Category Archives: Shopping Experience

How Important is Online Store Design and Usability to Your Sales? Extremely.

Lessons Learned: Online Store Design Makes a Huge Difference to Order Completion and Conversion Rate.


Back in 2008 I was managing a hosting company in Russia. Our operations were fully automated by Parallels Business Automation Standard (PBAS), we were offering a full range of state-of-the-art hosting plans, and all of our hosting plans were competitively priced. Our sales were decent, but not spectacular, and they definitely weren’t growing as quickly as we wanted.


So we launched a research project to better understand our customer’s shopping experience and to pinpoint any problems. It shocked us to learn that for certain products up to 70% of our customers were not finishing their purchase. Clearly, something was happening during the purchasing process that created a barrier to completing transactions.


At the time we were using the standard store integration in PBAS, which was not necessarily designed to “sell,” but rather to show PHP code and PBAS API usage. User interface decisions made by programmers with knowledge of the internal code structure were perplexing to customers trying to use the store in a real-world environment.


To go deeper with our research we added a Kayako online chat button into every page of our online store.


Here are the main discoveries we made, and the changes we implemented to address these issues:

1. Customers don’t like to make difficult choices, and were simply “opting out” and leaving our store. We believed our typical customers were more or less “system administrators with degrees in Computer Science.” We wanted to impress them with flexibility and lots of interesting options, but when we started chatting with them we realized some of them, had no clue what “SLM memory limit” meant. So we reduced the number of options, renamed our resources and added simple descriptions. In short, we had to redesign our store so any person could understand and use it.

2. Multiple Call-To-Action elements were confusing and scaring regular customers away. Many customers were clicking on buttons and menu items in the shopping cart, which lead them away from the purchase process and even away from our web site. We wanted our customers to be 100% focused on the purchase, and determined that any additional information was simply defocusing clients from completing the purchase process.

3. Our customers’ emotional reaction to our web site was the fundamental driver in their purchasing decision. It became clear that long registration and configuration pages in our store were significantly reducing our sales.

4. A very slow shopping cart experience will make some people leave. Why? Because customers conclude that if the hoster’s own store is slow, their hosting will be even slower. So we had to increase our store performance.


It took us two months to make all these changes in the standard PBAS store, but the following results were well worth the effort. In the six months following the store changes:

•    Abandoned shopping carts were reduced by 57%
•    Online store sales increased by more than 150%


We shared all this information with Parallels PBAS developers who used the feedback, as well as feedback from other PBAS customers, to improve online store usability and functionality.


Today, PBAS Store is a ready-to-use and powerful tool. Released this month as part of Parallels Business Automation Standard 4.3.4, which includes:

•    Simple, single-page order processing to reduce ordering time
•    Redesigned, simplified, and streamlined interface
•    Easy-to-add online chat services
•    Ability to choose which resources are visible and add meaningful descriptions to them

•    Support for stand-alone deployment on a high-performance dedicated server to increase store performance
•    Many other enhancements

These enhancements demonstrate how Parallels learns from customer’s feedback to help its Partners grow their business. I am very proud to be part of this company.

I invite you to learn more about Parallels Business Automation Standard by visiting the PBAS web page, checking out the new store demo, viewing our recent webinar and upgrading to PBAS 4.3.4 today.


~ Alex Goncharov, Sr. Director, Product Marketing, Parallels


Are You Making Enough of Your Sales Online?


Do you want customers to buy online or offline? Parallels experience working with service providers shows a high percentage of small business hosting plan purchases are made on the phone talking to a living, breathing salesperson. Depending on the type of service provider, as few as 10% of direct channel sales by small businesses are via online purchase with up to 70% being made “offline” – via inbound phone calls – and the remainder being outbound campaign sales to existing customers. To be sure, these “offline” purchases are driven by online content. SMBs call after reviewing the service provider website. Research done through our SMB Cloud Insights report series reveals that for SaaS applications, for example, an SMB’s own online research is their number one source of information with more than 60% of SMBs citing it.


If that’s the case, why are so few hosting plan purchases by SMBs made online? Typically it is because of services discoverability issues on the website and the natural tendency for a generally non-technical buyer to need reassurance before pulling the trigger. 

But if your goal is to increase the number of purchases your SMB customers make online because you want to spend less on your call center staffing, what can you do? One area to investigate is your buying and checkout experience. The Baymard Institute does an unusual annual study related to customer checkout experience. They take users and watch them go through the checkout processes of 15 different popular e-commerce sites. What they discover from this is general principles around usability-related issues due to poor checkout design and how that increases customer abandon rates.  


Their findings are massive but touching on a few high level items might help get you pointed in the right direction.


+ The top reasons for checkout abandonment:

– Extra cost (shipping, tax, fees) 33%

– Forced account creation 23%

– Credit card trust 18%

– Complicated checkout process 18%


You may say that the top two don’t apply to service providers. But the study found it wasn’t so much the charging of extra fees, for example, as it was the confusing way it was presented or explained.


+ A disruptive problem with copywriting: Try to avoid technical jargon – think about who your audience is. That’s an obvious one, right? Here’s one that isn’t so obvious on the copywriting front and it is even more harmful: Not having descriptions for form field labels. In many cases what may seem obvious to you (“Address line 2”) will make no sense to some of your potential customers and in other cases what is obvious makes buyers balk (“Email address”) because they need an explanation of why you need that information (“To communicate with you – we never sell your email address”).  

+ A layout problem: Unclear error indications. This is the most harmful issue related to layout. If buyers can’t find the error on the form or don’t understand it there is a very high probability they will abandon the checkout process. This is especially true if they can’t find the error and submit the form again only to have it rejected yet again. In those situations they think the problem is a bug on your site. Ouch.

So while you may always have a high rate of “offline” purchases just because it’s the nature of the beast with this type of customer and product, you might want to take a look at your online checkout experience to see if it’s as buyer-friendly as you need it to be.



Scott Fallon, Senior Director, Partner Marketing