Checkout Optimization

Checkout abandonment is a major inefficiency for most e-commerce sites. In the US, 45% of online shoppers admitted having abandoned shopping carts ‘multiple times’ within a specified three week period – the average value of goods in these abandoned carts was $1,091. One third of  US e-commerce merchants report cart abandonment rates of 50% or higher.

Monthly data on checkout abandonment in the UK has been published by Coremetrics3, an analytics vendor used by many of the major UK retail sites. By extracting and analysing this published data, a significant increase in checkout abandonment over the past two years emerges. This is worrying! We are meant to be getting better at guiding customers through the checkout, not worse. The explanation would appear to be a combination of two factors:

Customers’ expectations are rising. Akamai commissioned research in 2009 and again in 2011 to discover which aspects of e-commerce site performance most influenced customers’ purchasing decisions. In 2009, 57% of customers said a rapid checkout process ‘was most influential in [their] decision to continue shopping with an online store where [they] have shopped in the past’. By 2011 this figure had risen to 61%. Since 2006, when over two thirds of customers said they were willing to wait more than four seconds for a web page to load, the 2009 report found this figure had fallen to 17% only to go further down in 2011 to a staggering 14%.

Improvements in checkout design are failing to keep up with these rising customer expectations. Since our company started in 2004 as a whitelabel online optimization agency, it was challenging to identify any clear trends in the improvement of checkout – there are a few sites where checkout is a joy, yet for the majority of sites checkout is still unintuitive, unhelpful and error-prone. The most frustrating thing is that designing a good checkout isn’t hard any more. Losses during checkout have been highlighted for long enough now for best practice to have been identified and, in many cases, proven. If approached systematically, every checkout should be painless and effortless for the vast majority of customers.

Of course, not all of checkout abandonment is the fault of the checkout itself. A poor shopping experience overall can leave customers without the motivation to complete the purchase, and we address that in our online strategy optimization and lead generation recommendations on the website.

Checkout optimization, the Soliber Net way

Here are 10 specific issues related to the entire checkout process (as opposed to any particular element or page, which is dealt with in the Lead Generation and Split Testing sections), all of which are focused on making checkout simpler in one way or another:

  1. Isolating the checkout – we strive to minimize all possible distractions and isolate the checkout process from the rest of the site.
  2. Checkout steps – at every stage during checkout, the customer should know where they are in the process and what remains to be done before purchase is complete.
  3. Navigation – navigation through the checkout process is nearly always in one direction – towards order confirmation.
  4. Persistent summary of checkout information – customers may want to be reminded and reassured about the information they have entered during the checkout process so far.
  5. Avoiding loss of information already entered – of all the annoying things that happen in checkout, losing the information you’ve already entered is among the worst.
  6. Stock management & session timing – we believe stock availability should always be made clear prior to checkout, and stock reserved at an appropriate point; this is especially critical in time-bound verticals like air travel, accommodation booking or any auction-type transactions.
  7. Form design – we work to improve both the visual appearance and the functionality of forms at different checkout stages.
  8. Validation and error-trapping – our recommendation is to let customers type in what they want and then use your e-commerce
    system to process it into a different format if necessary for minimum hassle and a seamless flow through checkout.
  9. Calls to action / submit buttons – they should be actionable, stand out and remain consistent throughout the process.
  10. Trust by customers – offer clear signs of security (such as valid links to third-party verification) and provides customers with the reassurance that help is on hand should they need it, both online and on the phone.