17 Ways To Minimize Friction in the Sales Process

In landing page optimization, friction describes “the psychological resistance to a given element of your sales process that causes aggravation, fatigue or confusion,” according to the Yoda-smart Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of Marketing Experiments. The goal of the “ecommerce optimizationist” (yes, a totally fabricated term) is to minimize this resistance as much as possible.

Where do customers experience friction in your sales process? Let’s examine some of the common areas:

Home Pages

1. Slow loading pages

As recent Forrester Research has shown, 2 seconds is the new acceptable perceived threshold for page load speed. Slow rendering Websites lead to lost sales online, with 40% of customers stating they would leave a site that took longer than 3 seconds to load. 79% of dissatisfied shoppers claim they are less likely to buy from the site again, and 75% would be less likely to return. Therefore, every effort to speed up your website should be taken. Services like Akamai, Strangeloop and Gomez can help you speed up your site. (Check out the Strangeloop Website Performance Tester to see how much faster your site could be after optimization).

Need more tips for speeding up your website? Check out our webinar recap of Every Second Counts: How Website Performance Impacts Shopper Behavior and Justin Palmer’s 25 Ways to Speed Up Your Website.

2. Where’s the search box?

No one should have to search for a search box. Make it easy to find. Larger search boxes tend to attract more attention, but be careful not to make them too big.

3. Too much choice

You CAN have too much of a good thing, just ask Barry Schwartz (or better yet, watch his TED talk on the paradox of choice).

Navigation Menus

4. Sidebars

We’re trained to look for navigation options in horizontal menus across the top or vertical menus along the left side. Avoid the right hand side for important links and calls to action. Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, who has conducted thousands of conversion and usability experiments, says “don’t put anything in right hand sidebars unless you don’t want [people] to see it.”

My pet-peeve on ecommerce sites is when important calls to action look like Google AdSense.

5. Tombstone navigation

Stacks of tabs reminiscent of Amazon’s “tombstone” navigation of the mid-2000′s are far less usable than the beautiful AJAX-y goodness of mega-menus.

After much user testing, Amazon ditched the tombstones for a mega-menu in 2007.

Site Search

6. Choking on synonyms and misspellings

There’s nothing more frustrating than “0 results found”

Can’t see video? Check out the original post, #4 Zero Results Found

When you return 0 results for typos and synonyms, customers assume you don’t carry it, or move on to the next site with a stronger search tool.

Category Pages

7. Not offering filtered navigation

The larger your product catalog, the more important filtered navigation is to your site’s usability. Remember that some folks are “howsers” — they’re hunter-browsers. They are hunting for something specific, but prefer to use your navigation menus than fiddle with your search box. Filtered navigation supports both howsers and traditional browsers find products that match their needs.

8. Tiny thumbnail images

When thumbnail images on category pages are too small to show detail, customers must click through to product pages to get a better look. Using AJAX hover effects solve this problem, and Quick Look tools even allow customers to view more details and add to cart without leaving the category page.

Quick Look:

Product Pages

9. Subtle add to cart buttons (or can’t read its text)

The cart button design A/B test is a common one because it’s produced positive results for so many ecommerce sites. Generally, bigger buttons with a bold color that contrasts the rest of your site design will outperform a smaller, simpler design. Conversion optimization legend Bryan Eisenberg also shared that unusual shaped cart buttons have done well for sites he’s tested.

10. Did I add to cart?

Sometimes cart updates are so subtle, the user doesn’t realize the cart has indeed been updated. I provide many examples of this in the post Continue shopping means what?”. If instead of being taken to the shopping cart page, your customer remains on the product page, you better make sure it’s very obvious when an item has been added to cart. Nine West is a great example:

11. Inappropriate cross-sells

While it’s fun to make light of cross-sells gone wrong such as a ladies wet/dry shaver with a kid’s scooter, it’s not funny when it happens on your site. Make sure you’re not just using a product recommendation tool right out of the box – you must apply rules to control what types of offers are shown with certain products.

You should also look into ways to allow customers to view your suggested product details without leaving the page he or she is viewing. Here are some tips for merchandising your product recommendations.

Cart Summary Page

12. Where does “Continue Shopping” go?

I mentioned the post Continue shopping means what?, which proposes different ways you can employ the Continue Shopping link. Depending on your product mix, dumping customers back to your home page may not be the best method (for example, if you sell cell phones and accessories, you might want to take them back to the product page that’s merchandised with accessories).

Sign Up / Registration Forms

13. Asking for too much information

The fewer the fields, the better chance the customer will complete the form. Avoid mandatory fields (marked with asterisk) that should be optional or simply excluded from your registration process.

14. Form design

Like cart buttons, it’s proven that form design influences conversion. Here’s an example of a redesign that improved form completion by 200%:

Image credit: Web Design 4 ROI
Download a sample chapter on form design and optimization from Web Design 4 ROI book

Checkout Process

15. Peel back the sticker shock

“Sticker shock,” or the addition of unexpected taxes and fees in the checkout process, is believed to be the leading cause of cart abandonment. One way to avoid this is to show pre-checkout tax and shipping based on a zipcode lookup.

Check out Justin Palmer’s guest post Losing Customers at The Register: 12 Checkout Blunders and How to Reduce Cart Abandonment: 10 No Brainers for more tips.

Landing Pages

16. Keep it stinky

The “scent” you present in your email campaigns, banner ads and paid search ads should follow through to your landing page, meaning you are using the same headline, offer, imagery and pricing.

17. Improve your 404 pages

Sending customers to a 404 page without links back to your site is like catapulting them into space:

Here’s a better way to handle the situation:

Plus, some tips for writing 404 Not Found pages.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should get you started in the right direction, as these are some of the most common forms of friction I’ve come across on ecommerce sites.

Again, it’s not possible to eliminate friction all together, and not every visitor will experience the same degree of friction on a given site. Your goal is to reduce friction as much as possible, and sometimes gut feeling isn’t enough to go on, you need to test different versions and see what converts best.

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12 Responses to “17 Ways To Minimize Friction in the Sales Process”

  1. Your screenshot example for “Did I add to cart?” was excellent!

  2. John Hyde says:

    “Continue Shopping” is a great area to test different approaches.

    Especially when the shopper is near to a free shipping threshold.

  3. Fun to see its a toy site you have as an example in #3. Another example is hobbytron.com witch also have an overwhelming number of possibilities. Is this a “web convention” on hobby/toy ecommerce sites? :) seems odd as hobbytron is by no means a small store (ranked 492 on internetretailer.com´s list of the largest ecommerce websites)

    • @Christian re: toy site. That Arngren.net really has to be seen to be believed. Worth a laugh…
      http://arngren.net/

      • just judged it from the screenshot you provided, but your right: wow that site is truly overwhelming. took ages to load.
        Considering their site the footer is especially funny: “Vi fraskriver oss ansvaret for eventuelle feil på weben” meaning “we disclaim the responsibility for any errors on this site” – how would any visitor possibly know what are errors and what are just a part of their “design” :)

  4. Very informative post! A “must read” for ecommerce webmasters.

  5. Wonderful, super-clear information as always, Linda, thanks! and thx for the shout-out to Web Design for ROI :)
    –Sandra

  6. Excellent post. Would you let me introduce it to my blog readers? They are Japanese because I’m a Japanese blogger. I’m going to translate your article into Japanese. I’m sure to give you a credit(i.e. Linking back to your homepage and this page). Thank you.

  7. I’m really impressed with this article. I’ve had it up on my computer for a few days. The screenshots of good/bad ecommerce examples really communicate the points being made.

  8. Someone has just tweeted this post, and I’m glad they did. Excellent one, Linda.

    Points #3 and #11 are hilarious!

    To your points on registration and checkout, I would also add: Mandatory Registration (for many customers it is a major friction point).

    • Agreed, Geno. Forrester Research found 23% of consumers would abandon cart if asked to register – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually higher. Even if people are registered already, most forget their username/password combos too!

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