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The gradual migration from the offline to online economy has been kicked into overdrive, with a surge in ecommerce that is showing no signs of slowing post-lockdown. Australian consumers began taking an ecommerce-first approach to shopping, with entirely new demographics doing so for the first time. Against this backdrop, Australian businesses seized the opportunity: between March and June, more than 10,000 new businesses came online with Stripe in Australia, and accrued in excess of $200m in revenue between them.

As swathes of businesses move online for the very first time, an already competitive landscape is heating up. It’s well known that the marker of success in the online sphere is the end-to-end customer experience. The payments experience, however, is often overlooked as the final stage of the online ecommerce funnel, despite it being the difference between making and breaking a sale.

So, for those coming online for the first time — how do you get this crucial step right?

Reduce friction

It’s an old tenet of brick and mortar retail that when it comes to making a sale, the best thing to do is just take the money. This principle can be applied to ecommerce: the payments experience needs to be friction-free. Customer friction at the checkout stage often revolves around not being able to pay for items in a way that works for them — the system might not be intuitive, it might ask too many questions, and it might not fit seamlessly with the broader customer experience.

A recent study from Stripe found that in the UK, one third of the busiest ecommerce outlets were allowing customers to submit transactions with invalid card numbers, meaning they went through the entire user experience process only to realise their purchase could not be completed. Additionally, declines from payment networks mean that the customer’s bank stops the transaction completing — this could be a result of suspicion of fraud on the card, if the card information is wrong or outdated, or the bank detects a lost or stolen card is being used. Whatever the cause of a decline, the result is friction. And friction is directly correlated with a reduction in revenue.

To reduce friction, online businesses need to invest in establishing a first class payments experience for their customers. Creating a payment page that lets your customers collect payments seamlessly and allows users to work across multiple devices will reduce friction. Simple things like customising and branding the page so it’s visually more user friendly also work towards developing a first class payments system.

There are multiple opportunities for businesses to reduce friction by avoiding the need to even provide card details — approximately one in five (21 per cent) businesses don’t have auto-fill set up correctly, and with mobile becoming the dominant platform through increasingly popular mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Stripe’s Checkout experience, which integrates auto-fill, digital wallet payments and more, means checking items out of their cart is both secure and convenient for the customer. This allows them to breeze through checkouts with payment details securely saved in their browser.

As part of this, ensure you’re utilising a system that provides pointed, clear messages to customers when things go wrong, such as card errors. Only three in ten (30 per cent) of websites block the entry of expired cards, meaning the overwhelming majority of online businesses still allow customers with expired cards to enter their details.

Providing real-time validation as your customers type will help catch errors early and increase the number of successful payments that are processed. If an error does occur, make sure your system speaks to your customer in their language — there’s nothing more frustrating than a customer facing an error message that isn’t localised.

Cater to customer preference

From direct debit to buy now, pay later; the way consumers pay is diversifying. Convenience and variety of the right payment options is a must for those looking to succeed in the ecommerce boom. Beyond the benefit of choice, diversifying the payment methods also ensures the checkout process is as simple and frictionless as possible for your target customers.

Start by being well-versed in your customers’ preferred payment methods in the markets you’re selling to. Money is cultural and inherently local. Online retailers need to be able to present their offerings in local currencies and offer payment options that suit the local buyer. This also means being across emerging payment methods and trends in each market, like the rapid rise of buy now, pay later services that are usurping credit cards with younger demographics in Australia.

Those that win the checkout experience build on this by tapping their data — to get closer to customers and understand their payment behaviours. Online retailers can build on their understanding of their customers’ habits by evaluating internal data, seeing what’s being used the most and making changes to their platforms accordingly.

Claw back cart abandonment

According to a recent Tech Radar study, there are rarely second chances from customers when it comes to poor checkout experiences. The checkout phase of the online shopping experience is the final and most crucial stage of the whole process, because it’s the step that actually makes the sale tangible. Global cart abandonment rates have reached 76 per cent, meaning out of 100 online carts that are filled, 76 are abandoned. Alarmingly, Asia Pacific ranks among the highest in the world for this. Reasons for cart abandonment can stem from a range of things — however, for a large portion of customers, they abandoned purchases because the checkout experience wasn’t smart or accommodating enough.

The design of checkouts to prevent cart abandonment needs to be high on the priority list for online businesses. The online checkout experience needs to mimic the reasons consumers go online to shop in the first place — convenience and simplicity. To ensure this is the case, online businesses should ‘upskill’ their payments process to ensure it’s best in class. This means agile, responsive, streamlined and predictive.

Should cart abandonment still occur despite putting all the best practices in place, you need to be in a position to get the customer back using other tactics. The savviest of online businesses have email marketing strategies in place, prompting them back to the checkout and reminding them that the end-to-end experience is as seamless as they need it to be.

So, as the economy continues to shift in favour of e-commerce, and more businesses are forced to revamp their online presence, it’s important not to overlook that crucial, final step of the customer experience. The checkout is the step that converts a customer from a browser to a buyer.

Mac Wang is head of Australia and New Zealand at Stripe