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It’s gearing up to be a busy holiday shopping season and many retailers are trying to make the most out of increased traffic to their ecommerce stores. One of the best ways to increase conversions and sales is to make the payment process as simple and seamless as possible.

From the shopping cart to the checkout page to payment confirmation, making a few small tweaks can mean the difference between tens of thousands of dollars. As the popularity of online shopping surpasses that of brick-and-mortar shopping, online retailers need to optimize their checkout process to make things smooth for paying customers.

While many merchants opt for the easy route of PayPal for payment processing, merchants with more complex payment systems can take advantage of the full control they have over the entire checkout process.

The next 7 steps can help you optimize the process for increased conversions and sales.

Diversify payment methods

Users expect to have a choice when it comes to how they pay on your ecommerce site. Best practices is to include all major payment card brands (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, etc.) as well as PayPal. That said, if you truly cater to an international audience and analytics show that you get a decent amount of business from specific geographies, you may want to consider the payment preferences of those countries as well.

No registration? No problem.

Never make people register in order to complete the checkout process. This can be one of the top conversion killers for an ecommerce site because it’s intrusive and unnecessary. It’s another step to what many users already view as a long process to get what they want. “Checkout as guest” is the best route to take, enabling users to get through the checkout process without handing over any more information than they’re already providing.

While you don’t have to require registration, you can always offer it as an option. Just be sure that it does not impede the checkout flow or become too aggressive.

Consistency matters

The design and experience of your brand should be consistent across all channels and along every page of your website – including checkout pages. While some online payment providers and gateways may offer out-of-the-box functionality, you’re relinquishing control of the experience, look, and feel of your brand. Take caution here.

Be sure to use consistent fonts, colors, logos, and other design elements from start to finish of the user experience. Not only does it look more professional, but it builds trust between you and your customers. Given the rash of fraud, phishing, and other online scams, keeping a consistent design element during checkout can help put customers at ease and reinforce that you are a legitimate seller.

User flow matters, too

In the same vein as point #3 above, keeping users on your site is imperative. Redirecting to an outside gateway (like PayPal) erodes trust and also leads people away from your brand. Keeping users on your site from start to finish also makes it more likely that they’ll continue to browse around after their purchase.

Also avoid pop-ups or any other advertisements that may distract users as they are attempting to checkout. Anything that takes someone away from the checkout process is bad form. Keep customers moving seamlessly through your site without distractions.

Make payment forms intuitive

Most online shoppers are already leery when offering up payment card information online. Making payment forms intuitive can relieve some of their anxiety while helping them to complete the process quickly and easily. Displaying a progress bar at the top of each checkout page is a great way to keep users on task and in-the-know about how many steps they have left to complete.

Intelligent forms are also helpful. Some may be able to use geolocation technology to pre-fill fields like the country or state to which users are purchasing from. It may also be able to pre-fill some data from return customers, making a repeat purchase seamless.

One final consideration is how to address errors as users are checking out. Be sure to present clear and relevant error messages if a form or field is filled out incorrectly or incompletely. Avoid displaying error messages at the top of the page, which forces users to scroll all the way up to see what they missed. Error messages should be displayed near the field where they occurred and should be clearly worded so the user understands what they need to do.

Use clear calls to action

Nothing is worse than a confused user who just wants to make a purchase from your ecommerce site. Offer clear calls to action and directions on each step of the checkout and payment processes. Be sure to use bold buttons and clear, concise wording directing the user what to do next.

It can also be helpful to offer information buttons that allow users to click and receive more information about what is being asked. These additional instructions can mean the difference between a low conversion rate and a high conversion rate.

Email a receipt

This is perhaps one of the most overlooked steps in providing a cohesive, reliable, and easy checkout and payment experience for customers. It’s also a lost opportunity to upsell and cross-sell or to simply add to user’s pleasant shopping experience.

Not only does it provide a record of the purchase for both you and the customer, but it can be a great way to market to customers that are at their highest level of trust with your brand (they just completed a purchase!).

Use the opportunity to ask customers to rate their experience, provide a review, share with friends, or to offer a coupon for the next time they visit your ecommerce store.

Conclusion

Employing the tips above can boost your conversion rates, lower cart abandonment, and increase the trust and credibility of your brand. A/B testing is a great way to test out some of  these methods and to see what works for your particular customer base. Checkout and payment is an important – and often overlooked – piece of the overall user experience. Keeping on par with best practices is a great way to keep customers happy from start to finish.