While many retailers have worked hard on checkout optimisation over the last few years, there are still plenty of sites making relatively basic mistakes. 

The eChannel Retail Benchmark from eDigital looks at retailers across three channels, and finds that the checkout and purchase process receives the lowest average scores. 

One common factor for those retailers with the lowest scores was compulsory registration, especially for mobile sites and apps. 

I’ve been looking at some of the best and worst performers in this area…

Here are the scores for the ten retailers studied: 

Why are retailers scoring so poorly for checkouts? 

The 10 retailers selected for this study are all well-known retailers, and it’s no surprise that checkouts on mobile sites and apps receive the lowest scores and bring the average down. 

Based on the percentage scores in the table above, it seems that checkouts on m-commerce sites are worse than those on apps, the opposite of what you might expect. 

One thing the bottom four all have in common is that users are required to register before making a purchase, the only exception being the Debenhams desktop site (it still insists on this for mobile site and app). 

It’s no surprise to see HMV near the bottom, as the retailer was the subject of a recent Econsultancy article on making customers register before checkout

However, I’m surprised that, given the number of usability issues with HMV’s checkout, it actually achieved the fourth best score for web checkout, it’s the mobile version that has lowered its average score. 

Mobile website checkouts: best and worst practice

Asda’s Grocery mobile site achieves the best score in its category (89%) so what is it doing well? 

It does ask for registration, but this is the norm for online grocery shopping, and some of the testers already had accounts anyway, making the process much smoother.

Also, for a mobile site, it isn’t such a bad registration process:

It does at least keep the amount of data entry required to a minimum. It doesn’t ask for unnecessary information and does at least use a postcode finder tool to make address input easier. 

In addition, it remembers the postcode you entered to check whether you’re in the delivery area, and uses it in the address entry form, meaning entering the house number is all that’s needed. 

In general, it’s a well designed form, though the error messaging lets it down. Messages are placed at the top of the screen, not where the errors are, and it deletes the password you’ve entered and confirmed, which always annoys me. 

Testers also liked the flexible delivery options presented during checkout, especially the ability to easily amend their orders up to 10pm the day before. 

The worst mobile checkout was Very, according to the stats, and I can see why. 

Not only do you have to register, but if you’re not careful you’ll end up being credit checked, as well as opening a credit account. The ‘pay by card’ option is easily missed (I’ve scrolled down a bit for this screenshot). 

Very mobile checkout

What’s worse, and this is something I looked at in a previous post on retailers and credit accounts, it is incredibly difficult to find out about interest charges

Very can charge up to 39% APR, way more than the average credit card, and this is information which really should be made clear if a customer is about to create an account. It should also be very transparent about credit checks. 

The information must be in there somewhere, but customers have to work to find it. 

App checkouts: best and worst practice

ASOS gets top score in this category, and I think this is thanks to a clean and clear design, and a more forward-thinking approach to checkout. 

By removing the compulsory registration option on its desktop site, ASOS halved its checkout abandonment rate, and the retailer takes the same approach on its mobile site. 

Paul Rouke has examined this in detail here, so there’s no need for me to, but it’s basically getting customers to enter the same information to complete the purchase, but not making it a barrier to entering the checkout. 

The wooden spoon goes to the Next app. Like Very, it has a credit account option, and you need to register first:

I didn’t get the chance to see how clear Next makes the credit account options and charges (it doesn’t do this too well on the website)but I didn’t get the chance to check. 

Instead, despite having two items in my basket, as you can see from the bottom right of the image, I can an error message which tells me my basket is empty. Annoying as hell, and a dead end for a potential customer. 

Web checkouts: best and worst practice

According to the survey, Asda Grocery was the best web checkout, closely followed by Tesco.

Thanks to a registration process, and having to register before adding any items to your basket, neither site can boast the smoothest of checkouts for first time buyers

However, grocery customers are more likely to be repeat buyers, so once the registration has been completed, subsequent purchases become much easier.

In addition, as with Asda’s mobile site, the fact that some testers already had accounts with some of the sites in the survey skews the results slightly. 

Setting aside the grocery retailers, the next best checkout was ASOS, which is a great example of best practice.

The wooden spoon for web checkout goes to Very.co.uk. I have looked at this checkout before, and it is the credit account and the (lack of) clarity around charges that represents the biggest issue. Customers have to work very hard to find the APR

Testers didn’t like the way they were encouraged to sign up for an account at the same time, especially when the retailer wasn’t totally clear about APRs

Some people are perfectly happy to take out credit accounts, so being upfront about this (and charges) and offering other customers an alternative would be a far better way. 

If customers cannot find information they need, they may abandon the purchase, or if they set up an account without full information, that may make for some very angry customers further down the line. 

There are plenty of angry customers in the comments of this site review from three years ago. Of course, any retailer of a certain size will attract a number of complaints, so this may or may not be indicative of general customer sentiment. 

You can checkout and pay by card rather than opening a credit account, but Very does try to push customers down the latter path.

Take this screenshot of the checkout page – there’s so much white space between the stand-out green continue (and create a credit account) button, and the small blue pay by card option. 

Why are mobile sites getting better ratings than apps? 

It is generally thought that apps can provide a better user experience than mobile sites, for the moment at least. 

This is because they can be tailored to and work to the boundaries of each device, so an Amazon iPhone app can have a barcode scanner on top of the mobile site’s features, and so on. 

However, the results in this study show mobile sites outperforming apps in very category but one: product pages. 

The answer, according to Liana Vickery of eDigital:

We did some research around this last year and found that people were often using a mobile site first, whereas an app is often used by more engaged and loyal customers.

As a result, mobile sites are often more intuitive and more like the traditional websites, meaning that people rate it higher as they are more familiar with the functionality.

This does make sense, and apps are generally more of a retention tool for existing customers than an acquisition tool. Other studies, such as this one from Jakob Nielsen have found that apps are more usable, but the margins are slight. 

Key takeaways from the study

  • Each channel (web, mobile sites and apps) should be tailored to the specifics of the device / channel but should still remain recognisable to the consumer through brand and design. 

    I.e. customers want to see an Amazon mobile site that is optimised for the device they are using, but they expect the site to be broadly the same in look and feel.

  • While customers want optimised mobile sites and apps, they also want to keep the key functionality they are used to from the main site. 
  • Purchase processes need to be simplified, and repeat purchase should be easy, especially on mobile. 

    This is one reason why Amazon has done so well on mobile – once you’re registered, it’s almost too easy to buy again. 

  • Registration is bad on desktop, but worse on mobile. Customers don’t like to register before checkout, and retailers that have dropped registration have seen the benefits. 

    This is the case on desktop sites, but even more so on mobile, where every extra step makes checkout harder. 

  • Checkouts need to be designed for mobile. Many retailers just use the exact same process as the main site. 

    If this is a good process, as with ASOS, it may work, but if you have issues with the desktop checkout, these will be amplified on mobile.