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Are Error Messages Costing Your Business Sales?

21 Feb 2018

There's nothing more frustrating to an online shopper than being within a few tantilizing seconds of spending money, only to be stopped by an error message. With your ecommerce store risking losing sales 66% of the time, it's in your best interests to take a hard look at the roadblocks you are putting in front of your customers and make sure they aren't costing you sales.

A customer experiencing an error message during the checkout process is something that will happen on a regular basis as they are shopping on your ecommerce store. At the end of the day your customers are human and it only takes a finger hitting too many keys or a misunderstanding of a field label before they're going to be stopped in their tracks. The trick to getting that sale back on track is to make sure the error messages that your ecommerce store displays are as helpful as possible, before your customer's patience runs out and they abandon the purchase altogether.

When phone numbers turn bad...

One field that is almost guaranteed to trigger errors is the dreaded 'address line 2' field - the problem with this field is that a large portion of customers simply don't understand what you are wanting them to enter into it and there are reports from online usability studies where customers have tried to enter another full address into it. Talk about confusing for the ecommerce business owner who gets that order!

But there's another area on your checkout which is just as likely to trigger error messages and yet hardly anyone mentions it; the phone number field. Take this example for instance:


By offering a single 'all-in'one' field for a phone number, this ecommerce store is just setting their customers up to receive an error message. Not only that, but regardless of how the customer has entered their phone number, they just keep seeing the same message over and over  - it's not going to be long before they're frustrated and abandoning their purchase!

In the first example, the customer has entered a phone number with spaces and the error was triggered because some ecommerce stores simply aren't built to handle anything but a number being entered into this field. So then they have assumed that that an area code is required, which of course hasn't solved the problem because even though the spaces are gone, they've used brackets for the area code. And finally they've removed the area code and brackets, but have accidently taken away the first of the phone number digits, but because their frustration levels are rising, instead of checking they've decided the checkout is broken and have abandoned their purchase.

That's the main problem with error messages; if your customers receive the same error too many times in a row (usually on the 3rd time) they assume that it's YOUR fault, not theirs and they'll start looking for another ecommerce store to purchase from.

Avoiding errors; Step One...

The first step to avoiding ecommerce error messages being shown to your customers is to make sure your checkout is well set out, properly labelled, and uses appropriate helpful hint text so that your customers are more likely to enter the correct information on their first try.

Take for instance the example of the phone number field:


Some up-front planning when your ecommerce store is being built will go a long way to helping your customers avoid error messages.

In this example, the phone number field is being split out so it is more obvious for the customer how the data should be entered. If a field is likely to cause confusion as to how the data could be entered, then it is always within your best interests to provide your customers with example text as this gives them a simple template to follow.

Avoiding errors; Step Two...

Even with the best labelling, layout and hint text you can't unfortunately avoid those times where your customer has simply button mashed too many times. The simple truth is that you can't ever 100% avoid showing your customers an error message. But you can use adaptive error messages to ensure that your customers know exactly what they have done wrong and how to get their order back on track quickly.

Adaptive error messages are error messages which change based on the most likely reason that your customer has triggered the error message - for instance:


Adaptive error messages provide your customers with helpful instructions on how they can fix what they've done wrong and get their order underway again.

Now instead of seeing the same message 3 times in a row like the first customer experienced, these customers are able to see straight away what's gone wrong with the data they've entered so they can fix it easily. This means they are likely to see the error message once before they are back underway and at no point are left questioning if it's your ecommerce store which is broken!

Of course it is always our recommendation that your ecommerce store should be built in a way that it can strip out spaces, hyphens and other characters from numeric fields so it won't trigger error messages for your customers or impact on the data you receive. But if that's not possible with your existing store, then it's important you tell your customers up-front that you can't accept this information so they don't waste their time entering it.

If you have any questions about your checkout process and how adaptive error messages can help reduce the amount of abandoned carts your ecommerce store experiences, feel free to contact us - we're always happy to chat!

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