Online retail missing out on millions

Despite the strong rewards on offer, Australian retailers have been slow to transition to online. At a time when the majority of the population shops on the internet [1], some of our biggest brands are being hammered for their failings in this space [2].

Ecommerce forms may seem like a small part of this picture but in fact, they are crucial. If the ecommerce form can't be filled out, the sale will probably fall through. In this post we're going to have a look at just a few examples of Australian retailers being let down by poor online form design.

CatchOfTheDay lets fish off the hook

CatchOfTheDay is a popular Australian "Daily Deals" website. Each day, one or more items — from Nike shoes to Women's Weekly cookbooks — are offered at a significant discount.

According to Business Review Weekly [3], CatchOfTheDay earned $230 million in revenue in the 2011/12 financial year. But this figure could easily have been over $100 million higher.

Why? CatchOfTheDay is just one of many ecommerce sites being stifled by bad forms-related experiences.

In CatchOfTheDay's case, the problem is one of interruption. Customers are free to browse the site in whatever way works for them. But checkout? You can only do that if you're a member, or if you register, right then and there.

Let's (conservatively) assume a third of CatchOfTheDay's customers are first-time purchasers. That means a third of potential customers have a barrier to purchase completion placed smack bang in the middle of the process (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: If you're a new Catch Of The Day user, you are faced with this registration form at the start of the checkout process. (Click on this, and all following images, to see a larger version.)

This barrier is a massive one: for one US retailer, removal of the requirement to register led to a 45% increase in sales, translating to an additional $300 million annually [4].

45% increase in sales? That would mean CatchOfTheDay gets over $100 million of additional revenue in one year, just for being smart about their forms. And the potential marketing channel provided by registration need not be lost. Instead, registration can be incorporated seamlessly into the purchase process. It's a win-win proposition.

David Lawrence blocking customers

Not all forms can be eliminated from ecommerce. But one sure-fire way of losing sales is by designing the ones you do have, badly.

For example, many sites will need an address for delivery of goods, as well as a billing address. Australian fashion retailer David Lawrence is no exception; their shipping address collection can be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The address fields for this David Lawrence checkout form don't allow all valid answers.

The problem with this form is that it doesn't allow for all valid billing addresses. Got a PO Box, GPO Box or Locked Bag? Bad luck. Live on a rural property or lot? No nice clothes for you.

This isn't to say addressing is easy. If it were, there wouldn't be international standards on the stuff [5]. But if David Lawrence had consulted a form design specialist before building their online store, they wouldn't now be throwing away perfectly good sales.

(By the way, this isn't the only problem with the way David Lawrence collects addresses. Apparently Australia now has a ninth state/territory called "Other"!)

Woolworths wants your soul…

…or so customers might think when they register to use the online shop. As shown in Figure 3, the registration form includes a question asking for the customer's date of birth.

Figure 3: Registration form for the Woolworths online shop, including date of birth question.

There are many reasons why Woolworths might want this information, including to inform market segmentation and to ensure all liquor purchases are legal. But from the customer's perspective, date of birth is one of the most private pieces of information they have. Consequently, many customers don't reveal their date of birth unless they have sufficient trust in the business and feel the business is justified in requesting the information.

All of the brand-building work that Woolworths has done will contribute to perceptions of trust. However, at this key decision point, it'll take much more than ‘liking’ the brand to get the customer to provide this personal detail. In their mind, the customer will be asking Why do they need to know that?. Remember, you don't have to provide your date of birth to shop at the local supermarket.

Woolworths could hit this concern head on by, for example, explaining that the date of birth is required to prevent any illegal transactions. There's even a device — the green “spot” with a question mark in it — ready to deliver this further information (see Figure 4). Instead, Woolworths misuses the opportunity: the green question mark spot reveals what should actually be shown to all: that date of birth is required in DD MM YYYY format.

Figure 4: Potential customers' fears could be allayed by some explanatory text beside this date of birth question but instead they see formatting information (which should actually be shown to everyone, on the form itself!).

The bottom line

Woolworths, David Lawrence and CatchOfTheDay: we're not talking insignificant brands here. And yet, these are just a few of the hundreds of examples of bad form design limiting revenue and profit for Australian companies.

When you consider the amount of money it costs to draw traffic to your website, provide quality images and descriptions of products, develop back-end fulfilment systems and make good use of social media, it's lunacy to lose out at the pointy end of the funnel.

Engaging a forms specialist, like Formulate Information Design, delivers incredible return on investment. We can detect, rectify and prevent problems like those described here, yielding improvements in conversion and satisfaction worth many times the cost of engagement.

As more and more Australians shop online, their experiences are going to make or break businesses. All too often the forms component of the experience is neglected. Contact us now to find out how we can put you at the head of the game, and keep you there.