July starts retailer Alibris’ most lucrative season.

The back-to-school shopping season is when revenue and traffic spike for the seller of new and used books, movies and music, even more so than during the holiday season, says Ben Bartels, director of e-commerce and marketing at Alibris. Mobile commerce is especially important during this period before school is back in session, as Alibris gets an influx of 18- to 25-year-old shoppers looking for textbooks on their mobile devices, Bartels says.

To make a change to its smartphone checkout process at the start of its busiest season is a risky move, but one Bartels decided to take. Alibris’ mobile site developer Moovweb approached Bartels in June with a new checkout beta program, MoovCheckout, for Alibris’ smartphone site. Bartels, who was already looking for a way to improve Alibris’ smartphone checkout page, decided to participate in the trial.

Bartels minimized the risk of making a change right before the back-to-school season by agreeing to do an A/B test. Alibris started off small and showed 90% of consumers who went to the checkout page its current checkout process, and served the new checkout flow to the other 10%. After several weeks it increased to an 80%-20% ratio until it eventually split the two types in half. If Bartels hadn’t been happy with the results he could have pulled the program, he says.

The risk paid off, as smartphone checkout conversion rate increased 17% between July 15-Sept. 15 from the new checkout process compared to the traditional one. With then new checkout, Alibris’ smartphone conversion rate is 1.58%. Alibris’ checkout abandonment dropped 6% with the new checkout system and its average order value also increased 11%. Starting this week, Alibris served the new checkout process to 100% of its shoppers.


While both the previous and new checkout process have four steps, the new process is faster, Bartels says. Overall, it saves consumers about 40 seconds as it reduces the time it takes to check out to one minute and 20 seconds from two minutes.

Each process has a shipping, billing, review order and thank-you page. Bartels describes the new process as much cleaner, as Alibris removed unnecessarily fields. For example, while Alibris’ desktop checkout asks for “business name” in one of the shipping fields, almost no businesses were making purchases on the mobile site. The field just confused consumers, so the retailer removed it, Bartels says.

Alibris also changed how consumers input their credit card information. As soon as a consumer selects the type of card he has, such as “Visa,” the box where a consumer inputs the numbers immediately separates into several boxes with field limits for how many numbers the consumer can input, such as four boxes with four numbers each, the correct pattern for a Visa card. This reduces the mistakes  consumers make, Bartels says. Also, if a consumer types in fewer numbers than he should, an error message instantly appears, alerting the consumer that he typed it in wrong. The previous checkout flow only had one long box to type in a credit card number, and if the consumer typed it in wrong he wouldn’t know until he tried to go to the next page and an error message would appear.

As a shopper moves from field to field, a message will appear to guide the consumer, such as “your security code has three digits.”

Moovweb launched the new checkout for Alibris in four weeks. Alibris pays Moovweb $7,000 a month for the development and maintenance of its smartphone and tablet site. Since Alibris agreed to a beta program, they got the MoovCheckout feature for free for the rest of the year. For other retailers the pricing structure will be tiered based on the amount of traffic going to the upgraded checkout site, says Haresh Kumar, vice president of marketing at Moovweb.


Bartels says he is happy that he didn’t have to hire any additional employees to his small 26-person staff to improve the checkout flow.

“This allows us to have the resources of a much larger company, and have a state-of-the-art mobile experience without having to pay for developers,” Bartels says.

Smartphones make up 20% of Alibris’ traffic and 10% of the company’s revenue, or $6.8 million of the company’s projected 2015 revenue of $68 million. Alibris is No. 296 in Internet Retailer’s 2016 Mobile 500 Guide.

Smartphone traffic and revenue has grown between 40% and 50% in the past two years, Bartels says. He realizes his mobile traffic and revenue is not as high as some other online retailers, and attributes that to the older demographic of his business. 50% of Alibris’ customers are more than 45 years old.



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