{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

A number of well-known retailers are making basic mistakes with postcode validation which could be increasing their checkout abandonment rates. 

Users are prone to make errors when completing web forms, and anticipating and dealing with common errors can minimise the risk that user frustration will lead to them abandoning the checkout. 

I'll look at one common error, which many sites fail to account for. An oversight which may be increasing their checkout abandonment rates... 

The postcode validation problem 

There are a number of issues around postcode entry, such as whether sites accept postcodes with or without a space in the middle (they should accept either). 

For example, if you enter your postcode without spaces on Tesco Clothing, you get an error message insisting on spacing and capitals.

Why not tell customers this before they type? 

 

Update: March 2013 - Venda and Tesco have improved the validation on the postcode field and this is no longer an issue.

Another, more subtle error is that of customers entering zero instead of the letter 'O', or the number '1' instead of the letter 'i' and vice versa. 

Since it's an error which isn't always noticed by customers, and error messaging on sites is frequently unclear, users are likely to repeat it, becoming more frustrated with each error message.

The likely result, unless they realise their mistake, is that they will abandon the purchase.

In the case of Belron, Craig Sullivan found that this was causing 2.5% of customers to abandon. To solve the problem, Belron's forms now anticipates these errors so that users continue through the form, not even knowing they had made a mistake. 

This avoids the risk that customers will abandon, and also means that no annoying error messages are necessary. 

However, while the potential solution is simple, many big name retailers are still failing this test. In this case, I've used Econsultancy's postcode, replacing the 1 with the letter 'i'. 

Retailers that fail the postcode test

Argos

Here, entering 'i' instead of the number 1 produces an error message, which does nothing at all to deal with the problem. If the user doesn't happen to spot their error, they are at a dead-end. 

Apple

Tesco

Same problem on Tesco. The error message is less confusing than that on Argos, though still doesn't help. 

Amazon

I get the same problem on Amazon... 

Next

Debenhams

The error message is pretty useless. 

ASOS

The postcode error trips up ASOS. It does suggest some alternative steps at least, but it's a complicated process, especially when it could just anticipate the error. 

John Lewis

John Lewis won't accept my postcode: 

However, it does provide a 'don't know the postcode?' link, which enables me to enter the adresss before it suggests possible codes. This solution at least avoids leaving the customer at a dead end. 

Who is getting this right? 

Play.com

Kudos to Play.com, which accepts my error without mentioning it, and displays a list of possible addresses:  

M&S

M&S sort of gets it right. It doesn't produce an error message but instead lets the user continue with the incorrect postcode. I guess it would be close enough to get to the right destination. 

Conclusion

So, just one of the top ten UK retailers are anticipating and dealing with this error, though M&S at least provides an alternative approach which may minimise the risk of the customer abandoning the checkout. 

If, for the sake of argument, a similar proportion of users are being tripped up by the error as Craig Sullivan reported for Belron (though this was a few years ago), then this represents a massive loss of potential revenue when we look at online giants like Argos and Amazon. 

These retailers would be wise to study their analytics and run some tests to see if strict postcode validation for this and other errors is a problem. If it is, the solution is simple... 

Graham Charlton

Published 6 November, 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 (26)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Peter Bell

Peter Bell, Managing Director at Fuse Lead Marketing

How very true. It never ceases to frustrate and amaze me how the small details cause big problems when it comes to data capture.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Guy Mucklow, Senior Web Designer at PCA Predict (formerly Postcode Anywhere)

Another great post Graham. It’s surprising to see that even the biggest brands are still making fundamental mistakes when it comes to address management. Postcode Anywhere has tried to overcome these problems by providing a method that works more like the auto-suggest process in search engines. http://ow.ly/f3Qq8 With this technology in place these sorts of problems will be a thing of the past.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Steve Green

We test dozens of forms like this every year, and we have been seeing the same faults for more than a decade. Whilst some are obvious like these, others are less easily noticed.

For instance on one website I noticed that for any given postcode you either got all the houses with numbers or all the houses with names, but never a mixture. The first premises in the postcode determined whether you got numbers or names.

Furthermore, properties were not listed at all if they had both numbers and letters in the first line.

We also see issues with capitalisation (sometimes you must capitalise, sometimes you must not - why???) and whitespace (again you sometimes must or must not have whitespace in the middle). Sometimes leading or trailing whitespace causes errors - while no one will type a space, you often pick them up when copying and pasting.

Why is there not a design pattern that everyone can use (maybe there is?).

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Chris Jones

A related issue, especially now that retailers are trying more and more to sell internationally, is phone number fields that only accept digits 0-9. An overseas phone number starts with a '+' and possibly includes '(' and ')' as well, as in +44 (0) 123 456789.

River Island is a great example. Nice "free standard delivery worldwide for 48 hours" promo recently, except that since you can't enter a (mandatory) phone number, it's rather difficult to take advantage of it. Many countries don't use the '00 at the start' convention (including the US), so you really do need the '+' option.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Estelle Petagna, Marketing & PR Executive at Crimsonwing

According to the Website Optimisation Company 2012, 11% of visitors abandon their cart due to the complexity of the checkout process, this is a massive number! And postcodes really are just one of the many reasons why customers abandon their carts, like the absence of a guest checkout option, or the lack of shipping information! http://z6.co.uk/d284c4ad

almost 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

I'd recommend retailers display two links alongside postcode lookup tools:

1. Dont know postcode - when clicked, this loads Royal Mail's postcode finder tool in a new window.

2. Enter address manually - when clicked, this triggers the display of the individual address fields allowing the customer to type their address in. Remember that not all addresses can be returned by addresses look up tools.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Guy Mucklow, Senior Web Designer at PCA Predict (formerly Postcode Anywhere)

Albie you make a good point. Most of the problems caused by postcodes not being returned are largely due to companies using address data that is not being updated daily.
With almost 3,000 address changes taking place every 24 hours to the 29 million records in Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF®), the database is not a static file and is constantly changing to reflect new builds, updates and deletions. Using a postcode validation service that includes daily updates as standard will significantly improve the accuracy of customer data.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Finn Christo, Customer Experience Lead at AO.com

YAY! We're doing it right. We spent a lot of time to make our checkout one of the fastest, simplest and easiest to use, all on one page. We're really proud of it and I'm all too aware of how frustrating it is to keep hunting down mistakes to complete a purchase!

AppliancesOnline.co.uk

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Kevin Carlton

I have a gripe about another short-sighted thing that some websites do, which is very similar to the postcode issue at the checkout, as described above.

This is where a store finder only allows you to find your local branch by entering the postcode.

This works fine if you happen to be looking for the nearest store in your local area, as virtually everyone knows their own postcode.

But what if you're away on holiday somewhere and are looking for the nearest outlet, say, of your favourite coffee or restaurant chain?

Chances are that you won't have a clue what the postcode is for where you're staying.

almost 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Having designed several store finders over the years Kevin the good ones let you search by town or area name as well as postcode. Furthermore, they'll then return a shortlist of the most relevant stores for your search but also give you the means to widen the search in case you want to look further afield. Carpetright do this well on their website.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

B Lloyd

Hmm, would it be possible to have a Google style - 'did you mean...' then suggest a postcode based on other entries?

With a large database of users that may be feasible, or even if it just suggested a correct combination of words/letters it may highlight the mistake for the user?

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Graham Young

Interesting article. It amazes, and infuriates, me how such big brands are unable to so easily implement an effective address finder on their website. If the smaller websites can do it, why can't they?

B Lloyd, it looks as though the video Natalie posted pretty much hits the spot re: Google style look-up. I haven't seen it before, but it looks pretty sweet. Had a play on their website and it sure works: http://www.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/demos/postal-code-address-validation.aspx

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Finn Kudos - is it something you identified as an issue before fixing it?

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

L Dickson

Very interesting article. We are currently using PA with good (and not so) outcome. As we are a global business with multiple, country specific sites, there is still no universal postcode extension. Does anyone have any recommendations?

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ameet Shah

@ L Dickson - The businesses mentioned in this article that are 'doing this right' all use Experian QAS...

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Graham Young

L Dickson, I'm not sure what you mean by universal postcode extension?

I've been using worldaddresses.com for some projects, but it looks like PA goes in to the most depth for country specific look-up on that Capture thing, because you can select a country and it'll format the address correctly along with using what address data it has.

If it's the data you're not happy about, then that'll likely be decades until that improves. It's just a case of choosing the provider that uses the available data in the best way.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Chris Baker

Undeclared limitations on what the customer can input are always going to cause a problem. And it is easy to miss these things if you always test the site with someone doing it "properly".

A related grouse of mine is sites that can't accept some characters in passwords (e.g. don't do case-sensitive, or only allow numerals and letters, or impose silly restrictions on length). Much worse of course if the customer is not warned - so you enter the very secure password you just thought of and are told it is an error ...

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Finn Christo, Customer Experience Lead at AO.com

@Graham

Not really, it just seemed logical :D

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ketharaman Swaminathan

There's a larger problem at play and it harkens back to software testing methodology: Every validation program is judged by how many wrong entries it rejects (higher the better) rather than how failsafe it is from the customer perspective. We always advise our customers to avoid causing shopping cart abandonment by over-validating customer inputs in crucial steps like checkout. It really doesn't cost so much - compared to the potential loss of revenue caused by overzealous autovalidators - to pick up the phone and ask the customer what exactly is the data they wanted to enter versus what they actually entered. Some of them take our advice, others don't. I guess you can't win 'em all.

PS: Note to Econsultancy Web Master: While on the subject of how to make a process fail safe and reduce abandonments, you might want to find a substitute for reCAPTCHAs to authenticate comments on this blog - the way the reCAPTCHA program operates, it becomes more and more difficult to crack them. According to anecdotal evidence, almost 25% of website visitors fail to get them right the first time. No one knows how many of them bother to re-try with the second one.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Rob Lorton

Uppercase and spaces required, spaces between sets of 4 digits in credit card numbers etc etc.?! For goodness sake, it's absolute kids' stuff these days. Interactive 1 and 0 replacement sounds ambitious and useful - gives me food for thought, thanks.

Sorry I can't find a current link to Royal Mail's validation rules (in words), but here is a RegExp I blagged and tweaked from somewhere, give or take rare legacy codes that may still exist:

^([A-Za-z]{1,2})([0-9]{1,2})([A-Za-z]{0,1})[ ]{0,1}([0-9])([A-Za-z]{2})$

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Adam Stylo

The spaces and capitalisation on a postcode can be fixed with a simple regex, so no excuses there!

Does any one have numbers from the real world of what percentage of errors are down to the '1' vs 'i' and 'o' vs zero? Maybe our users are a really careful bunch, but we hardly see any of those.

@L Dickson - in most countries the idea of postcode lookup or any rapid addressing is a foreign concept. It might confuse the users and be counter productive. I think in these countries some kind of post-entry validation might be a better route. I.e. only interfere with the checkout flow once you have the cash and think the address might be bad.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Finn

I just tried your site - and got an unhelpful 'Enter valid postcode' rebuff, when swapping a number 1 to letter L like Graham did above...

almost 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Ketharaman makes a valid point. You reach a point of diminishing returns where the cost of trying to cater for every potential user input error can't be justified based on the likelihood of these errors occurring. A line has to be drawn somewhere or we'd all be fussing about 5s mistaken for S's, 8s for Bs etc etc

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Albie I guess it's a case of identifying common errors and dealing with them if necessary. I appreciate that you can't deal with every possible customer error.

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Paul Donovan

Play were always number 1 in my book for usability, they managed to tame their programmers right from the start back at the end of the 90s. The failure to get programmers to live in the real world costs businesses big time in abandoned carts.
Ps agree dump your captcha, it's a shocker...

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

James Browne

Not sure if validating for an i instead of a 1 in a postcode entry form is really a valid test! There must only be a tiny percentage of users who would do this, and the risk of a misstype is incredibly low as they are not even near each other on the keyboard.

For copying codes off printed materials this kind of validation on 1 / i and 0 / O is common practice.

almost 4 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.