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E-Business Secrets
Brian Livingston
Stop customers from bailing out of your checkout page

Jakob Nielsen is well known for his scientific studies into e-commerce sites and how customers use them (or don't use them). Last week, I summarized the first half of a new nine-part report that the Nielsen Norman Group sells for $400. This week, I'll describe the report's findings on the shopping cart checkout process, site search engines, and how to build customer trust.

1. Checkout and registration. When customers couldn't successfully buy something at a site, problems with the checkout or registration forms themselves were the cause in 22 percent of cases. The report recommends against requiring registration at all, using it only as an option after the checkout process is completed.

The report also recommends that you

a. use graphics to detail the checkout process -- users like them.

b. list all charges before asking for personal data.

c. don't assume that your fill-in forms are easy to use.

d. offer a toll-free number for credit card payments.

e. allow customers to purchase without registering.

2. Search. Inability to find a product caused 27 percent of sales failures. If customers didn't find what they wanted in their first search, they were even less likely to find it in the second or third search, the study found. Sophisticated search is an absolute must.

Other recommendations include:

a. The home page should offer search, not a search link.

b. Allow search from every page, except during checkout.

c. Study your logs and tune search for popular queries.

d. Allow searches for policies and customer support.

e. Make searching simple -- not a single user in the study put quote marks around

phrases, so don't expect behavior this advanced.

3. Trust. The study found numerous cases in which breaches of trust -- for example, revealing delivery fees only at the last moment -- caused "sales catastrophes." These don't just create lost sales, but create customers who will never buy from a particular Web site again.

The report also recommends that you:

a. Give honest information and fair "outside" opinions.

b. Quickly remove outdated content, typos, errors, etc.

c. Offer free returns and other sales inducements.

d. Don't seek personal data unless absolutely necessary.

e. Use people, not machines, to handle customer support.

So many useful e-commerce findings are packed into Nielsen Norman Group's nine-part report that my summary can hardly do it justice. This is a study that every e-commerce site's managers would benefit from reading.


Nielsen Norman's E-Commerce User Experience Report:


Harvard Business School guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter polled 785 companies and interviewed 300 executives to publish the keys to e-commerce in her new book, "Evolve!" She found that the No. 1 barrier to Internet success -- selected by 38 percent of respondents out of 17 choices -- is that "the unit does not have staff with adequate technical or Web-specific skills."

If that were the end of the analysis, this would be a lousy book, but fortunately Kanter provides answers to the questions her findings raise. In one chapter on "Winning the Talent Wars," for example, she shows how companies attract and retain employees by treating them not like subordinates who can be ordered around, but like volunteers who are there of their own free will. The author of "World Class" and "Innovation" has added to her string of winners with this timely tome.

"Evolve!: Succeeding In The Digital Culture Of Tomorrow"

By Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard Business School Press)


1. Web site becomes profitable by selling $3,000 items

2. Alternative Web users hit 40 million with Juno deal

3. Sites pay $60 to $250 to acquire a new customer

4. Court fines the late for sending spam

5. Tips on fixing a Web site that's slow and clunky

6. Internet fraud ranks in top 10 U.S. business scams

7. Track U.S. regulation changes with specialized sites

8. Ford sues 2600 Enterprises over naughty Web name

9. MSN MoneyCentral and CNBC merge financial Web sites

0. Need names for your geek baby? Here's a full list


Search engines, it turns out, have another use besides finding thousands of relevant search results. The Search Engine Games Page shows that these engines can be used for a surprising number of competitive sports.

If pressed, I'd have to say my favorite game must be One-Hit Wonders. Players compete to see who can find common words that, when searched in combination, produce only one result. The scoring method alone is educational (a word's "commonness" is determined by AltaVista's word count), not to mention what you'll learn about search techniques.

Search Engine Games Page:

E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by "InfoWorld" contributing editor Brian Livingston. Research Directors: Ben Livingston (no relation) and Eryn Paull.

Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets:

Windows 2000 Secrets:

Win a book free if you're the first to send a tip Brian prints. Send tips to


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