Forcing people to register before purchase can be a barrier to conversion, so many ecommerce sites offer a guest checkout option

This has been the general trend from retailers, so it’s a surprise to see ASOS moving away from this. 

So, is this a good idea? 

Why the previous version worked

The decision by ASOS seems, on the face of it at least, to be puzzling. A few years ago, Paul Rouke wrote about ASOS’ persuasive checkout best practice

In it, then Ecommerce Director James Hart told Paul how revising the first page of the checkout achieved great results: 

We didn’t fundamentally change any functionality or page flows at this point.

One thing we did change was the login screen after lengthy split testing; the changes resulted in a 50% decrease in abandonment of the site at this page.

This is the old first page of checkout at ASOS. Note that customers are forced to login or create an account in order to proceed: 

asos checkout

The revised first page of checkout had one crucial difference from the previous design. Whereas new customers were previously told that they had to create an account in order to checkout, the new design mentions absolutely nothing about account creation.

Instead, new customers were asked to simply click the continue button: 

asos checkout

This reduced abandonment, but essentially customers still had to register. ASOS essentially ‘tricked’ customers into thinking they aren’t registering, through a simple re-ordering of the process. 

After this page, customers still had to enter details as before. 

It seemed like the perfect solution, meaning that ASOS removed the barrier of registration while actually getting more customers to create accounts. 

So why change this? 

The new ASOS checkout page

Now, the first thing new customers see when they click through to checkout is this screen:

Any notion of guest checkout is gone. Instead customers need to register or sign in via social media profiles. 

Indeed, ASOS is pushing the social sign in, extolling the benefits – quick sign in, no passwords to remember etc. 

ASOS clearly sees some added benefits in encouraging social sign in, and I think it’s less about ease of login and more about what it can learn about customers from their social profiles. 

I do wonder whether this is a good idea, as it does introduce some new questions for customers. 

For example, authorising ASOS to use your Twitter account may seem a bit much, considering the ‘power’ it gives the retailer. 

Personally, I’ll never authorise any retailer to post tweets for me or update my profile. I won’t be the only one.

ASOS may have no intention of doing this, but the warnings on this screen could prove to be quite a barrier. 

If customers do go ahead and use a social profile, they still need to enter an email, date of birth, address and payment details, so the workload isn’t reduced significantly. 

If it detects you already have an account, ASOS offers to link the two, which will save time on address details: 

Or if new customers decide against social login, then they need to register to checkout. 

I think the upshot is that, whichever option people choose here, there are now more barriers for new customers.

Either having to accept the terms of use for social accounts, or actually registering before buying. 

A lot of this is about customer perception. Registering seems to be harder work than guest checkout, even though it may often involve the same amount of data entry. 

According to Paul Rouke, Founder of Optimisation Agency PRWD: 

The caveat here is that I’m not aware of ASOS data and I’ve not been involved in the decision making process to redesign the first stage of checkout.

What I do know is that simplifying this first stage of checkout for new visitors previously (including removing the toxic words “register”) had a 50% increase in conversion rate for new visitors.

An alternative option

I spoke to Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh, and he is currently split testing a change which could make Schuh’s guest checkout even easier. 

Now, even existing customers can use guest checkout, whereas previously you were only allowed one guest checkout per email address. 

Note that Schuh doesn’t even offer login or registration: 

Stuart:  

One of the important points of it is that even if you are an account holder, you can still checkout as a guest should you wish. Many sites will force you to reuse your existing account. 

Then once you are in the checkout, we detect if you have an account and give you the option to login to access your address book. We think this is great for the user experience; the test is working well so far.

The Schuh approach here is to remove any possible friction that may prevent customers from completing a purchase, and goes further than most other ecommerce sites in allowing multiple guest checkouts. 

This is almost the polar opposite of the ASOS approach. However, what works for one retailer won’t necessarily work for all, so perhaps both approaches could work. 

Losing guest checkout: a good idea? 

I asked Stuart McMillan and Paul Rouke for their views on this change. 

Paul Rouke:  

For existing customers I would recommend that if getting them to sign in and therefore have integration with one of their social accounts, they should be doing this via email communication and within their account area, with a key recommendation being to really sell the benefits for moving to social login, whilst also conducting user research to ensure any concerns or reservations are understood and can be addressed.

For new customers? I’d recommend ASOS revert back to the previous first stage checkout, providing new customers with the one simple, friction free button saying “continue” at the start of checkout.

From here ASOS has already starting building momentum up for these visitors, then when it comes to asking them to enter a password on the next page, the new social sign in options can be provided at this relevant stage within checkout.

The reality is that even if new customers choose the social sign in register option at the start, this won’t mean they no longer have to choose delivery options, delivery address, payment method and billing address.

I’d be fascinated to see how this new checkout impacts the new visitor conversion rate, not to mention be a fly on the wall observing the facial expressions and decision making process of new visitors taking this in and choosing what to do or what not to do next.

Stuart McMillan:

I think social login is OK, but I think for many users it is trumped by no login. It’s something we have thought about, and may well offer it as an option in the future, but it’s not high on our list.

That being said, if you are a frequent shopper with a company, there may be advantages to a logged-in experience and social login may be an easier route, given that many people are already logged in to Facebook on their device. It all comes back to whether you can add value to the user’s experience.

I really can’t see any argument for removing guest checkout, it’s a UX pattern that customers are used to, and they like it. There are so many negative connotations of being an account holder, filling out forms and getting spam being two.

We’re going to continue to look at a) making the guest experience as easy as possible and b) adding value at the right place and time for those who are happy to log-in. 

In summary

On the face of it, this decision to remove the guest checkout option seems a retrograde step.

It adds a barrier to conversion that previously didn’t exist, and you would expect this to have an impact on new visitor conversions.  

On the other hand, I’m not privy to the thinking behind this move, or any testing ASOS may have carried out before making this change. 

What do you think? Do the benefits of pushing social login outweigh the removal of guest checkout? Let us know in the comments…