Once your customer gets to the purchase stage, a good ecommerce checkout experience could make or break the sale. Here's how to make sure yours is the former - complete with some great examples from online retailers.

Congratulations! You've got a shopper to the checkout stage of the customer journey, and you're moments away from closing the deal and earning a sale. But don't breathe easy just yet.

While getting a customer to the checkout stage is a big achievement, it's not a done deal and there are plenty of things that can put the shopper off at this final, crucial stage and cause them to abandon their basket or decide they'll come back later (and then not actually come back).

So, how can you ensure a smooth, frictionless ecommerce checkout experience, and what potential pitfalls do you need to be aware of so that you can avoid them? In this article, I'll cover some key points of ecommerce checkout best practice and why they work, followed by some excellent examples of online retailers who have managed to nail the checkout process.

For more ecommerce best practice tips and examples, subscribers can download Econsultancy's Ecommerce Best Practice Guide or take our Online Fast Track Training Course in ecommerce and online merchandising. 

What makes a great checkout?

While I could write a whole essay on this subject alone, here is a (hopefully concise) summary of the most important things to bear in mind when evaluating your online checkout experience.

  1. No distractions. Enclosing the checkout – which refers to the practice of situating your checkout in a stripped-down environment without all the bells and whistles of the main site – ensures that shoppers are focused on the task at hand and not likely to be taken out of the checkout journey by links or other distractions.However, be sure to maintain visible branding and security information so as not to damage trust (see #8).
  2. Guest checkout option. While encouraging customers to register for an account is a good idea, making it a requirement to check out adds friction and can turn customers away. Instead, provide a guest checkout option and encourage guests to sign up for an account after the purchase is already complete.
  3. Choice of payment method. Not all of your customers will have a debit/credit card, and even those who do may prefer to checkout with something like Paypal or Apple Pay. Providing a ‘buy now, pay later’ option like Klarna will also entice consumers who want more flexible ways to pay.
  4. Concise forms. People hate forms, so making it as painless as possible is the name of the game: keep the number of fields and particularly the number of required fields to a minimum, and provide clear information about the location of any errors and how to correct them. Consider if you can auto-fill any fields (such as country and city when a user enters a postcode).
  5. Progress indicators. Provide clear indications of where the customer is in their journey at all times, so that they can easily identify the stages they’ve already passed through and the stages they have left to complete.
  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. You should also provide a clear cost breakdown so that the customer isn’t surprised by any unexpected costs, leading to cart abandonment.
  7. Speed. This is about ensuring that your pages load quickly – slow-loading pages, particularly on the payment step, will make your customer worry that there is an issue – but also about ensuring efficiency. Are there any unnecessary steps in the process that you can remove? Can you implement an express checkout option? Some ecommerce vendors address this with a single-page checkout, although these can be tricky to design and don’t always make for an easier navigation process.
  8. Reinforcing trust. Trust is built up by the overall site experience and includes things like using clear messaging and layout, having a reliable site experience and standardising forms – but there are ways you can ensure that the checkout experience maintains that trust. Visible assurances about privacy and data protection are key, as is consistent branding; if you redirect to an outsourced payment provider, make sure that your branding is still on the page.

Now that we've looked at how to get things right, who out there is putting these points into practice? Here are seven examples that have particularly impressed me on my travels.

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