Welcome to this guide to gues… Oh wait hang on… You haven’t entered your email address….

Done? Great, now we can carry on. Welcome to this guide to guest checkouts, where we’ll take a look at best pract… hang on, your password isn’t valid, please try again.

Okay, great, let’s carry on… Hang on, have you already registered that email with us before? I’m sorry you can’t use that address if you’ve already registered it.

Guest checkouts! I love them. If it was at all possible I would carry out every transaction super quickly and utterly anonymously.

Last week our esteemed editor Graham Charlton compiled a list of the 11 best ecommerce checkouts in the world and in doing so came up with seven key features he felt were common to good practice.

These include speed, no forced registration and easy form filling. As far as I’m concerned having a guest checkout can cover all these things and more.

However, am I wrong about the glory of guest checkouts? Are there any drawbacks I’m not thinking of? Are there any best practice tips that can help ecommerce websites improve their guest checkouts?

Lets take a look. Wait, hang on, before we go any further, can you just enter your delivery address please…

Benefits of guest checkout

Firstly, why should ecommerce sites have a guest checkout?

Customer experience is the most obvious benefit...

"I’m in a rush, I don’t have time for endless form-filling and although this is the first time I’ve ever used this website I have no further plans to buy anything from it ever again. Guest checkout, brilliant thank you, maybe I will come back and spend more time with you."

Is guest checkout only for the benefit of your customers though?

Forcing users to register their details before they checkout is a quick way to lower your conversion rate. Once a customer is ready to buy, they don’t want to have to fill out pages and pages of personal details and create an account before they can make a purchase.

In fact ASOS managed to halve its abandonment rate at the registration page simply by removing any mention of creating an account. 

asos checkout

Drawbacks

There are many benefits for retailers if customers do register their details. The retailer will now have access to their email address for marketing purposes, along with lots of data about the customer that can make future marketing messages much more personalised and therefore more attractive to the customer.

More meaningful relationships can be built with the customer this way. The onsite experience can then be tailored to that individual’s previous purchases. Just think of how Amazon probably never serves the same homepage to two different signed-in visitors.

It also makes it easier for retailers to ask for feedback, or for customers to leave reviews of the products they have purchased. 

Still though, registering can be a major hassle, and as handy for targeting and marketing the process may be to your business, it’s still something that consumers see as an obstacle. Hence why guest checkouts are a great alternative.

To be honest though, I do enjoy my tailored ecommerce experiences and often these have helped me with gift-buying on occasions when I’ve been stumped.

Maybe there's a compromise? A guest checkout that offers similar benefits of guest registration?

Best practice 

One page checkout

Keep the checkout to as few pages as necessary. In fact everything from contact information, billing address, delivery address and payment information can be done on a single page. This will help speed things up, especially if a customer is on a mobile.

You should also ask yourself whether all of the information you're asking for is absolutely necessary. 

A good way to complement guest checkout, which will also save on form-filling, is to offer PayPal as payment method.

Provide options at the start

If you must insist on making customers register at the start of the checkout process, offer guest checkout on the same page. Then you can also offer up a couple of benefits of registration under the respective option.

Have guest checkout as the default option

Just ask customers to start filling in their payment details and delivery address immediately. That will certainly raise conversion rates. Then offer the opportunity to register details after the purchase is complete. There should also be an option to sign-in if they already have an account throughout the onsite journey.

Alternatively you can offer a single page that doubles as a guest checkout (with a note that you can create an account later) and as a sign-in page.

“Would you like to save your details for next time?” 

If you've gone with the above option, at the end of the transaction don’t even mention the word ‘register’. Instead offer to save the customer details for next time. 'Saving your details' implies convenience, it puts customer experience as the primary focus. ‘Registering’ implies a future marketing spam attack that will put customers off.

For added convenience, you can even automatically fill in any details that the customer has already given you, such as name, address and email. All that may be left for the customer to do is choose a password,

Also don't forget to clearly promote the benefits of ‘saving details’ after the purchase.

It’s a good idea to ask customers to choose from a range of marketing preferences once they have registered, this puts them in complete control. 

Same email address should work with multiple guest checkouts

Graham Charlton brought this to my attention recently, upon using Schuh’s website. It was impossible to use guest checkout if you’ve already set up an account with Schuh using the same email. 

Similarly with White Company, if you’ve used the same email for guest checkout before, you can’t do it again. 

According to ecommerce expert James Gurd it depends on the logic of the account log-in/creation process. Some sites don't configure guest checkout to work with email addresses from existing accounts, so a registered user always has to use the registered account.

James Gurd also went on to reveal this bizarre anomaly with Amazon…

Amazon has a quite odd logic. Try to go through guest checkout with existing email address and it tells you that email address is registered. It then gives you an option to create a new account with that same email address. If you do, the old one is disabled. So I could hack your account by using your email address and get your old account disabled. 

To see how UK and US retailers use guest checkouts read these enlighteningrecent investigations: 30 UK retailers and which ones force their customers to register and Guest checkout test - which of these 25 US retailers force users to register?

To learn more about ecommerce and all things digital come to our Festival of Marketing event in November. A two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 16 September, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Hi Christopher, I couldn't agree more with your highlighting the issue with our guest checkout logins for existing account holders. In our defence, we're far from the only one to prevent you guest checking out if you have an account, but that's no excuse. This circumstance comes from a systems-first approach, not a user-centric approach and it is something we plan to fix in the near future.

Constraining customers in this way is unnecessary and I am sure leads to checkout abandonment.

If you want a great example of guest checking out, have a look at AO.com. There is no barrier stage to the checkout, you just start checking out.

almost 3 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Stuart - thanks so much for your comment Stuart, really appreciate it. Yeah you're right about AO.com, in fact we've covered it here - https://econsultancy.com/blog/64902-13-ecommerce-best-practice-lessons-from-ao-com#i.1iuztbw1504fas

almost 3 years ago

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop, Founder & CEO at Fathom

Great article and thanks for sharing Chris. My question is this, is there ever an argument for an initial checkout screen OTHER than the style adopted by John Lewis (also used by easyJet, 3 Mobile and virtually every one of Fathom's clients). It seems to me that every other page style infers a "big decision" of one type of another to the user, where the John Lewis approach gets the identical information from the user, but without the user every feeling anything other than that they are moving through a process? In other words whilst you've wisely suggested that checkout shouldn't use the word register, why should it additionally use the word guest? Users don't want to self-classify any more than they want to register, they just want to check out! (I think the answer is no by the way but am happy to be persuaded otherwise.)

almost 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Gareth, perhaps a good reason to use the word "guest" is the amount of user tests I have seen where customers say "oh, you have a guest option, that's good, I don't want the hassle of registration"

"guest" has become the lingua franca for this type of functionality, if the language offers some comfort to users, why not use it?

I still have this feeling that these checkout login/start screens are artificial barriers for customers. What customers want is to pay for and receive their goods as easily as possible, these login screens are more about our (retailers) notions of what is required in a checkout, not what is easiest for the customer. It's why I think the AO checkout is a breath of fresh air.

almost 3 years ago

Dan Winn

Dan Winn, Email Marketing Consultant at dotMailer

Hi Christopher,

A great article that takes a good look at arguably one of the most important stage of the retail customer experience.

I am curious to know how you concluded that one-step check outs are best practice. Was this done through testing or industry research?

I was under the impression that a staged process, in bite size chunks, converts more effectively, it also allows customers to identify themselves early on before they bounce - for use in re-targeting email campaigns.

I look forward to your response!

Thanks,
Daniel

almost 3 years ago

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Kym

I had to laugh at your intro. That sums it up completely! It's great to read an informative post that is also entertaining. Great writing!

almost 3 years ago

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Ben Sebborn, Director at Skiddle

We incorporated a guest checkout on skiddle.com earlier this year based on the advice given here.

Our model is to allow anyone through the guest checkout - even if previously registered. We then create a new account for each user, or associate the purchase with an existing account.

Since implementing we've noticed a 15% decrease in checkout abandonment :)

over 2 years ago

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Nadine H, Director at @playapayaya

Totally love your introduction part! t's hilarious and pretty much sums up my experience while online shopping. Thanks for the best practise outlining, good to know how to make it different on our own website :)

over 2 years ago

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Gustavo Pozzi, Head of Customer Service at GF

For those who have adopted guest checkout or that use guest checkout, what's your customer service experience afterwards?

Specially when it involves a customer wanting to check the status of a delivery, managing returns and having a store credit for a future purchase. Is this done without a hassle with a guest checkout process?

Btw, I had to sign up to place this post :)

over 1 year ago

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Steven Riley, UX designer at &

I'm struggling to see any value in checking out as a guest whilst you are logged in??

The main reason a user chooses guest is to remain anonymous not just speed, but if you're logged in then you've handed your details over.

I'm testing a no block scenario

-Add to basket
-Checkout
IF user is logged in address is pre-filled if they have one saved

IF user is not logged in they fill address in

Same journey ..only difference is if the user isn't logged in they get an option to enter email and password to create an account for a quicker checkout next time Some checkouts are way too complicated.

Always imagine a real word scenario if poss, would you want two checkout tills in a store?

8 months ago

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science tuition science tuition, gc at gc

Great article and thanks for sharing Chris. I am curious to know how you concluded that one-step check outs are best practice. Was this done through testing or industry research? Specially when it involves a customer wanting to check the status of a delivery, managing returns and having a store credit for a future purchase. Is this done without a hassle with a guest checkout process? I am also discussed about this post on my site https://smiletutor.sg/science-tuition/ please visit my site and keep comment on this.

13 days ago

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