ShopSite Tip – Customize Your Tax and Shipping

It seems obvious, and is quite simple, but I’m always amazed when some merchants do not take the time to customize the shopper selected sales tax text and default shipping options. Instead, you see this in the cart:


When a would be customer puts something in the cart, you’re now expecting them to know what state and city you reside in, and to understand the time frame of each of these generic shipping options. What’s more likely is they will become frustrated and/or confused, and go somewhere else to complete their purchase.

Instead of the above graphic, take a few minutes to configure sales tax and shipping so it’s easy to understand. For sales tax, it’s probably best to set the option “Use Zip code to determine sales tax” and have the shipping zip code entered on the cart page automatically determine the applicable taxes. If you need/want the shopper to select the sales tax, make sure the options are clearly labeled and make sense for a new customer that does not know anything about your company. Here’s a good example for the complicated New York state sales tax by county:


For shipping in ShopSite, you can customize the text under:
Preferences -> Store Text -> Shipping

The shipping options should be descriptive, indicate the carrier if applicable, and an estimate of delivery time. There should be a few options that a customer can choose from, but do not overwhelm them with too many options, as it can be confusing. Here’s an example of descriptive shipping options:


It may sound like simple advice, but I still see stores go live (and ones that have been running for years) where these default values and options have not been altered. The shopping cart is where you want to make it as easy and straightforward as possible for a potential customer to “pull the trigger” and commit to making a purchase. Putting roadblocks in their way such as confusing sales tax and shipping options that are insufficient in their delivery method will only lead to higher cart abandonment rates.

(We’ll examine the cart to checkout to completed order flow in a future post.)


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  1. Brent says:

    Great advice. I cannot tell you how many websites I have seen that use things like this. Plus they continue to do it even after you show them how to make it better.

    You can even take it a step further and add more zip code fields in ShopSite that will allow you to use the zip code to automatically calculate County taxes. You just need the zip code breakdowns by County. This is located under Commerce Setup > Tax.

  2. Brent, thanks for the extra tip. It is amazing that sites continue to use the default settings for such an important step in the buying process.

    The problem with New York is they have counties that have overlapping zip code ranges, so they make it difficult for online stores to easily comply with their complex tax code. Other states planned their counties more logically to make it easy to setup zip code ranges and rates.

    • Scott says:

      California levies a state-wide sales tax as well as counties and cities/municipalities. There are about 4,200 such combinations. These can be boiled down to about 2,600 zip codes.

      So your recommendation is a nice idea in theory, but how do I apply it in reality? A 2,600 item drop down menu would be a bit much, don’t you think?

      • California and New York make this a more difficult task to manage. You can create as many “sales tax by zip” textboxes as you need in the backoffice, populate each with the zip codes that correspond to a specific tax rate, and ShopSite will apply the correct rate for shoppers when they enter their shipping zip code on the cart page.

        However, if counties have overlapping zip codes, then it will not be 100% accurate. Some merchants approximate the rate state wide, and sort it out after the fact in terms of complying with state law.

        Two other options would be to have a developer create a Tax API that automates this process, and can read in a downloaded tax file to return accurate sales tax. The file could then be updated when the state makes changes. Or, you could look at the AvaTax API from Avalara, although this is quite expensive.

        • Scott says:

          Thanks Rob. Another question in search of a solution. You say that some merchants approximate the rate state wide, and sort it out after the fact in terms of complying with state law.

          The California state tax return requires sales to be broken down into about 120 different lines by county and then by municipality (see How does or can ShopSite support the needed detail? Thanks

          • Not sure how merchants actually put this into practice. Some might collect the county data after the sale is complete, and with an average sales tax rate in the cart, it works out in terms of not losing too much after you calculate the actual sales tax based on county.

            Sort of like charging an average rate for shipping and setting it up so it averages out to not cause a loss on shipping costs.

            Maybe another merchant will chime in, or maybe ask on the ShopSite forum.

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