E-Commerce Insights: 5 Steps to the Perfect Checkout
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
How does the nonstick material stick to the bottom of the pan?
Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?
Life has many mysteries. Building a perfect checkout system is not one of them.
Users Know Best
Over the past decade, Internet users have repeatedly told us what works best in checkouts. Unfortunately, many companies ignore the customers’ sage advice — which is proven by sales and conversion in the cart — and recreate the wheel. This is nothing short of a travesty, and if you’re smart, or at least hungry for higher top-line dollars, you’ll avoid it and follow the magic checkout formula.
So what is the perfect checkout? One-click checkouts are, for the most part, the best performers. However, long before you build a single-step checkout, know exactly where and when customers are abandoning. The best way to figure out where your cart (and possibly your overall business) has the most roadblocks is to implement a five-step checkout.
Before we go through each step, keep in mind that the “View Cart” page is technically a holding pen and not considered by users to be a step of the checkout at all. So we’ll skip it for this article.
Step 1: The Welcome Page. This should be the simplest page of the checkout for your users. It serves one purpose: to capture the customers’ e-mail addresses and/or login information so you can market to them by e-mail or phone if they abandon.
The page should be easy as one-two-three. The faster customers get through the first page, the more likely they are to finish the checkout process. Customers can choose to (1) log in as registered users; (2) sign up as new users; or (3) check out as guests. Guest checkout is one of the most important things you can offer, but it’s often forgotten.
Steps 2 & 3: The Billing Page and the Shipping Page. In a utopian world, billing and shipping would be one screen. Each field should be vertical, and variant fields (telephone number, for example) should have an example underneath, even if you’re going to auto-correct any errors customers type in.
At the end of the billing screen, offer a check box for “click here now to use billing address for shipping.” Offer the same statement at the top of the shipping page, so if users miss it on the billing screen, they can still easily prefill their information.
Step 4: The Delivery Options and Payment Page. Chances are, this will be one of your most abandoned pages. So it’s important to set it up correctly. Show credit card symbols on the page, and don’t just rely on the words. Ask for the type of card with a check box near the icon (not a drop-down), the name on the card, the card number, expiration date and the CID if you capture it. (If you’re not going to use the CID, don’t ask for it.) The shipping alternatives should be as clear and uncomplicated as possible. Try to avoid any sort of charts or zone maps. It’s critical that this page is no more than one screen.
Make sure you track where on this page customers abandon you. If you don’t have a high-end analytics package, do a server call after the credit card information and before the shipping information so you can determine which of the two areas you have the issue with. If you have a very complicated shipping process or procedure, it may be best to break the delivery options into their own page.
If you have a lot of abandons on the payment page, test to see whether you have too many payment options. In the past six months, the multitude of alternate payment options has increased abandons for several e-commerce companies.
Step 5: The Confirmation Page. The purpose of this page is to thank your customers for their orders and entice them back into the site. Yes, it’s true — this is one of the best sales pages on the site. The users are happy (they just completed their orders after all), and it’s a great opportunity to show them things they missed. Make sure to thank them for their orders first, as well as give them all the applicable ordering information so you can set their expectations as to follow-up and delivery.
More Conversion Keys
Make your checkout as clean and aesthetically pleasing as possible. The navigation should be nominal, almost nonexistent. The more choices you offer, the more chances customers have to be distracted. The fields themselves should be vertical — not vertical/horizontal mixed — and straight down the middle of the page. The right-hand column should have your complete contact information, with emphasis on phone number and/or any live online support/chat you may offer.
Each page of the checkout should have a temperature bar at the top. The purpose of the temperature bar is to outline the steps of your process for users as well as to show them where they are in the process. Studies have repeatedly proven that users are far less likely to abandon carts if they can effectively gauge how much longer they have left. Considering that some checkouts have one step and others have as many as 14, users don’t know how much longer they have to spend unless you tell them.
Additionally, each page should have big, smacky, in-your-face buttons to encourage users to “check out now,” “proceed to the checkout now” and “complete your order now.” If anything goes beyond one screen view (meaning the user needs to scroll), definitely employ multiple buttons. No page in your checkout should require more than two views.
Addressing security throughout the cart will help maximize conversions. Verisign-type logos at the top and bottom of the page are helpful, as is addressing “100% secure shopping guaranteed” some place in the upper right-hand corner.
Adding your phone number in as many places as possible is also beneficial. At the least, you should have it in the top column, the right-hand column and the bottom column. For those of you who say, “We don’t want orders on the phone, that’s why we have a Web site,” think again. The fact of the matter is that people who use the phone number in the checkout are trying to save their orders from being abandoned. Web customers don’t want to use the phone, that’s why they’re on your Web site. If they call you, it’s most likely because they have a question or problem in the checkout, or they don’t feel safe or secure in your cart. In short, not allowing them to call you means fewer sales.
Speaking of calling, live chat, if executed properly, works very well in checkouts. One caveat: If you’re not offering 24-hour chat, take it out when it’s offline. And when you don’t offer it, hide all evidence that you do at other times. Offline, interrupted, busy signal and no-answer checkouts have proven to significantly increase abandons.
Amy Africa is president of Eight by Eight, a Williston, Vt.-based consulting firm specializing in Web site improvement, traffic building, SEO, analytics and e-mail marketing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 838-1828.