Long before eCommerce existed, people invented other ways to shop remotely. Physical catalogs have been around for over 200 years and are still popular. Newspapers also have a long history of advertisements that invite shoppers to mail in an order. Even comic books have had mail-order products advertised on the last few pages.
But no matter how much the methods have changed, mail-order shopping has always required a correct shipping address. From newspaper ads to eCommerce, a business needs to know where to ship a customer's order. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, doesn't it?
It is obvious, but people make mistakes. Shoppers placing an order through the mail had a much harder time getting their errors corrected, but eCommerce websites can use modern tools to help ensure customers always enter a valid address. This article will discuss these tools and their benefits, and the problems a business can run into without them.
What is Address Validation?
Address validation, or address verification, is an eCommerce feature that helps prevent incorrectly typed addresses. When the customer enters their address, it's automatically compared to a database of valid addresses. The customer can then select the correct address that matches the one they were attempting to type.
The database of valid addresses can come from a variety of sources. Most commonly, these are shipping carriers. For example, the United States Postal Service has an address database, as does FedEx. But other platforms can have address databases too, like Google.
It's highly recommended to use an address validation method on your online store's checkout. You should consider it part of your goal to offer excellent service, and it will help solve issues coming from the occasional incorrectly entered address.
How Can a Customer Get Their Own Address Wrong?
You might wonder how a customer could fail at correctly entering their own shipping address. After all, they live there. Shouldn't they know their own address well enough that they could practically type it in their sleep?
There are actually a few reasons a customer could enter an incorrect address on your checkout page. Most often, it's only a simple typo. Everyone makes mistakes like this once in a while, like accidentally switching a couple of digits in a ZIP code or leaving a letter out of the name of their street. Or maybe the customer is in a hurry and forgets part of their address entirely, like the suffix after the street name (e.g. Street, Avenue, or Court).
You should also remember that customers don't always place orders to be shipped to their own address. When buying a gift, for example, a customer will often want it shipped directly to the recipient. They may not be nearly as familiar with the recipient's address as they are with their own, so they could make a mistake.
Another situation that could arise is a difference between shipping carriers. A customer may be used to receiving all their shipments via a specific carrier that always accepts their address the way they type it, while a different carrier may need the address to be rendered in a specific way that's a little different. For example, the local post office is likely familiar enough with a neighborhood to complete deliveries even with an address that isn't written with the same precision another carrier may require.
No matter what causes a customer to enter an incorrect address, it's bound to cause problems for your business — and the more often it happens, the worse the issues will be.
The Problems an Incorrect Address Can Cause
When a customer enters an inaccurate shipping address, it's pretty easy to guess what will happen: their package will be delayed at best, if it's not returned to you or even lost completely. Not only will this annoy customers, it will cost you money — and if it happens frequently, you'll sacrifice profits and lose customers you otherwise could have retained.
The Extra Fees and Costs of Wrong Addresses
When a customer's shipping address is entered incorrectly, there will be monetary costs involved in getting their order to the correct destination. The exact amount depends on the situation and which shipping carrier you used.
First off, if the package ends up completely lost (whether it disappears or ends up delivered to a different address, to an unrelated person who decides to keep it), you're out the cost of the item(s) themselves. If you sell expensive products, or your profit margin is low, this could already be a significant hit.
If the package simply gets returned to you, someone will need to pay to ship it again (to the correct address, this time). Even if your customers normally pay for shipping, the cost for re-shipment may be on you — customers may not be happy about paying for their order to be shipped a second time even if they're responsible for the mistake. It's a good customer service opportunity to offer to pay the cost of re-shipment, and depending on how upset the customer is over the delay in receiving their order, this may be your only chance to retain them.
Some customers may take responsibility for their error and be perfectly fine with paying for re-shipment to the correct address, even if you normally offer free shipping. You could take them up on this offer, but this is another chance to offer memorable customer service by assuming the shipping cost — and agreeable customers like these are worth going the extra mile to keep. In cases like this, it's up to you, but you should be aware of the potential cost to your business.
If the package is rerouted to the correct destination, other fees will result. FedEx and UPS both attempt to fix wrong addresses by comparing them to their database. When this action is taken, you'll be charged a fee. As of 2021, FedEx charges $18 per package and UPS charges $17. This amount has also been increasing each year, so it's likely to be even more expensive in the future. Packages that are charged this fee are also no longer covered under delivery speed guarantees (the guarantee that the shipping cost is refunded if the package is not on time).
In the case of the USPS, there's no automated process. You'll be required to perform a package intercept which you can only do if the shipment is still in transit. Of course, you'll also need to know the customer entered their address incorrectly, which they'd have to alert you to. If the customer never realizes they made a mistake with their address, or doesn't communicate it to you, you'll have no way of knowing an interception is needed.
Prevention is really the best option.
How Incorrect Addresses Hurt Your Customer Relationships
All business owners have heard the phrase "the customer is always right," and while this is objectively not true, it's been taken to heart by many customers themselves. Of course, many complaints are legitimate, but some customers tend to put the blame on businesses for problems that are not its fault. For example, some customers will give a business a poor review for a late shipment, even if it was solely due to a carrier delay or even something as impactful as a natural disaster. The business itself could have done everything right, with the problems due to outside factors, but the customer blames the business anyway.
Some customers seem to feel that any business worth their time is somehow capable of preventing issues that have nothing to do with the business's own operations. Like ensuring special treatment by the shipping carrier that will somehow eliminate all chances that the customer's order could arrive late. For this type of customer, their reasoning is that a better business would find a way to prevent these problems, even though it's not the business's responsibility (and it's technically impossible).
When they want to lay the blame somewhere, they'll lay it where they spent their money: your business — no matter whose fault the problem was. Customers who enter an incorrect shipping address may blame your business for their own error. The resulting shipping delays can cause them to lose confidence in you.
Some customers may not even believe that they entered their address incorrectly, and assume you're trying to cover for your own mistake. This is especially likely to happen if the customer is used to a different shipping carrier that hasn't had problems with their address (like the earlier example of a local post office that's accustomed to deliveries in the area). These customers may not even know their address wasn't correctly entered. For them, it's always worked before!
It might seem unfair for customers to blame your business for shipping problems that only came about because they entered their address incorrectly. But in this case, they're partially right. Sure, they're the one who entered the wrong address, but tools are available to help prevent these errors. It's your business's responsibility to have a bug-free, fully functioning eCommerce website that makes shopping easy for the customer. Installing address validation tools could be considered part of this responsibility.
It's best to simply avoid the "blame game" and build an eCommerce website that helps you avoid these types of customer service problems to begin with. Address validation tools are part of that (and we'll cover them shortly).
Of course, not every customer is going to be unreasonable, and there are many that won't blame you for an error they made. But you have to consider these customers, too. You could miss out on a loyal repeat customer simply because they feel stupid for having gotten their own address wrong and are too self-conscious to order from you again. Sure, this may not happen often, and not everyone finds this type of mistake that embarrassing. But some do — for example, 6.8% of adults in the US suffer from social anxiety disorder, which includes an intense fear of being judged by others. And while that seems like a small percentage, it amounts to 15 million people. Some of them could be your customers! And while you personally might not judge a customer for making such a mistake, once again it's best to take steps to avoid the situation in the first place.
How Address Verification Can Increase Sales
Adding an address validation method to your website does more than just prevent problems — it can also increase your sales.
Customers are always looking for online stores that offer the best possible user experience (UX). This means they prefer sites that are fast to load, easy to browse, and don't have any bugs. But that's the bare minimum of great UX. If you take extra steps to improve customer convenience, they'll notice.
Address validation is convenient for customers because it helps ease their concerns about making a mistake. After they've typed their address, they can select its correct version from a dropdown menu, and it will replace what they typed. This is especially useful for mobile shoppers, as typing on a mobile device can be difficult. Mobile autocorrect sometimes creates mistakes instead of fixing them, so address verification makes it much easier for a customer to fix a bad address without needing to retype it. They can just tap the correct version with their finger.
Not only does this make things easier for the customer, it also makes the checkout process faster. This is another important part of the user experience. Long, tedious checkouts are often abandoned, or discourage the customer from coming back to make another purchase.
So, having address verification on your website helps improve user experience and checkout speed, decrease abandoned carts, and increase conversion rates and customer loyalty. These all lead to an increase in sales.
You'll see an increase in overall customer satisfaction as well, which means you'll retain more customers in the long term. After all, your site gave them a smooth, easy shopping experience the first time around, so they're much more likely to buy from you again.
And of course, your business is going to be more profitable if you aren't getting hit with the fees resulting from incorrect addresses!
How to Solve Incorrect Shipping Addresses with Shift4Shop
Shift4Shop's goal is to make the best eCommerce features available to everyone, and that includes address verification. We offer two methods for adding this capability to your online store, and both are available for free.
Address Verification Module
Our Address Verification module is a built-in Shift4Shop feature you can activate quickly on your Shift4Shop website.
This module uses the USPS address-matching system to validate any US address entered by the customer. It will automatically compare the entered address with the USPS database. If the customer has made a mistake, they'll be alerted that the address they entered doesn't match the system, and will be shown one or more addresses that are the closest match to the one they entered. They can then select the correct one. The address correction follows USPS formatting standards to ensure complete accuracy, and it also validates address type (residential or commercial) which ensures the correct rates are displayed.
If you create manual orders in your store (Phone Orders/MOTO), you can also use Address Verification during this process — you simply have to turn it on in the module's options.
Note that while the module uses the USPS database for address verification, it can still be used regardless of which carrier you use for your shipping. However, it can only verify United States addresses.
This feature integrates seamlessly with both our Single-Page Checkout and multi-step checkout processes. Installing it on your Shift4Shop store only takes a few moments:
- Navigate to Modules in your Shift4Shop Online Store Manager.
- Locate the module (if you have a lot of modules installed, you can find it more quickly by entering Address Validation into the search bar).
- Click its Settings.
- Adjust the settings as you see fit — there are only a few and they're pretty straightforward, but we recommend you refer to the app's Knowledgebase article for a full explanation and FAQ covering these settings.
- Click the Save button at the top right of the Settings page.
Once you've followed these steps, the Address Verification module will be installed and working on your store.
Google Address Autofill
Shift4Shop is integrated with Google Places to give access to the Places Autocomplete feature. Google Places is part of the Google Maps platform and serves to include in-depth details about millions of points of interest around the globe, including precise addresses for shipping and billing purposes. Shift4Shop's Google Address Autofill connects your store with Google Places to allow customers to start typing an address and then select from a list of matches. This goes beyond simply checking their entered address against a database — it displays matches in real time as the customer types, so they can just click or tap the correct address when it appears in the dropdown list, without having to type the entire address first. Once you've installed it, it will also work on Phone Orders you create yourself in the Shift4Shop dashboard.
Setting up Google Address Autofill on your Shift4Shop store is a slightly more involved process than just installing an app, but it's not difficult, and the results are worth it. Follow these installation steps:
- Ensure your Shift4Shop store is using a Core theme. Core themes are our current design standard and are required for compatibility with many modern features like Google Address Autofill. Our older HTML5 and other legacy themes are unable to support this type of feature.
- With your Google Places API key ready, log into your Shift4Shop Online Store Manager and navigate to Modules.
- Locate the Google Address Autofill module by scrolling down the page or by entering its name in the Search bar.
- Click the module's Settings.
- A popup will appear. Enter your Google Places API key in the appropriate field, and then click Save at the bottom right of the popup. When you save, the popup will close and you'll receive a notification that the setting was saved.
- Mark the Enable checkbox on the Google Address Autofill module.
- Click Save at the top right of the page.
Once you've followed these steps, your Shift4Shop store will be connected to Google Places and will have access to its database for the purpose of address verification.
Let's do a quick overview of what we've learned:
- Incorrect addresses are a big problem in eCommerce.
- There are numerous possible reasons a customer could get their address wrong. Most commonly, it's a simple typo.
- Incorrect shipping addresses can cause your shipments to incur address correction fees, which hurt your revenue.
- Incorrect addresses can also cause customer service issues, which can cause you to lose customers.
- Having address verification on your website will help increase sales by eliminating these problems and making customers feel more confident about buying from you. Address verification also makes your online store's checkout faster and easier to use.
- Shift4Shop offers free methods for adding address verification to your store.
- Our built-in Address Verification module compares addresses against the USPS database to help customers select the correct address.
- Our Google Address Autofill feature compares addresses against the Google Places database instead.
Invalid shipping addresses can be a huge hassle, but they don't have to be. Now that you're aware of this problem, you can take steps to fix it and prevent these issues from affecting your business and your customers. And if you're using Shift4Shop, you can get started right away by choosing a method from this guide.
Let's make incorrect addresses a thing of the past!