fast online checkoutintermediate

4-night trip to New Orleans, flight and hotel included, for $499? Awesome! Buy Now!

My login information? I've never even been on this site before.

Oh, apparently I have, and I set up a username and password. Well, I don't remember them, so I'll check out as a guest.

There's no guest checkout? I just want to go to New Orleans! Whatever, I probably can't get off work that week anyway.

Sound familiar? If so, you've been the victim of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad online checkout experience. We realized that we've written about how to design your website to entice browsers to turn into shoppers, and we've written about how to nurture shoppers who abandon their carts. But we haven't told you how to design a seamless, efficient checkout experience that ensures customers actually complete their purchases the first time they're in your shopping cart.

It all boils down to simplicity. The more options, barriers, and just plain annoyances you put in front of an online shopper, the less likely they are to complete a purchase. This post will show ecommerce companies how to set up their checkout experience for the least amount of pain and agony for their customers, and enjoy better shopping cart conversion rates as a result.

1) Don't Require Login Information

I kind of gave this one away in the intro, but it's such a huge barrier to completing a purchase it's worth reiterating. When someone is excited about a purchase, they want it, and they want it now. What a bummer to think you're minutes away from completing an order, only to find out you have an additional few minutes of required registration ahead of you. Or worse, you've already been through the registration process and you can't remember your login information, so you have to go through the rigamarole of confirming your high school math teacher's favorite ice cream flavor (case sensitive) to retrieve your login information.

Yes, it is more convenient for your lead nurturing and their future shopping to establish a login with your site, but providing the option for guest checkout will ensure you don't lose a customer and revenue today.

2) Let Shoppers Save Personal Information

On the flip side of the coin, shoppers that do choose to register with your site and complete their purchase logged in should be able to reap the benefits with an expedient checkout. And part of that means you've saved certain pieces of personal information with their permission, like name, address, and even credit card information (just make sure they verify it with a security code each time). On the sites I visit and purchase from often, I do elect to create a login and save my information for future purchases; and let me tell you, it feels great to complete an order with literally the click of a button.

3) Make It Short

Just like your landing page forms, the fewer fields you require a visitor to fill out, the better. Only ask for information you absolutely need, and offer shortcuts for shoppers like providing a check box that lets them indicate their shipping and billing address are the same.

But even if your checkout experience is short, it might not seem that brief to a shopper. Use visual tricks to ensure your shopper isn't overwhelmed at the prospect of checking out. The best one is breaking up the checkout experience into a few different steps. For example, you might start with just basic information, like Name and Email Address, and then encourage the shopper to click through to the next step. Working in phases like this not only helps a shopper feel less overwhelmed with a detailed checkout process, but it enables you to capture critical lead nurturing information that, should the shopper abandon their shopping cart, lets you recover the sale through automated email offers.

4) Give Indicators of Progress

This multi-step checkout approach, however, does have some pitfalls when not executed correctly. If a shopper has no idea how many steps are involved in the multi-step checkout or how far along they are in the process, they'll assume the worst -- that they're so far from the end they can't even see the finish line. Instead, take a cue from clothing e-retailer ModCloth, which breaks up their checkout into four clearly labeled steps:

registration steps

Not only are the steps clearly numbered and labeled, but the current step is bright and bold to reinforce progress. Plus, the "Continue" button is designed exactly like any good call-to-action -- with a bright, contrasting color so the shopper knows where to go on the screen and what to do next!

5) Make Complementary Product Recommendations

You may think of cross-selling and upselling as opportunities for you, because it drives more revenue. Well, you're right -- but it also makes for a happier customer if they choose to take advantage of your recommendation. Just take a look at what Amazon recommends I purchase based on my addition of decorating bags to my shopping cart:

ecommerce recommendation engines

Oh, good call, Amazon. Buying a ton of decorating bags wouldn't be that useful if I didn't have the tips to go with them. Or maybe I already have the tips at home, but after decorating a bunch of cakes I've realized how annoying it is to keep switching between multiple icing bags. Good thing they have that handy dandy decorating bag holder!

If I don't purchase any of these additional items, that's okay; it didn't hinder my checkout experience in any way to see the recommendations. But if you recommend complementary products that make me enjoy my purchase more or trigger a reminder in my head of something else I almost forgot to purchase, I'm a happy camper ... and you will be too once you're rolling in all that dough (baking pun intended).

6) Set Up Forms in a Logical Flow

Most shoppers come to a shopping cart prepared to divulge a lot of information, but their willingness to actually complete the process weighs heavily on whether you're collecting the information in a logical way. People have gotten used to a certain flow -- usually something like you see in the ModCloth example in tip #4:

  • Contact information like name, email address, and phone number
  • Shipping information, or the physical address to which the order will be shipped
  • Billing information, typically your credit card information and an affirmation that the contact information and address provided before are associated with that card

Yes, there are other steps involved in many checkout processes, but these are the basic pieces of information almost any ecommerce site will require a shopper to provide. And they are grouped in the logical order to which we've all become accustomed! Don't start off asking for credit card information, then move over to phone number, then ask for their billing address, and then, well, you get the picture.

7) Offer Rush Processing and Shipping

When you offer rush processing and multiple shipping options, you're providing another win-win for you and your customer. If necessary, they get their order processed and shipped extremely quickly, and you get the benefit of earning a little extra money off of their purchase. But this only works if you're also upfront about the additional cost associated with these add-on services before the customer opts for them. Consider this scenario to see what I mean.

You found a great deal for that trip to New Orleans on a site that didn't have such an annoying checkout process, and decided to go shopping for a new bathing suit to rock along the Mississippi. You found one you love, added it to your shopping cart, and saw the e-retailer offered rush shipping. You think to yourself, "Self, I should probably get this rush shipped in case it doesn't look good, and I need to return it and order a new one before the trip." You select the rush shipping option, which includes no indication it costs any more than the regular shipping option. You click to review and complete your order, and HOLY COW rush shipping costs $35?! You debate whether it's worth it, decide you'd rather spend $35 on Bourbon Street, and instead head down to a local store where there's no shipping costs to contend with.

Long story short, tell shoppers the cost of your rush processing and shipping costs up front so they don't suffer sticker shock, and abandon the whole purchase as a result.

8) Keep Your Contact Information Handy

This is an oft-overlooked but simple change to make in your checkout process. Include customer service contact information in every stage of your checkout so shoppers can contact someone for help if necessary. The alternative is confused or reticent shoppers abandoning their shopping carts before completing a purchase. LessEverything performed a study that confirms that sites that include a prominently placed phone number not just in their shopping cart, but on every page of their website, typically see a 1.8% increase in overall site visitors that convert into paying customers.

9) Call Attention to Mistakes Quickly and Clearly

When filling out the required fields, many shoppers will mistype information. It happens, we're human. Do your part as an awesome ecommerce business by alerting them to it as soon as possible, and as clearly as possible.

ecommerce checkout process

For example, if someone enters only 9 digits for their phone number, they probably just slipped up. But don't wait until the end of the checkout process to tell them that -- alert them right away! Even worse, don't make it impossible to find and understand the mistake you just alerted them to. Mistakes should be in big, bright, bold letters with explanatory text so shoppers don't have to troll through all of the fields to identify which one contains the mistake, and the right way to fix it.

10) Reassure Buyers That You're Secure

People are increasingly wary of providing personal information, but ecommerce purchases are on the rise. E-retailers alone are seeing a 17% YOY increase in online retail spend according to comScore, bringing the e-retail sector's spending to a whopping $44.3 billion at the end of Q1 2012. That tells me people are excited about making their purchases online ... so overcoming that privacy hurdle shouldn't be too big of a barrier! Simply reassure your visitors that they can trust you to handle their sensitive information responsibly, like Zappos does below.


privacy and security

Be sure your shopping cart includes a link to your privacy policy for those extra-scrupulous shoppers, and visual cues of your trustworthiness like the third-party seals of approval you see above.

11) Let Customers Review Their Order Before Placing It

Finally, let customers review and finalize their order before actually placing it. Too many shoppers have been burned by ecommerce companies that have tacked on surprise taxes, shipping costs, or other surcharges to their final order without their knowledge. Even worse, some of those companies don't provide this opportunity to review your purchase before it is submitted, which means a shopper paid more than they originally intended. I'm sure you're not going to tack on those surprise costs to your customers, but this review screen also provides an opportunity to ensure little details are correct -- like shipping address, order quantities, and credit card information. The final review will make for happier customers that are more likely to return, and decrease the need for returns and customer service attention.

What do you do to create a seamless online checkout experience? Share your recommendations (or pet peeves) in the comments!

Image credit: takacsi75

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Originally published May 24, 2012 9:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Ecommerce Marketing