Practical Ecommerce

Be Sure To Simplify Checkout

There have been many a debate about how to siphon shoppers into the checkout process quickly, and just as expeditiously get them to the final invoice page. The words easy, simplified and ‘lightning fast’ come to mind during such arguments, while retailers and advisers sight statistics, often passed down by large firms that don’t necessarily cater to what we see as “small business.”

I am not a statistical person. For me, statistics only tell me percentages of probability, but in an ever-growing field of ecommerce, nobody wants to cater to just 93 percent of shoppers — they want them all. And who can blame them? Statistics about screen resolution and browser-types have often ruled designers and developers, ultimately giving little regard to my father-in-law, who views online stores at 600 x 800, or people like my blind husband, who cannot navigate the majority of flash elements due to improper coding.

With one of the latest phases of a streamlined checkout, that is, checkout processes that take only one or two screens, many key elements — elements statistics don’t necessarily address — are overlooked. Even with a simplified process, shoppers need guidance. They need to understand what sections are required and which are optional, as well as how to locate the Card Verification Value Code (CVV), or CID, on their credit card. They still need to understand shipping and payment options, and, with a large number of U.S. military stationed abroad, how to enter valid APO/FPO addresses.

The key, as with any other process of the shopping cart, is to find a happy medium where the impulse shopper can quickly give you his or her money, yet still understand how to complete the process. And let’s not forget we need to approach all this without excessive reading or scrolling.

Here’s some of my recent finds on the topic of simplified checkouts — snafus that are more common than butter on a bagel:

  • No “Back to Basket” link. Shoppers need to be able to edit quantities (or remove items). If they feel stuck, they may move on.
  • No instructions for military addresses. Remember, the only carrier for most APOs is U.S. Postal Service, but many service men and women don’t know how to properly enter such addresses. Same goes for their family members.
  • No graphical explanation about where to find CVV (or CID) codes, or which numbers exactly to enter.
  • No explanation that the billing address is the address at which they receive credit card statements.
  • No explanations of time frames for shipping, or, including shipping options that do not apply to customer or order specifications (i.e. making the shopper figure it out).
  • Lack of a link or button that reads “Place Order” or “Finalize Order.” A “continue” button does not signify that clicking said button will actually charge the card and submit the order for processing.

For stores offering special features like coupons, gift certificates or other fields in which shoppers may have to enter key information, more thought will need to go into how to strategically place each component on the screen. Colored headers to segment different areas can help guide the customer just as well as written instructions. And if you require an agreement to terms, it’s best to either link to them or put them in a scrollable box. Most shoppers don’t read these anyway, so there’s no sense in slowing down the process by distracting them from the final goal — a successful order.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Legacy User November 15, 2007 Reply

    i would add a clear 'step-by-step' screen so the user knows at what point in the checkout process they are and how many they have to go – this helps if there are only 2-3 steps (approve basket, address/delivery details, payment info) – if you have 4-5 then possibly not!

    — *Dan Broughton*

  2. Legacy User November 15, 2007 Reply

    Actually, a "Step X of X" will work regardless of the number of screens, but is more necessary for 3-5 step checkouts than 1-2.

    — *Pamela Hazelton*

  3. Legacy User November 16, 2007 Reply

    Yea! A voice of sanity. Too many times I hear clients talk about "one page checkouts" as if they are the holy grail. Well, many of these "one pages" take twice as long to puzzle out "what goes where" as a good, well documented two or three step process. To me, Good, is faster than just "short."

    — *Bruce Golub*