As an e-commerce retailer, one of the most crucial phases of your customer's transactions happens during the payment phase. In brick-and-mortar stores, generally by the time the customer has arrived at the till, they've already made the decision to purchase, and there are rarely so many roadblocks that they will abandon their purchases in the checkout line. Not so with e-commerce, however, as shopping cart abandonment rates are often quite high, frustrating retailers who can sense the sales slipping away but aren't sure how to stem the flow. Fortunately, a few simple adjustments in your shopping cart process can make a huge difference in your completed transaction statistics - and your bottom line.
The first thing you absolutely must do before you can work to improve your checkout process is to ensure that you're accurately recording successful transactions. This is fairly simply done using Google Analytics (or a similar application), by sending your successfully-transacted customers to a 'success' page that tells them their purchase was a success, thanks them for their business, and so on - although you should already be doing this anyways. Then simply compare the number of people who hit the 'success' page with the number of people who reach the page right before it in your sales pipeline, and you have the beginnings of a measure of your success.
If your checkout process has more than one page, you will likely see the number of hits diminishing as you progress through the sales pipeline - this can help you highlight individual pages that are causing cart abandonment issues, so if any particular page has a significant dropoff, consider what can be improved about that specific page using these 'best practice' ideas.
Primarily, you want the checkout process to be as simple as possible. Don't ask your customers for irrelevant information such as fax numbers or work numbers, and simply the page layout as much as possible. The fewer options the customer has to deal with, the more likely they are to complete the process.
Another important thing is to build up the confidence your customer has in your business. This can be accomplished by any number of methods, but security badges that use brand names the customer recognises - Paypal, Chamber of Commerce, and Better Business Bureau to name a few - can dramatically increase successful checkouts.
For those of you operating in the mobile commerce space, be aware that lengthy checkouts can seriously impact sales, as entering long strings of data can be extremely time consuming. Shoppers who purchase on mobile devices likely use some sort of mobile wallet software, so ensure that your checkout process is compatible with the major players.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure that you test and compare every change you make to your checkout process. The slightest of changes can make a huge difference in your sales volume, so consider using the testing method known as 'split' or 'A/B' testing, where you show the modified version to half your visitors, and your current working version to the other half, and then compare the results. This protects you from accidentally destroying your sales while testing out new options.