Communicating Added Charges in Ecommerce


Survey after survey has shown one of the leading causes of consumers abandoning shopping carts is the discovery of unexpected fees at checkout. People do not enjoy learning an item they thought was going to cost $19.99 winds up being $39.99.

This is why communicating added charges in ecommerce early on is a better idea than waiting until the last minute—in most cases. The Nielsen Norman Group, a world leader in research based user experiences conducted a survey on this subject; the complete findings of which are disclosed in its Ecommerce User Experience report.

Here’s a brief overview of the report to consider.

Disclose Unexpected Fees Early

The survey found shoppers were particularly put off by unexpected price increases during a transaction.

According to the report:


The surprise of added fees or unexpectedly high delivery rates at the end of the checkout process was often unpleasant enough that users would leave a site altogether. Such additions made users think the site was trying to trick them and derailed purchases.”

With this in mind, it’s best to tell them on the product page if there are any factors such as sizing, color or added equipment considerations that could lead to a higher final price. This is also true if there will be extraordinary added charges to offset unusual shipping concerns. When you choose an ecommerce theme, such as those provided by Shopify, make sure it provides a place for you to make these disclosures.

It’s far better to apprise them of added charges on product pages when they’re excited about getting the merchandise. You’ll amplify their hesitation if you wait until they’re already experiencing the naturally occurring reticence that accompanies paying on the checkout page.

This is Especially True for Nonstandard Fees

The Nielsen report also illuminates the experience of a shopper at a ticket-seller site on which a service charge of $12.50 per ticket was imposed at checkout.

“The event page where she had selected her tickets did not mention any additional charges. She expected five tickets to cost $175, since each ticket was $35.  But the service fees increased the cost of her purchase to $230.  She said, ‘I don’t like that it doesn’t tell me there will be a surcharge. It doesn’t even tell me what the surcharge is for. I’ll see if I can call the theater and purchase over the phone to avoid the fee.’

 After that experience, she might visit that site again, or she might not. Given box offices typically don’t charge handling fees, that online seller probably just lost a customer forever. Yes, it could be argued the fee would have sent her away just the same, but you shouldn’t discount the shock effect.

Taxes and Typical Shipping Costs are an Exception

The survey also revealed the mental model of experienced shoppers leads them to expect sales tax (though ecommerce shoppers do love it when they can avoid it). This is also true for nominal shipping charges.

Most consumers will accept a charge of $10 or less as the price of convenience and place an order just the same. These people are also aware the cost of shipping can vary based upon the size and weight of the item, their physical location and the speed with which they’d like the item delivered.

Savvy online retailers can leverage this by offering free shipping with the slowest available method. Many consumers will happily choose a paid option when the extended amount of time it will take to get the item delivered at no charge is disclosed.

The Takeaway

Communicating added charges in ecommerce at the earliest opportunity is usually the best play. However, if it becomes cumbersome to your user experience, you can generally hold off on disclosing sales tax and nominal shipping charges until checkout.