Ten tips to improve the customer online holiday experience

Vividence, a San Mateo, Calif.-based customer experience management products and services company, has put together 10 guidelines to help retailers improve the online customer experience and maximize the potential of their Web sites this holiday season.

The recommendations are based on findings from the company’s annual Holiday Readiness Study, conducted in September. The study also highlights consumers’ holiday shopping attitudes, assesses how the tragic events of Sept. 11 affect holiday shopping plans, and features screenshots of best practice designs for retail Web sites.

Vividence’s 10 guidelines for holiday success:

1. Save customers shopping carts for later visits. Customers do return later to purchase items “abandoned” in their carts. Make it easy for them by keeping their cart items for 30 days or more.

2. Offer a promotion or incentive to purchase. Promotions (or deals) differentiate sites from one another. Free shipping is the most common purchase influencer.

3. Show shipping prices early. Customers prefer to choose shipping options and see shipping prices in the shopping cart.

4. Make site registration optional. Customers are more likely to abandon their carts if you require them to register.

5. Consider a charitable donation tie-in. Customers increasingly want to donate to charity. Sites that contribute in some way will engender customer good will.

6. Keep products in stock. Out-of-stock products frustrate customers, especially when they aren’t notified until they place items into shopping carts.

7. Provide order tracking. Customers want to reduce uncertainty about delivery time by tracking their orders. This will also reduce calls to customer service.

8. Shorten the checkout process. Customers prefer entry fields on one screen as opposed to multiple screens.

9. Be clear about delivery time. Customers want to know when their items will arrive.

10. Provide paper gift certificates. Gift certificates can influence purchase, and customers tend to prefer paper to e-mail gift certificates.

“As consumer expectations increase and more people plan to do their holiday shopping online, it becomes increasingly important for retailers to understand and improve the online customer experience,” said Jeff Greenberg, president and CEO of Vividence.

The annual Vividence Holiday Readiness Study helps companies better prepare their Web sites for holiday shopping by assessing consumer expectations and online shopping behavior and making recommendations to improve the customer experience online. This year’s study was conducted on Sept. 1 and Sept. 17. It included 900 participants recruited from the 150,000-person Vividence Research Panel, which represents a cross-section of Web-savvy online consumers. For more information go to the Vividence Web site at www.vividence.com.