Retailer logos for John Lewis, Play.com, Toyrus and PC WorldNow with our economy firmly in a recession, most retailers no longer have the types of budgets available to replatform. Instead, 2009 will be a year for improving their existing platforms, trying to increase conversion rates, average order values and returning visitor numbers.

So with this primary drive to improve performance, are retailers doing all that they can? Are retailers following best practice to help more visitors complete the buying process, and are retailers removing usability barriers to ensure that in such competitive times visitors aren’t encouraged to find reasons why they shouldn’t complete their purchase?

In the words of the highly respected Ian Jindal, Founder & Editor in Chief of Internet Retailing and ex Group eCommerce Director at Littlewoods Shop Direct Group, “2008 was a year of retailers re-platforming onto newer, more intelligent and more personalised e-commerce platforms. In 2009 it’s all about optimisation and getting more-for-less”. These quotes where from Ian’s presentation at Digital Shorts in Manchester in February 2009.

So with this primary drive to improve performance, are retailers doing all that they can? Are retailers following best practice to help more visitors complete the buying process, and are retailers removing usability barriers to ensure that in such competitive times visitors aren’t encouraged to find reasons why they shouldn’t complete their purchase?

These are some of the questions I tackle in my training course for Econsultancy, entitled Ecommerce Usability and Best Practice for Online Retailers.

Focus on the checkout process

In my retail experience at the likes of Shop Direct Group and JD Williams, one of the primary areas where retailers regularly lose sales from potential customers is the checkout process.

Enclosing the checkout process is something which is proven to reduce checkout abandonments, but are retailers adopting this approach?

Prior to giving some examples of how some retailers are presenting their checkout process, it is worth summarising some of the main benefits and rationale behind enclosing the checkout process:

  • All unnecessary distractions are removed, such as search functionality and primary navigation, allowing the visitor to focus purely on completing their purchase
  • Information which is key to giving the visitor confidence to complete their purchase is made much more prominent, such as delivery details and customer service contact details
  • Security assurances are made more visible to provide wary visitors with the added confidence that their personal and payment details will be handled securely
  • It is made absolutely clear to visitors where they are within the checkout process and how many steps they have left to complete their purchase

Enclosed checkout process examples

So which retailers are following these best practice principles and enclosing their checkout process? Below are 3 great examples from Play.com, John Lewis and Game.

Play.com

Play.com ticks all the right boxes for enclosing their checkout process, although to further enhance the usability it could be more descriptive with the primary action button, so rather than saying ‘continue’ it could say ‘proceed to payment’.

Play.com checkout design

John Lewis

John Lewis has delivered a minimal, focused checkout design, although it could provide added assurance for visitors by providing a mini overview of the shopping basket value.

John Lewis checkout design

Game

Game has really focused on assuring visitors that their site is completely secure, whilst also following all the other best practice principles of enclosing the checkout process. As with John Lewis it would help shoppers if they could see their shopping basket and delivery value at each stage of the process.

Game checkout design

Traditional checkout process examples

In comparison to retailers who enclose their checkout process, there are a number of well-known retailers who currently provide a more traditional design approach, and based on my experience I would expect that these retailers may well be losing some potential customers during this process.

The examples below are from Net-a-Porter, Toysrus, PC World, Firebox and Thorntons.

Net-A-Porter

Net-a-Porter has maintained its primary navigation, search facility and other links in the header of the pages as you move through the checkout process. It does provide a security message along with a customer service number, but there is no indication of payment options available at the early stages of checkout.

Net-a-porter checkout design

Toysrus

Toysrus has also maintained its primary navigation and whole header area, and due to the vibrant design style of the website this header area really dominates the checkout pages and is distracting. In addition Toysrus doesn’t provide a

progress indicator at this early stage, and it is also asking visitors for information which isn’t pertinent to making their purchase, which is another usability barrier when visitors want to simply make a purchase.

Toysrus checkout design

PC World

PC World does provide fairly prominent security messages and payment options, although the retailer hasn’t removed all the unnecessary links, search functionality and navigation bar in the header area. The progress indicator currently lacks good visibility, with that area dominated by the dark purple bar which doesn’t serve any purpose in the checkout process.

PC World checkout design

Firebox

One of the most successful pure-play online retailers, Firebox does follow some of the best practice principles, such as a clear progress indicator, customer service number and security messages, but currently it also still displays a number of links and the primary navigation which should be removed to avoid distracting shoppers as they checkout.

Firebox checkout design

Thorntons

Thorntons also maintains the display of both the main header used throughout the site, along with the footer which contains a wide number of links which are relevant to a visitor’s checkout process. There is also a lack of clear messages around security, delivery and payment options which would act as assurances for some shoppers to proceed in the process.

Thorntons checkout design

Ways forward for continual measurement, optimisation and increased sales conversions

In summary, when visitors have made their commitment to start a checkout process with a retailer, the retailer should do everything they can to help them get through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible. All un-necessary distractions and usability barriers, such as a lack of security assurances and unclear delivery charges, should be eliminated.

There are so many valuable measurement and optimisation tools and techniques available for retailers, such as carrying out split and multivariate testing and setting up goals and funnels with your analytic software to measure key abandonment pages. With this in mind, online retailers are exceptionally well placed to make incremental improvements to the performance of their website during this year, and enclosing their checkout process should be one of their primary objectives.

If you interested in gaining a greater understanding of best practice principles that retailers should be adopting to improve their conversion rates, I would recommend you taking a look at the training course entitled Ecommerce Usability and Best Practice for Online Retailers which I run for Econsultancy.