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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.

Paul Rouke

Published 23 March, 2009 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

35 more posts from this author

Comments (19)

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Terry Golesworthy

Terry Golesworthy, President at The Customer Respect Group

This is a very interesting article but given the 'obviuos' best practice, why do you think that some major companies do not adopt enclosure. What are they basing they decisions on. Staples.com for example. Do you think the experience in the US is different. What studies are out there that back up enclosure?

over 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Terry, for the major companies who haven't adopted enclosure, a main reason may be that they haven't tested this approach and therefore haven't been able to develop the business case for their e-commerce site that enclosing the checkout process will reduce checkout abandonments for their operation.

With such a wide range of etailers, from SME's to blue-chips, not enclosing their checkout process, it is fair to say that retailers look across the industry and base their decisions on what so many retailers are still doing. Legacy e-commerce platforms is one prime reason why retailers haven't got an enclosed checkout process, instead they have the standard checkout processs like many retailers.

I would expect that the experience in the US will be fairly similar, as when most people are in the buying process, they will want to have the same assurances over security as well as being able to focus specifically on 'checking out' - rather than being tempted to go and explore other products.

In terms of studies to back up enclosure I am sure Econsultancy may have further research in this area, and you may want to speak to companies specialising in multi-variate testing whom may well have case studies on this subject. On saying all this I notice your business focus on improving the online experience?

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Interesting article Paul, thanks. There is no "right way" for checkout. If there was, everyone would have the same process and design. I like the arguments for enclosing the process, it is logical.

The fact is, no matter what is best practise, every brand has different customers. That means conversion will differ across sites. The only way to do the right thing is to use analytics and testing to optimise the checkout process.

My emphasis is on optimise. Customer shopping habits and requirements change over time so you can never have a "perfect" checkout. Plus some people will always abandon, so you need to understand the trends. Optimisation enables you to find the best mix of design, process & functionality to increase conversion.

Taking the subjectivity out of decision making with analytics and testing is essential, otherwise you get the never ending "that box should be green" debate!

thanks

james

over 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hi James, thanks for your comments. I think that the 'right way' and 'best practice' is an interesting comparison. In my article I have shared some best practice advice which doesn't provide retailers with the right way completely, but does help to identify some of main reasons why enclosing the checkout does give the majority of visitors the confidence and user experience to get through a checkout process. On saying this I didn't touch on form field best practice which is another important area, although this is a topic for another post!

I completely agree about your comments on the importance of using analytics and testing to optimise the checkout process, and this was reflected in my comment towards the end of the article:

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.

Also as I cited in my response to Terry, it is this lack of testing checkout options and analysis of the checkout funnel that many retailers will be losing potential sales through abandoned visits. Although as you rightly point out there will always be people that abandon, which includes us in the field of testing and optimisation who don't want to rack up un-wanted bills from retailers!

Thanks once again for your comments.

over 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for the insights from Virgin Alex. You pick up on a very interesting point on progress buttons. In my experience using descriptive progress buttons during the checkout process process ie. proceed to billing address, proceed to payment, place order - is extremely important, as the visitor is on the verge of actually committing to paying money and therefore they need to be confident of exactly what they are committing to when they click the progress button at each stage of the checkout process.

In comparison, when you are asking a visitor to complete steps in car insurance quotation process, dependant on the insurance website you may have to go through 5/6 steps in the process. Providing you provide a very prominant progress indicator which tells the visitor exactly where they are in the process and what is the next steps, a simple continue button can be more affective.

Going back to the reduction in checkout abandonments you have experienced at Virgin by enclosing your checkout process, if you have any statistics (or even a case study) that you could share that would be really useful, in particular for Terry Golesworthy who was asking for studies to back up this approach.

I would be interested to also know whether you used split and multivariate testing during the move to an enclosed checkout process?

over 7 years ago

Terry Golesworthy

Terry Golesworthy, President at The Customer Respect Group

I would also thank Alex for those great insights and also request any case study stats as this sounds a very complling situation. Virgin has a reputation as a astute retailer on both side of the pond. The reference made to auto quote system is also very interesting as this is a hot area in the US as Progressive and Geico have really changed the landscape in this market and have developed very good examples of mulitple step checkouts with strong real time help to keep the user on track. The model has been adopted in the telco industry for 'triple play' services.

over 7 years ago

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Azlan Raj

Thanks for the article Paul, I just wanted to pick up on the point that Alex made about buttons. There has been quite a bit of research into the influence of buttons and how they can effect conversion. Descriptive, yet concise text can make a big difference on conversion as well as colour, size and format. The ability to make the button stand out and look clickable can increase conversion by quite a bit so it is important that time is spent into optimising these small, but usually discarded, parts of the checkout process. Although be wary that buttons are optimised in positive light, and not focussing on negative elements.

I completely agree with the enclosed checkout. Having being a consultant for a lot of high-end and smaller online retailers, this has been very valuable to sales in all of them. This combined with the right user experience tweaks in the main site, is invaluable to improving sales online.

Thanks for article and the interesting comments, I look forward to reading more.

over 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for your comments Azlan. I fully agree on your comments of making small tweaks to various areas of the checkout process, and multi-variate testing (MVT) is the perfect way to measure the impact that these tweaks in size, colour and wording can have.

With regards your point on making the buttons stand out, I'm surprised to find that some retailers continue to use a standard button style, size and colour for all their busttons, irrespective of their importance, which can mean that during a checkout process (for instance) the primary button that you want visitors to click on ie. proceed to payment or 'continue', looks exactly like the button allowing the visitor to go back to the previous page.

Retailers should always be looking at ways to encourage forward movement especially at the shopping basket and during checkout, and using more prominant colour and size for primary buttons is 1 key element of that.

A good example of where button style should actually be downplayed is the delete button within the shopping basket. Obviously you need to give people the option to remove an item from their basket, but a simple link rather than a button is a much more sensible way to not encourage the idea of removing items from their basket.

over 7 years ago

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John Hyde (Christchurch, NZ)

If you are even reading or thinking about issues like this you are already in the top 50% of online retailers. The bottom 50% just don't "get it" - their sites are the online version of letting your plumber design your bathroom and pick the colour scheme.

The secret is to test what really works best for your visitors on your site this year. This may be different from what works for others, and it will change over time.

For example trust and security in the payment process is less of an issue for many people than it was - but delivery convenience and returns policy are more prominent in 2009.

There is no single best practice for everyone: but there are definitely some good practice ideas to start testing against whatever your site does currently.

And this article is a great coverage of the "enclosed checkout" idea.

about 7 years ago

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David Erwin

Enclosing the checkout process is something which is proven to reduce checkout abandonments,

Do you have a source/numbers for this? Would be helpful in making this case.

about 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for the question David.

For well-known brands, recommended sources for numbers to support enclosing a checkout process include the big multi-variate testing companies. As you would expect there aren't too many brands publicaly sharing this type of data online as its not in their interest to alert their competition to improvements through this type of customer experience.

I know that Maxymiser are one company who have seen some of their clients experience significant conversion rate improvement by enclosing their checkout process. Contact me directly if you would like to know more on this as we have a direct relationship with them.

I hope this helps.

about 7 years ago

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Alex Griffin

Thanks Paul, would be worth getting your view on our checkout process at Bouf.com. Enclosing the checkout makes perfect sense.

over 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Alex. Give me a call in the office on 0161 918 6729 and we can have a chat about your site and checkout process.

over 6 years ago

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Davis Mac

There's something important that I think has been ignored here. Sites where the user is apt to purchase multiple items should carefully consider any move before enclosing the cart.

I've worked with several sites who were focused on inreasing order value and in our tests, order value decreased with a closed cart.

You've got to consider what you are selling and the average number of items in the cart. Over 5 items average? You'll want to carefully consider any move before closing that cart... you might be pushing people to make that purchase before they added everything they would have otherwise purchased.

over 6 years ago

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Jochen Kiehl, Webmaster at Club Med Switzerland

We sell all-inclusive hollidays, which implies a substantial cart amount. The current checkout process involves 7 steps from proposal to confirmation, during which customers can choose their flights, rooms, add additional optional services (sports, well-being, child-care..) before they get to fill in their customer details and then pay.

We have tested a 3 step checkout where flights and rooms are set to default (but can be customized on the summary page).

Learnings: increase in conversions / less abandonned carts, but significantly lower average basket value!

The one thing not tested in both the normal and the 3-step versions is removing the main top navigation; as the site is currently being redesigned and checkout will follow, I'll use this article for input, thanks!

over 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for your insights Jochen. You have raised a very interesting point regarding how reducing steps/clicks in a buying process, whilst helping to improve conversion rates, can harm average order values.

A primary example of this is when adding a product to your shopping basket. In the "early days" of e-commerce the common approach was to send shoppers directly in to their shopping basket after 'adding to bag/basket'. They are therefore one step closer to placing their order, with perhaps some 'other recommended products' shown on their basket page to try and encourage the shopper to consider buying more than just the one product, and therefore increasing their basket size.

This approach is still used and in the main, if a retailer has a fairly small product set or the likelihood of there being suitable products to encourage larger basket sizes is slim, then I encourage retailers to take this approach.

An alternative approach when 'adding to bag/basket' is to keep shoppers on the product page, display a (prominent if doing this correctly) mini basket, and then encouraging the shopper to continue browsing. Some retailers like our client Isabella Oliver show a recommended product in the mini basket as well.

My recommendation to retailers who do follow this approach is to provide relevant, intelligent cross-sells on the product page, and therefore provide suitable potential next steps for the shopper, helping to encourage higher basket sizes. Of course this second approach requires another click if the shopper is just looking to buy the one product!

My next training course for Econsultancy on E-commerce Usability and Best Practice on April 29th will be delving deeper in to all these subjects.

Jochen, are you planning on split testing the checkout redesign work, so you can accurately measure the conversion rate impact an enclosed checkout process provides versus the existing version?

over 6 years ago

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Darrin Keller

Hi Paul, great article. We currently have an enclosed checkout process as part of Amazon's premium store front. Our conversions went up when we went to an enclosed cart. However, I'm a bit put off by all the steps required before I can see the final total. I believe customers want to see the total before they register for an account and provide payment details. I don't really have the budget to test so I thought I would ask you. What would you consider the best order for checkout if you have a multi-step process?

For a cart to be "Completely Enclosed" would you recommend that there not be ANY links away from the checkout process? If some links are suggested, what are the minimum? Also, what about "Modify Cart" links? Should we assume that people will just use their back button if they want a change bad enough or do we risk that they will just leave?

Also, do you have any insights into a single-page checkout process used by TheOnion.com? (http://store.theonion.com). It seems like it would appeal to most users since it's simple and concise. It appears to be mostly enclosed but not totally enclosed, e.g., the logo is hyper-linked, footer content is linked, header content is linked but there are no product distractions. The draw back to their cart is that they won't have a way to do abandoned cart campaigns because people don't provide their email address until they complete their order.

Thanks,

Darrin Keller

about 6 years ago

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CatherinaLucy

You have got to consider what you are selling and the average number of items in the cart.

over 3 years ago

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steve jo, author at shop-inn

You have written a very informative article with great quality content and well laid out points. I agree with you on many of your views and you've got me thinking.

over 1 year ago

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