Mystery Shop Your Site Before The Holidays

Every year Lauren Freedman and the e-tailing group conduct a Mystery Shopping Study of the top 100 online retailers. The researchers go through the process of selecting one product for ground delivery on each of the 100 sites, contact the merchant via telephone, live chat or email and return the product either in-store or on-site, depending on the options available.

You can check out the press release for the e-tailing group’s 11th Annual Mystery Shopping Study
for a number of tips and a customer service checklist that you can use as a guide when mystery shopping your own online store.

Here is my summary of the e-tailing group’s recommendations along with some of our own Get Elastic tips and comments:

Essential Features and Functionality

  • Have an 800-Number, but also display it visibly on every page of your site so the customer doesn’t have to go digging (Tip: show the 800 Number close to your add to cart button and throughout your checkout process in case there’s an issue with the order)
  • Provide an FAQ page for customer self-service (Tip: if a customer lingers on an FAQ page this is a good time to deliver a live chat prompt)
  • Show “real-time inventory” (a clear “IN STOCK” on the product page, or “ITEM NOT AVAILABLE”) (Tip: disable the add to cart button when an item is not in stock, and provide an “email me when item is back in stock” link, with estimated re-stock date if possible)
  • Show a “stepped checkout” to show the customer how far along in the process they are (Tip: Split-path test your checkout with 4 or less steps to see which has higher conversion)

I would add sending a shipping confirmation email as 100% essential, and watch the sender name!

A Cut Above The Basics

  • List customer service hours on-site
  • Stand behind your products, offer a 100% guarantee
  • Use a perpetual shopping cart (show quantity of items in the cart and display on every page of the site). (Tip: make it very obvious when the cart has been updated)
  • Recap the cart contents on the thank-you page

I would add providing a shipping cost calculator based on zipcode on the product page and showing an estimated arrival date rather than number of business days to ship.

And don’t forget to include shipping cutoff dates for holidays.

Express/Customer Conveniences – Giving Customers More Control

  • Consider direct to cart buying from category page (depending on your market)
  • Consider one-click settings for faster checkout, customer convenience (and incentive to create an account)
  • Use a “persistent shopping cart” which stores the contents of the customer’s cart for a future visit (Tip: check your web analytics for your typical “days to purchase” when deciding how long to set your persistent cookie)
  • Make online return forms available for customer convenience

Don’t forget to make your non-product information accessible from your search box so customers can locate policies quickly.

If customers are using your site to research offline purchases, you should also mystery-shop your store locator.

If you really want to go above and beyond to stand out in customer service, be like Zappos and hire CSRs for culture and empower them to go the extra mile for customers. I’ll say it’s paid off for Zappos.

Sell across the border? You may also be interested in these international ecommerce usability tips.

This article was originally posted in January 2009 but we thought it was worth a second look before the holiday season.

Related Articles

8 Responses to “Mystery Shop Your Site Before The Holidays”

  1. It’s well worth a second look up to the holiday sales. October is probably the last chance for optimizing before the Christmas frenzy.
    “Allow customer to check-out without creating an account” are possibly the most important of all these tips. I often see webshops conversion rate get a relative increase between 30-110% (depending on industry) when they implement this.

  2. Great recap and additional tips. This one:

    “Don’t forget to make your non-product information accessible from your search box so customers can locate policies quickly.”

    is often missed by merchants whose search feature only indexes products. If that’s the case, make your policies into a product (with appropriate keywords) so they show up in a search.

    Rob – LexiConn

  3. Tom Wanek says:

    Mystery shopping is a suburb idea for all companies – online or off. And because it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle, I recommend you hire an outsider to shop your store and that of your competition. It will give you an unvarnished, eye-opening perspective.

  4. Alina says:

    This is a comment of more general nature but I was not sure where is the place to express my gratitude for your blog. It is really fantastic! I get lots and lots of promo and newsletters/advices – your communications stand way ahead of everybody else. They are very interesting, informative and presented with graphics and real examples that really catch attention. I learn tons from it and am extremely happy I crossed your path.
    I’d love to see you on Facebook, too – gives bit more room and allows graphics. Thanks!

  5. Frank The Tank says:

    Spot the spam above !

  6. Carole says:

    Very nice article. Alot of helpful tips. I don’t think my site has very much of that. I will have to see. I use Market theme which is a theme for WordPress. They are constantly updating it with nice new features so the capability is probably already there. I’ll have to check and see.

  7. Ron S. says:

    Great article! On the real-time inventory front, this can be particularly challenging, especially if you maintain multiple online presences or have a shared inventory pool between online and offline storefronts.

    One solution to this problem, especially for small sized online retailers, is to use a centralized inventory management system that integrates in real-time with e-commerce solutions. Yobiz eRetail Inventory,Pick-and-Pack, and Ship ( is one such solution.

Leave a Reply

© 2014 Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog. All rights reserved. Site Admin · Entries RSS · Comments RSS