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What makes an excellent checkout process on an ecommerce site? 

Here, with the help of suggestions from Twitter, I've compiled a list of 11 checkouts which constitute examples of best practice in this area. 

What makes a great checkout? 

This is a topic more suited for a long report (like this one) but we can sum up some key features which i think are common to good practice (in no particular order). 

  1. Speed. Pauses after pressing the buy/confirm payment button are the worst. Delays in loading before that may be enough to damage customer confidence in the whole payment process. 
  2. No forced registration. Of course, encouraging customers to register is a good idea, but not at the cost of losing potential sales. It's a proven barrier to conversions. 
  3. Security reassurance. There's doubt around which trustmarks to use, and whether the information they convey is actually understood by the customer, but it seems they do have an effect during checkout.
  4. Easy form filling. People hate forms, so making it painless as possible is the name of the game. Don't ask for too much, avoid obvious pitfalls, and make sure your error messages are clear. 
  5. Progress indicators. The customer should know where they are in the process and what else needs to be done to complete the purchase.  One way to achieve this is to have a progress bar across the top of each checkout page. 
  6. Persistent basket summary. Remind users of the contents of their baskets and the total cost of the order so they don't have to leave the checkout for this information. 
  7. Remove distractions. Enclosing the checkout ensures that shoppers are focused on the task in hand and not likely to be taken out of the checkout by links. 

With these features and others in mind, I've been looking at the checkouts suggested on Twitter, in answer to a question on Twitter.

The answers were:

  • Ebuyer
  • Wiggle
  • ASOS
  • Sodastream
  • AO
  • Amazon
  • Fallen Hero
  • Hunter

I've also looked at the Baymard report on checkout performance, and picked out the top three it named. 

These were: 

  • Crate and Barrell
  • Symantec
  • AutoZone

So let's have a look at them... 

Ebuyer

This checkout fails on point two, with new customers having to sign up before checkout. 

Which means I have this unnecessary step to go through when I could just be starting to checkout. And the site wants my date of birth. 

It's not going well so far for this checkout. The next thing is that it wants my phone number, yet doesn't indicate that this is a required field. 

Aside from these issues, it's a clear enclosed checkout with security reassurances, a range of payment options, and clear progress indicators. Sadly, the extra step from the forced registrations lets the site down. 

Wiggle

Wiggle sells cycling gear, which I didn't know before. Nice registration page, in that it doesn't make you create an account there and then, but gives you the option of doing so later in the process. Nice. 

The checkout is well designed in general, with a persistent basket and summary of costs, well presented delivery options, and is enclosed with just a few links for help and contact details. 

Live chat within checkout is also a nice touch, though it was offline when I tested it. 

ASOS 

We've covered ASOS a fair amount here, and our deputy editor David Moth likes to buy colourful trousers from there, so we know it works well. 

In fact, we have an article on persuasive checkout best practice from ASOS which explains how removing the barrier to checkout that is registration reduced its checkout abandonment rate by 50%.  

This is the page in question:

 

And the previous version:

 

Aside from a spruced up design, nothing else changed. Customers still entered the same address and payment details and ended up registering.

The simple fact that ASOS has not even mentioned registration or account creation has made all the difference. 

Sodastream

I can see why this checkout was recommended. From the basket page you go straight here, no registration worries at all. 

On top of that, we have an enclosed checkout, security logos, persistent basket summary and clear steps towards payment. 

The address entry is interesting too. I've become accustomed to entering house number and postcode, but this site guesses your address as you start to type the first line. 

None of these suggestions are my address, and it took a few more letters to find it.

I'm not convinced it beats postcode + house number but, as James Gurd points out in this article on postcode entry, it matches how people think about their addresses. 

AO.com

AO uses a one-page checkout, and shoppers are essentially ushered straight into the process, with the basket and first checkout page being one and the same. 

No registration required here, and no barriers to getting on with the payment. 

It's hard to find fault with this checkout. Form filling is easy, with shortcuts used where possible.

The calendar tool is great, while little touches such as the illustration showing the CV2 code help shoppers through the process. 

Amazon

Amazon's checkout is easy, especially for logged in users. Almost too easy at times. 

Part of the secret is the sheer number of registered users that Amazon has, with saved card and address details which make reordering a breeze. 

For new customers, it's not the best ever. Certainly, some of the other checkouts here are easier.

It tricks you slightly too, offering the option of creating a password later for new users, then sending them straight to this registration page. 

Other than that, the checkout works well enough, and I like the reassurance it offers in telling customers they'll have a chance to review the order before it's final. 

Fallen Hero

We recently reviewed this site and its use of responsive design, which has generated a 143% sales uplift from tablets alone

With no registration, customers are sent straight into the checkout process, which contains clean pages, simple forms and no unnecessary distractions. 

 

Hunter 

An elegant checkout with clean form design and very little distraction for shoppers. 

It's almost fully enclosed, with a link back to the shopping bag for those that need it. Sites shouldn't 'trap' customers in the checkout, just reduce unnecessary distraction. 

I like the prominent message about calling customer service for help with an order, but alternatives such as FAQs and perhaps live chat would also help. 

Crate and Barrel

This is Baynard's number one choice, though the review was from 2012 and perhaps others have improved in this time. 

The first checkout page is excellent, with a clear guest checkout option, security reassurances, links to checkout FAQs and a contact number. 

I also like the act that it asks for feedback about the process. I'd be interested to know how useful this information is. 

The shipping options are nice and clear, and I like the estimated arrival dates which are shown next to each shipping method. 

The order summary is useful, but a reminder of which item I actually ordered might be more useful. 

Overall though, I can see why the checkout was highly rated, as it is hard to fault the design, form filling, and presentation of information.

Symantec

No messing about here. Straight from cart into a one page checkout. The form works well enough, though I think the font size for the explanatory text is too small. 

AutoZone

The design may look a little dated compared to some other examples, but it's the functionality that's all important here. 

I'd perhaps consider making the checkout call to action a little bigger, but the form works well. 

This is a useful feature. I've clumsily entered the address of our New York office, but the site has spotted this and has suggested a better alternative. 

It's clever, as it avoids potential delivery problems which, though the customer's fault in this case, would perhaps end up being blamed on the retailer. 

It's a good order summary page, with all necessary information presented, form fields like security codes explained, and a summary of the order. 

I'd be inclined to change fonts and text sizes for greater readability, but the essentials in this checkout work well.  

In summary

Are these 11 of the best ecommerce checkouts? I'll leave that for the reader to decide, but I think there are some excellent examples here. 

10 of them, with the exception of ebuyer, don't insist that users register before checkout, which is an essential feature these days. 

I like the approaches of sites such as Fallen Hero, which send customers straight into the checkout to begin entering address and payment details, though I do think customers should be given the clear option of creating an account at some point in the process. 

Registration has benefits for customers as well as retailers, allowing them to avoid re-entering address and (for many sites) payment details for future purchases, which is great for retention. 

What do you think? Do these checkouts represent current best practice? Do you have better examples? Let me know below... 

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Airbnb, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more. 

Graham Charlton

Published 3 September, 2014 by Graham Charlton

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

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Comments (29)

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Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

Unsurprisingly, Gumroad (a checkout service that allows small businesses to sell products such as software online) has a particularly impressive checkout process. The card validation on this is very clear and easy to use, I think. See it in action here: https://gumroad.com/l/NlhpD

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Matt.

about 2 years ago

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Wouter Bertels, eCommerce at .

Losing the registration altogether can really only be a good idea for sites that expect no recurring purchases.

And obviously, the simpler the product or service on offer and the lower the available checkout options, the higher the checkout process will rank in terms of ease of use. The gumroad example mentioned in a previous comment is a perfect example of this.

On that note, my impression is that some retailers are shooting themselves in the foot with offering too many options.

People usually don't react well to too much choice (see: https://econsultancy.com/blog/6432-is-choice-paralysis-damaging-your-online-sales#i.1ldbla3cvkflwu). And I am yet to find a really good example of a website that delivers to multiple countries and offers a large amount of payment methods and delivery options across those countries in a very good way. Feel free to point me in the right direction.

about 2 years ago

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Charles Stern, Ecommerce at SIS Resources LtdSmall Business

Graham great article, thanks for putting this together. It really sums up the key points very quickly.

As someone who has spent EXTENSIVE time researching, testing and optimizing our checkout. I feel it would make a great study. Baymard (with an M btw) ranks us as number 15 when benchmarked against the top 100 grossing e-commerce sites in the US.

I would love to have your opinion on our checkout, if you have a chance - poke around greensmoke.com

Thanks,
Charles Stern

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Wouter I know what you mean, I do think retailers should still be encouraging shoppers to register, but better to do it as part of the process as ASOS does.

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Charles - Thanks, I'd never noticed that was an M ;)

I had a look at the checkout. I don't know your stats and haven't tested it, but the compulsory registration immediately strikes me as a potential barrier. Perhaps testing a guest checkout option would be a good idea.

Also, with the checkout not being enclosed, there are plenty of links to distract from the payment process.

about 2 years ago

Matthew Lawson

Matthew Lawson, eCommerce Director at loveholidays.com

I have to say my favorite is AO.com out of the list ;)

The important to note, the reason why the checkout was brought right back to a single page, was our user testing show loads of people going right through the checkout just to check that there was no hidden charges. So one page was the only way to fix this.

Every test done since to try and break it up, either progressive reveal or stepped has failed to beat it.

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Matthew, very revealing. So even if you were clear about total costs on product and basket pages, people still had to go to checkout to be sure?

Do you think this is due to the nature of the business - with extra installation charges and warranty for the products?

(In case anyone doesn't know, Matthew was Head of Conversion at AO.com until recently.)

about 2 years ago

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Paul

Very surprised that this is all about desktop checkouts. I suspect most users on these sites will be using tablet and mobile so a focus on how they work with those I would have thought would be important

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Paul You're right, and that's the subject of the next article in this series.

about 2 years ago

Glenn McWhinney

Glenn McWhinney, Online Marketing Manager at Calendar Club UKSmall Business

Thanks Graham, good read. We are currently ripping apart our checkout and re-platforming so reviewed a fair number of e-commerce sites this past 6 months too. Our personal fave was: www.loaf.com which allows you to enter your postcode (and offer code) in the basket in order to get around those 'hidden' delivery charges later in the checkout and confirming exactly how much you are about to pay if you proceed. Also see how cleverly they carry that postcode through to the 'addresses' step to avoid you typing it in again. Finally, once you select your address from the pick-list, we love the way the address only takes up a single line on the screen. Simple and effective!

We also highly rated www.thorntons.co.uk giving you that option to create an account early on and at the end of the order, if I recall. Nice.

about 2 years ago

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Wouter Bertels, eCommerce at .

@Matthew,
A persistent basket summary should offer the advantages of a one page checkout without the need to scroll back up. As such your findings are somewhat surprising to me. Are you able to expand a little on your findings?

about 2 years ago

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Matt Walton, Head of Online Sales at Virgin Media

Good article. I read this with interest as we're always looking at ways to optimise our checkout at Virgin Media, but I would be interested in examples of brands where the checkout needs to be more complex because the product being sold requires it. By that I mean a signing up for a contract for a service that is being bought, therefore there may be a need for direct debit details as well as one off payments, account management / registration set up, plus going through a credit check.

Saying that registration is a barrier is correct for a one off purchase of physical goods, but signing up for a contract / subscription requires more stuff to be captured because in most cases there is a need to set up an account during the process and potentially take the customer through a credit check and deliver the outcome. One page checkout would be difficult, but not impossible to achieve for brands that need to do this.

It would be great to expand or split the best practice view into brands within industries such as insurance, utilities, banking, and telecommunications.

about 2 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

The ASOS before and after you showed above: is a great example of 'less is more' in UI.

Some of the sites above seem to be less concerned with that principle.

Is it necessary for SodaStream to have that box lower right: listing 4 kinds of info and for each saying 'not entered yet'. Better to use the top bar if you want to let the user know how far through the process they are.

Autozine was also cluttered: :the box title 'Ship to Home Order'
That title is a bit long.
But the text in the box is more wordy duplication:
"All Items in the Ship to Home Summary section will be shipped to the Shipping Address below"

Does that sentence just explain what the box already makes obvious?

Worse: in the 'Shipping Address' and 'Billing Address' it shows different content: but in reality they are the same adddress!
The dfference is that one has been tweaked by the clever address-checking alogrithm Graham mentioned: but the other has not been!
That mkes the users stop and think: whay are the addresses different, ah OK, they are the same really, just differently layed-out.

Best would to show just one address: and for Billing say 'same as Shipping' = less to read, less thinking.

Lastly - you mentioned Amazon being slightly tricky. .The main trickiness I find with them is they push Amazon prime at you so much, annoying.

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Matt Good point, and I agree this is something we should look at.

about 2 years ago

Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

By the way, the address checking feature which predicts the address from the user's initial input is a feature of Postcode Anywhere. We're using this on our checkout, too.

about 2 years ago

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Mike Smith, Director of Ecommerce at Diet Chef Ltd

@Graham - great article as always from you. Thanks

@Matt - we've put a lot of focus on our checkout in the last year at dietchef.co.uk - we are a subscription business - and now have a shorter checkout with as much as possible on one page. We have also worked hard at the product configuration step (choosing meals in our case). We've a large proportion on mobile devices so have also tried hard to optimise our site for a range of devices. Take a look, it would be good to hear what you think.

Have a guest checkout as a goal at some point - difficult but not impossible??

about 2 years ago

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Dave McDermid

Great article. Agree with Paul, would be interesting to see a follow-up article on mobile checkouts.

about 2 years ago

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Nathan Cooper

Well-written, Graham, great article, keep up the good work. Best regards, Nathan.

about 2 years ago

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Trevor

Thanks for a good summary of how these sites try and improve drop-outs, a few good pointers to consider.

I find it interesting that a few padlock themed secure logos give people confidence that their personal data is safe. However, I always look for a statement regarding how they handle credit card data along with reference to their PCI DSS compliance. It's rare to find satisfactory information and if you contact them to ask the question I'm been greeted with a random selection of half baked answers that do not inspire confidence. I've actually asked one the of the above a few months ago and failed to get a response at all.

So no matter how slick they are with making the checkout a process an effortless experience, if they are not PCI DSS compliant why would I trust them with my credit card data?

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Dave - I'm following up with one on mobile checkouts - any suggestions welcome.

@Nathan Thanks!

@Trevor It seems that people trust a logo / trustmark brand they're familiar with, regardless of what it actually says about the site's security. More here:

https://econsultancy.com/blog/64459-which-ecommerce-security-logos-do-users-trust-do-they-matter

about 2 years ago

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Ben Sebborn, Director at Skiddle

I'm pretty sure the skiddle.com checkout has all of the above. And its worthwhile implementing the suggestions, our abandonment rate is just 20% now, down from around 55%.

almost 2 years ago

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Michael Milo, Director at Milo Productions Inc.

I've been searching for information on another aspect of guest accounts that is rarely talked about. I hope a few people can weigh in with opinions or experience.

We have a membership subscription site and are debating if it is better to provide a guest / free trail access through a simple email and password registration. We would then follow up in a couple of days with a request for the user to become a paid member.

We currently offer a free month trial but the user has to register with their credit card information and is auto billed thereafter. I have not been able to find any information on what the preferred method would be. Our abandonment of course is very high.

Any ideas or advice?

Would offering a free (no payment information) registration followed by auto-email requests asking user to come back to actually pay - create better conversion?

over 1 year ago

Hazel Bolton

Hazel Bolton, Content Manager at Formisimo

Hi Michael,

I've come across a study that compared conversions rates for Saas companies that take credit card details upfront vs those that don't. It was conducted by Tatango. There's a comparison on page 8 of this PDF http://www.totango.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-SaaS-Conversions-Benchmark2.pdf
It shows that sites that didn't ask for credit card details for a free trial were better at converting long term users (still paying after 90 days).
(credit to a blog by Quicksprout for taking me there. You might like to read that as well (http://www.quicksprout.com/2013/09/09/7-simple-ab-tests-that-can-increase-conversions-by-10-or-more/)

Here's another article relating to Saas businesses and free trials. http://sixteenventures.com/saas-free-trial-credit-card They make the point that the important part is what happens after they sign up.

At Formisimo we don't take card details upfront. The higher initial signup means a lot more people can sample your service.

over 1 year ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

I do like how on AO words things 'Get address and delivery date' almost pushing you to be thinking about the next stage already rather than, than the customer thinking about should I order this fridge, they are already thinking about when will my fridge be delivered

over 1 year ago

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matt james, owner at dog food

Regarding Norton's checkout page. Is the review order section really helping conversions? Also, that page as a whole looks like too much information to tackle at once. An accordion style checkout process would be a good test to run.

about 1 year ago

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matt james, owner at dog food

Not to mention that giant wall of text. I don't see how that can possibly be helping conversions either.

about 1 year ago

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Rachel Wiesmann, Digital Marketing Coordinator at Trupanion

I'm very impressed by the checkout process by naturebox.com. I'd love to see A/B test results comparing a one- step/page payment path to a multiple step/page payment path. Most Ecommerce sites fail to put the checkout process as a priority and the impact can detrimental.

about 1 year ago

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Will Bedell, Consultant at JJ Holdings

Savvy commentary . I learned a lot from the information . Does anyone know if I could obtain a fillable a form example to fill in ?

4 months ago

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