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Checkout abandonment is a major problem for most e-commerce sites, but many of the factors causing customers to bail on purchases can be addressed. 

Reasons for abandonment include high shipping costs, checkout errors, and the fact that some customers simply want to check prices. 

Here are ten ways to improve the e-commerce checkout process, and minimise abandonment rates...

Avoid unnecessary barriers

Now, consumer surveys on e-commerce sites (and, for that matter, any site) are a fine idea, and they can yield some valuable insights, but there's a time and place for them. 

On Sears, just as I have added an item to the basket and selected the guest checkout option, my progress to the checkout is interrupted by this: 

This is a) annoying and b) a barrier to purchase. Getting the customer through the checkout process is more important than the survey at this point.

Why not ask once the customer has completed checkout, or follow up with an email? 

Remove compulsory registration

Customers don't like having to register before checkout. A recent Econsultancy / Toluna study found that 25.6% of online consumers would abandon a purchase if they were forced to register first. 

After adding items to your basket, what would make you abandon your purchase?

Sites like Amazon may get away with this, but I wouldn't recommend it for most sites. There are examples of sites which have moved away from compulsory registration and reaped the rewards. 

ASOS managed to halve its abandonment rate at the registration page simply by removing any mention of creating an account, and another 'mystery' retailer added $300m to its annual revenues by removing the compulsory registration.

Most US e-commerce sites have seen the light on this issue, with eight of the top ten US etailers providing a guest checkout option

One that doesn't is Newegg, which could do with a redesign of the whole site, not just the checkout: 

By offering customers guest checkout with the option of registering later, you avoid the barrier of registration, but still allow easy registration once customers are through the process. After all, once they have entered address and payment details, all they need to do is create a password. 

Enclose the checkout

This is about removing any distractions for customers and concentrating their minds on the task in hand. 

Here's why retailers should enclose the checkout: 

Reasons for enclosing the checkout 

  • By leaving out navigational elements, all unnecessary distractions are removed and this allows the shopper to focus purely on completing their purchase. 
  • Thanks to the removal of these distractions, information which gives the visitor confidence in their purchase is made more prominent, such as delivery details and customer service contact details. 
  • Security logos and messages are more visible, providing reassurances for the security-conscious shopper. 
  • 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. 
  • Apart from the homepage link, customers can only head in one direction, towards the payment and order confirmation page. 

Ideally, there should be no link that takes customers away from the checkout process, except perhaps a link back to the homepage.

Some customers may need reassurances about shipping times and costs, or returns. This information should appear in lightboxes which don't interrupt the checkout process. 

In this example, Sears ticks all of these boxes: 

Reaffirm prices and delivery charges

This allows customers to quickly check on the contents of their shopping carts and the total charges before they complete the checkout, removing any concerns about costs. 

Provide alternative payment methods

According to WorldPay stats, alternative payments account for 22% of global e-commerce transactions, worth a total of €165bn. 

Therefore, it makes sense to offer different payment methods and appeal to as many potential customers as possible. 

Clear calls to action

The perfect call to action should be arrived at by a process of testing colour, placement, size etc, but customers should be in no doubt of how to proceed to the next step in the checkout. 

On some sites, the calls to action are a little lost below the fold, or else 'drowned out' by other elements on the page. 

I've seen worse examples than this, but Best Buy's call to action doesn't stand out as much as it could. Use of colour, and perhaps a bigger button, would improve it: 

Show a progress indicator

At every stage during checkout, the customer should know where they are in the process and what remains to be done before the purchase is complete. 

One way to achieve this is to have a progress bar across the top of each checkout page, which shows the stages within the checkout process and also highlights the customer's current location. 

Let people use the back button

There may be times when customers want to go back a step or two in the checkout to check the address details they've entered, change the email address, and so on. 

It should be easy to do this without losing the information already entered, but some sites make the following mistakes: 

Browser error messages

If you press the back button during checkout on Hamleys.com, you get this message: 

To the average e-commerce customer, a warning is only a cause for concern, possibly to the extent of abandoning their purchase. They don't understand the warning and can‟t decide what to do, in case they get it wrong... and most importantly of all, this sort of warning is irrelevant in an e-commerce checkout.

AJAX checkouts

A very different problem that arises when customers use the browser back button is that it sometimes doesn't take the customer where they expect to go. This is mostly a problem when AJAX is used to step customers through a checkout process without moving from one web page to the next.

Using the back button will take customers to the last page they had looked at, which in an AJAX-driven checkout is likely to be the basket page – very annoying if you were on the fourth step of a five-step checkout and wanted to go back to step three! There are many different technical work-arounds to this problem.

Sites should make it easy for customers to navigate back and forth through the checkout, but should also ensure that they can use the back button. 

Form design 

Form design is worthy of a post of its own but, in a nutshell, forms should be easy to complete and should not ask customers for too much information. 

Shortcuts like populating forms with information previously submitted, remembering address and payment details from previous purchases all help to ease progress through checkout. 

Careful with coupon codes

Coupon codes are great for customer acquisition, but there can be drawbacks. For one, they alert customers to the existence of a possible discount, which may lead them to abandon the purchase in search of coupon codes. 

Coupon code checkout

Here are a few tips on avoiding these risks, some taken from this post on GetElastic:

  • Only show the discount code box to those customers that have arrived via affiliate links or marketing emails. 
  • Issue private discount codes. These are sent to selected customers, and are associated with their email address or login details and therefore cannot be distributed via voucher code sites. However, the very existence of a code entry box will have some customers leaving the checkout to look for them. 
  • Use the code entry box to build an email list. By displaying a 'how do I get this?' message next to the box, retailers can keep users on site to get their discount code, with the added benefit of gaining a customer's opt-in for future email marketing. 
  • Link to your own coupon page. Again, this keeps customers onsite, and has the added SEO benefit of appearing in searches for brand name + voucher code. 
  • Disguise the box. A crafty trick, but making the box less visible, perhaps in a duller colour than other calls to action may mean  that some shoppers will not notice it. 
  • Place a discount code next to the box. This could be a less generous offer than those on voucher code sites, but it could keep customers within the process while still feeling they have bagged a bargain. 
  • 'Hide' it below the fold. Those that have codes will find it anyway, but other shoppers won't immediately notice it. 
  • Use of language. This example suggests that customers can 'enter voucher code (if any)', implying that codes may be scarce, and customers might be wasting their time Googling around for one. 

Cart image credit: Emutold via Flickr

Graham Charlton

Published 16 October, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Some great examples Graham. At AllSaints I saw some improvements in conversion where we really tried to reduce the visual complexity of the checkout. For example, we collapsed the giftcard entry section by default(as most customers wouldn't have one), it was revealed by a click.

This week at Schuh I've discovered some 'hidden' conversion issues that I found through analytics; basically we seem to be having problems with Macintosh users abandoning their basket. In this case, I think the lesson is 'make sure that your checkout works as well as you think it works across all platforms', but there is also a more general lesson of 'what can you learn from existing purchasing data?'

about 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

I cringe if I see the word register anywhere near a site's checkout. There's simply no need for it. Registration should always be a seamless by-product of the customer placing their order, not a prerequisite.

about 4 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

It's always good to focus back on CheckOut optimisation Graham.

I'm not sure I agree with you on this though:

> Ideally, there should be no link that takes customers away from the checkout process, except perhaps a link back to the homepage.

Isn't there an argument that sometimes a shopper will on impulse decide they want to add something else to the basket. (Sometimes an item that they had researched and planned to buy elsewhere, but on impulse decide to buy it here as it's less hassle than a whole new checkout elsewhere).

So a 'Continue Shopping' type button, or even a 'add one more thing' button may have pros and cons.

In fact, you do say the user should have flexibility to 'use the back button' - which is similar, and I guess a major reason may be to go back to remove things from the basket, so it's good to make it easy to add things too!

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Deri - I see your point. I tend to use the homepage / logo link if I need to add anything else, but it does make sense to have a more clearly labelled button which reassures the customer that no information entered will be lost.

I wonder if any sites have tried this?

about 4 years ago


Lauren Bennett

These are great tips Graham. I especially agree with reaffirming prices and delivery charges, it can be a huge turn off to a customer and affect their loyalty if they find out there have been hidden charges. I’ve also found this showing retailers are losing millions through checkout abandonment. http://cloud-data-news.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/index.php/2012/10/01/retailers-losing-millions-from-abandoned-baskets/

about 4 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Pre-checkout registration is one of the most frustrating elements of a online purchase. I definitely have gone elsewhere because I didn't want to sign up.

I don't think there is any harm in companies giving users to option to leave their email for offers, discounts, promotions should they be interested. Added towards the end of the checkout process.

about 4 years ago



You are right! Its been a long procedure to fill out for product shipping while shopping online. One step magneto will provide the single step cart checkout process and a easier way to shop online without any loss....

almost 4 years ago

James .

James ., Director, Digital Strategy & Optimisation at Personal

It has been a while since this article was written but still so impactive.

@Tom - I agree, processes that force registration prior to purchase are very frustrating, especially when you, the user & potential customer, just want to check out and get on. Guest checkouts are a great offering but at least offer a passive registration option.

@Stuart - Whilst your point was made over a year ago, how true it is. Following IE10 being updated, we discovered that desktop users paying via WorldPay were seeing the mobile payment pages, which would be great (as it was a good experience) but dependent on your screen resolution and screen quality, you could not see the payment button due to colour contrast levels. We too picked it up when analysing checkout abandonment data within analytics. It may take time trawling the vastness of your analytics suite but it can be very worthwhile.

almost 3 years ago

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