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Enclosing or isolating the checkout process is one proven method of reducing abandonment, as it focuses the customer's mind on the steps they need to take to complete a purchase. 

I've been looking at the advice on this from Econsultancy's Checkout Optimization guide, as well as some best practice examples from retailers...

What is an enclosed checkout process?

An enclosed checkout is one which is stripped down compared to the rest of the site, by removing the header and footer content, and any left hand navigation menus. 

According to Dr Mike Baxter in the Checkout Optimization guide: 

In place of the header should be a company logo in the top left of the page – this can be linked to the home page as the only 'escape route' remaining out of checkout, or simply left as an image.

In addition, Dr Baxter advises that the footer during checkout should provide links to information about delivery, returns policies, contact options, and privacy and security.

Crucially, these links should be displayed in a pop up layer or lightbox over the checkout page so that customers can view the information without being taken out of the process. 

Reasons for enclosing the checkout 

When reviewing e-commerce websites, one of the areas I always look at in whether retailers have isolated the checkout. This is the rationale behind it: 

  • 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. 

Examples from retailers

Unenclosed checkouts

This example from the new Paperchase website shows a process which has not been enclosed. The navigation menu and search box are still in place at the top of the page, providing plenty of potential distractions for shoppers:

Enclosed checkout 1

The foot of the page also retains the links from the footer, all of which could take customers away from the checkout: 

Enclosed checkout 2

Enclosed checkouts

Tesco has removed the main navigation and site search options, but there are still 15 links on the page which will take customers away from the process. 

Enclosed checkout 5

River Island has successfully removed most distractions from the checkout, with the only links on the page showing delivery details, contact options, T&Cs and security info. 

Enclosed checkout 4

However, all of these links open up without warning in a new window, taking customers way from the checkout page. Showing these in a lightbox over the page would have been a better option. 

The ASOS checkout is about as enclosed as you can get. Apart from the logo which links back to the homepage, there are no links at all on the page: 

Enclosed process 6

This is certainly free of distractions for shoppers, but perhaps some information on delivery and returns, as well as contact details, should be provided for customers that need this. 

Finally, John Lewis provides an excellent all-round example:

Enclosed checkout 3

The process is enclosed, and the links for key information open up in a pop-up window which is easy to close and keeps the customer on the page. 

Conclusion

For retailers yet to introduce an enclosed checkout process, I would recommend testing to see if this works for them in terms of reducing abandonment.

Full enclosure, as in the ASOS example, may not be suitable for every retailer, as they may find that customers need more hand-holding during the checkout. By testing some of the variations used in this post, the results will tell you which version will deliver a better conversion rate.

Graham Charlton

Published 22 September, 2010 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 (7)

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Simon Gornick

Excellent piece. Does more to help us understand the user experience at the sharp end than just about anything else I've read. Kudos.

about 6 years ago

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Phil Towers

Good article, I agree an enclosed checkout works best. We've also had success opening the checkout in a new window or pop up which also means the customer is focused on the checkout process but also has the website behind them if they have a final question or fact they need to check. Could be distracting but seems to offer the best of both worlds.

about 6 years ago

Daniel Clutterbuck

Daniel Clutterbuck, Director/ Co-Founder at Webtise Ltd

Great post. I have discussed this process with our team a few times after seeing it on the Boden site. We'll definitely be looking at our clients conversion rates using enclosed checkout in the coming weeks. Webtise.

about 6 years ago

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David Szetela

Super post, Graham - thanks! I'll be forwarding this to several clients.

about 6 years ago

Ivan Burmistrov

Ivan Burmistrov, Usability Expert at interUX Usability Engineering Studio OÜ

Enclosing checkout may be a risky thing because it does not allow customers to continue shopping. A widespread scenario is that customers add first item to the basket and then immediately proceed to checkout to see if there are hidden charges added to the catalogue price (eg, it seems in your examples, the cost of delivery become revealed rather late). In this scenario, if checkout is enclosed, there is no clear way to continue shopping (except via returning back to the homepage by clicking on the company logo). I think the idea of enclosed checkouts has not only advantages you carefully listed but may have potential disadvantages as well. This idea should be supported by research…

almost 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Ivan - I take your point, but I don't think customers should have to enter checkout to find out the cost of delivery. On most of the examples I have used, delivery charges are visible on product pages and elsewhere before checkout, and this should be the case on most sites. 

The key here is to test. If retailers try enclosing the checkout and it works, which is the case for many, then great. If not, then at least the idea was tried out. It may also be that a variation on the enclosed checkout may work best. 

If customers wanting to continue shopping is an issue, then a link to continue could be provided within the process to make it easy for customers to do this. This way retailers can have the benefits of an almost enclosed checkout, while allowing customers to add more to their baskets. 

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Another very valuable and insightful post Graham. As checkout enclosure is something I always recommend to our clients as part of identifying ways to improve their conversion rates and reducing abandonments this post is right on the money!

In response to a few of the comments:

@Simon - as you have found this post useful, straight out of the Blue Peter book, one I prepared earlier is an Econsultancy blog post I did last year looking at a the benefits of enclosing the checkout process. It features examples of retailers who do and don't adopt this approach, and 18 months on so far Firebox and Thorntons have moved to an enclosed checkout, but PC World, Toysrus and Net-a-Porter haven't. I say watch this space!

@Ivan - in follow up to Graham's comments, I have to agree 100% that delivery costs shouldn't be left to when a customer is within the checkout process. Of course from a logistics perspective, if a retailer provides a range of delivery options but they are based on the address/country of the customer, it won't be possible to provide the exact delivery cost prior to the shopper providing their address - in checkout.

Therefore I recommend to our clients that delivery options and costs are made absolutely clear prior to checkout, and the standard delivery cost is applied at the shopping basket. This is then accompanied by clear messaging around what other 'special delivery options' are available as well as how your location affects the delivery options in checkout.

All this will ensure that there is no ambiguity about the retailers delivery costs, and whether you have an enclosed checkout or not, no retailer should be hiding delivery costs!

As with all these decisions about delivering an e-commerce customer experience that encourages rather than discourages visitors to make a purchase, testing the different approaches is key - plus its a sure fire way of delivering the business case for optimising the customer journey and the pivotal checkout process.

@All readers - if you have benefitted from the advice and recommendations in Graham's post, then you will be interested in the training course I that I deliver for Econsultancy:

Econsultancy Training - E-commerce Usability and Best Practice

Key Areas Looked At:

  • product page best practice
  • cross selling and up selling
  • shopping basket best practice
  • checkout best practice
  • checkout form best practice
  • advanced user experience techniques

The course includes live evaluation and competitor benchmarking which always proves to be one of the most popular parts of the training course.

almost 6 years ago

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