sent them a copy of the study. They promised to alphabetize the list immediately — That was nearly two months ago, and there have been no changes. (*1)

How did we discover this error?

In Section 2 of the previous report, we outlined 28 ways to improve your order process. Here is a quote:


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 (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.

___________________End Quote

By applying IMPROVEMENT 1, we were able to detect a problem with international purchases. We actually telephoned the customers, and they explained their confusion.

This kind of careful attention to the order process can truly impact your revenue. It has much more significant return than a corresponding increase in traffic.

How does an improvement in the completed sales ratio improve your bottom line?

Consider these stats for a hypothetical web store:
Unique Visits 100,000
Cost per Visit $0.50
Conversion Ratio 1%
Value of Customer $100
Completed Sales 1000
Gross Revenue $100,000
Campaign Costs $50,000
Cost per Customer $50*
Gross Yield $50,000
How does increasing the number of unique visits (by 30%) improve the site’s performance?
Unique Visits 130,000
Cost per Visit .50
Conversion Ratio 1%
Value of Customer $100
Completed Sales 1300
Gross Revenue $130,000
Campaign Costs $65,000
Cost per Customer $50*
Gross Yield $65,000
Now, how does increasing the number of completed sales improve the site’s performance?
Unique Visits 100,000
Cost per Visit .50
Conversion Ratio 1.3%
Value of Customer $100
Completed Sales 1300
Gross Revenue $130,000
Campaign Costs $50,000
Cost per Customer $38*
Gross Yield $80,000

What you need to UNDERSTAND: Increasing the unique visits by 30% resulted in a gross yield of $65,000. But increasing the completed orders by 30% resulted in a gross yield of $80,000.

In this example, a merchant who increased their completed orders by 30% would make TWICE as much money as he would if he increased his unique visits by 30%.

The moral of the story? Get your order process as efficient as possible.

What are some other ways to improve the order process?

In Section 2 of our report on the order process, we offered 28 ways to reduce your shopping cart abandonment ratio. Here are four additional observations offered by one of our readers:


Hello Flint,

After reading your newsletter this morning I purchased your MarketingExperiments.Com membership (Lab Pass) and wanted to complement you on your latest report, “The Order Process – How can you increase your sales by improving your completed sales ratio?”

I’m the president of AIS Media, Inc., an Atlanta-based Internet development company. In addition to the excellent points you’ve made, there are several additional items we have found:

  1. A link to the actual product should be provided in the shopping cart. Customers don’t only use online shopping carts to select products they intend to purchase but often as a “holding bin” for products that catch their interest. Therefore, during checkout, it’s important to make it easy for the customer to be able to review the products in the art, add items, delete items and update the cart. A good example is
  2. Another point that has less to do with the actual form but is absolutely critical is server response. I can attest to this one personally. This weekend I became very frustrated trying to place an order with an online retailer. With 8 items in the cart, it took 5-7 seconds to move between the cart and product pages as I was reviewing my order. After several errors, I gave up.
  3. I would also like to add to the point you made about shipping. It’s certainly true that customers will be deterred by high shipping costs. An equal deterrent is time. Nobody wants to wait three weeks to receive his or her order. We’ve all had at least one bad experience after placing an order (via mail-order or online) when we expected the product within a few days and day after day we checked the mailbox and… nothing. And if the website does not specify that the product will be shipped within a certain timeframe, many customers will assume a long waiting period and therefore may not order at all.
  4. I could go on but one final point I’d like to make relates to error messages. Obviously, anything that could confuse a customer during the order process should be avoided. However, some errors are related to the browser. When placing my order on your site, I found the process to be easy and straightforward. Then this message popped up (I use IE 5.0):

    “This page contains both secure and no secure items. Do you want to display the no secure items?”

Being Internet savvy, I’ve seen this message before and was not alarmed. Other customers may feel differently.

I welcome any comments or feedback you may have.


Tom Harpointner

___________________End Quote

Here is an example of an exceptional order form for an online service. It was prepared by Marty Foley. We recommended this example in the previous report, but Marty has improved it, yet again, in at least 5 ways:

  1. He has added color to direct the eyepath.
  2. He has added key (logo) graphics to increase the shoppers feeling of safety.
  3. He has added help popup windows.
  4. He has made the zip code field optional.

You can check it out here.

(*1) If use the iBill service, we recommend you contact them regarding this problem. It is probably costing you money.

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