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Taking the Order

Remember, your order form can make or break a sale. There are four parts to the ordering process:

  • Collecting customer contact information

  • Providing product information and order costs

  • Confirming customer billing and shipping information

  • Optional services requests

The following sections cover each area.

Customer Contact Information

If your customer has never registered at your web store, and you don't have his or her contact information on file, you'll need to collect this information. Your order form should have two separate fields (spaces) for the customer's name: one for the first name and one for the last name for database accuracy. After the name, provide a field for the customer's email address.

TIP

Always collect the email address. This will be the means by which you will conduct almost all communication with your customer—order confirmation, product stock status, shipping notification, and so on.

Finally, ask for phone numbers. And the word numbers is plural for a reason. Always get two phone numbers from your customer—home phone and daytime phone. Why? The first reason is obvious. If you need to contact the customer by phone, you might need a number to reach him during the day as well as at home in the evening or on weekends. The second reason has to do with fraud prevention. Getting two numbers from your customer can help prevent the fraudulent use of a credit or debit card. If you suspect that the customer's card number is stolen, having two numbers available for confirmation helps you to determine whether the order is legitimate. If neither number works, or the person on the other end of the line didn't place the order, you have a possible fraud on your hands. Contact the customer by email and let him know of the problem. Dollars to donuts, you'll probably never hear back from him.

Product Information and Order Costs

Customers need to know at every point of the ordering process what they're buying and how much it will cost. Your order form should supply information on the product(s) or service(s) ordered. Show the name of the product, the product code number, its price, and description. If the product comes in different colors or sizes, be sure those are listed with the product information. In a sense, you're verifying that your site knows what the customer ordered, even during the ordering process.

Does your order form automatically generate the product information? Some e-commerce sites make the customer remember the product information and enter it into the order form. That's a fast way to lose a sale.

Give the customer the opportunity to choose the shipping method—by ground or air, next day or second day—and show the difference in costs.

Finally, show all the costs before asking the customer to enter credit or debit info. Provide a page before finalizing the order that details what the customer is buying, how much it costs, and the shipping and handling charges. Show the total amount that the customer's credit card will be charged or account debited. If the customer is printing the order form after filling it out, show the total amount that should appear on the customer's check.

Customer Billing and Shipping Information

After requesting the customer's contact information and confirming the order and shipping method, you need to collect the billing and shipping address and the credit or debit card number. The customer's billing address is the address to which his credit card bill is sent. Your credit card processing company will compare the billing address against the customer's name and credit or debit card number to verify that the card number matches the billing address. This is the first layer of merchant fraud protection.

CAUTION

You are responsible for protecting your organization from people who try to steal from you by placing bogus orders or using stolen credit, debit, or checking account numbers. You might have protected your customer's credit card by using a secure server, but that doesn't protect you from fraudulent purchases.

In addition to obtaining the billing address, you must ask for the customer's shipping address. This might sound redundant, but it's not. The customer might want to have the product shipped to her office rather than her home. She might be buying a gift and doesn't want the gift to be opened at home by mistake. Or she might be making the purchase for someone else, and she might want that package shipped to that recipient. You should also include a field in the shipping address that asks for a different recipient's name, in case the package is to be addressed to someone other than the person doing the ordering. This is a particularly nice touch when ordering for children, who love to get packages addressed directly to them.

If the billing and shipping addresses are the same, you can avoid making the customer type the same address twice by supplying a check box with this label: "If the billing and shipping address are the same, check this box." Your software should then fill in the shipping address automatically. And again, even if the addresses are the same, it's nice to offer a separate "Recipient Name" box.

Finally, provide fields for the customer's credit or debit card info: card number, expiration date, and type of card—MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, and so on.

NOTE

Ask for the customer's credit card number last. This serves two purposes. First, it reassures the customer that all the necessary information is in place to make a final purchase. Second, if the customer abandons the order before completing the sale, you've still captured contact information that you can use later to send a special offer enticing that customer to come back to your web store and buy.

Optional Services Requests

Customers like special consideration and perks. If your web store offers special optional services or promotions, they should be included on your order form, in a way that makes them easy to find and use. Here are some examples:

  • Gift wrapping. If you offer gift-wrapping service, provide this option on your order form. If it's a free service, ask whether the customer wants to take advantage of this service, confirmed by checking a box. If you charge for the service, specify the charge—and be sure to include it on the total cost page that you present to the customer before accepting payment.

  • Coupons and discounts. Are you running a special promotion in which you distribute regular or electronic discount coupons? Your order form should include a field where the customer can enter the coupon code number and have the discount be reflected on the total cost per page. The same goes for any frequent-buyer discounts that you might apply.

NOTE

Make sure that it's obvious to the buyer how to skip past an optional services request page. Don't make customers hunt for the button to click to get to the next screen.

Now, here's an idea that will make you a hero in the eyes of your marketing staff. If a customer abandons the shopping cart before completing the sale, have a small window pop up and offer an immediate discount on the abandoned purchase. If the customer takes the offer and continues the purchase, program your cart to include the discount and continue with the checkout process.

Finally, buyers like to know how much longer it will take to complete their checkout. Include a prominent message in the beginning of the checkout process that indicates how many steps it will take to complete the sale. Then state on each screen of the checkout process which step this is, and how many are left: "One step to go," or something comparable.

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