Practical Ecommerce

Eliminate Checkout Frustration with Custom Error Messages

If you’ve ever tried putting together a piece of furniture without the instructions, you know how frustrating it can be when it doesn’t go as expected. You stand there, staring at all the loose pieces, asking yourself, “What did I do wrong?” Chances are, shoppers run into this problem somewhere in your website.

No site is perfect. Errors are going to occur. Servers will sometimes hiccup, and expired coupons will be entered during checkout. How the store handles these issues, though, determines what the shopper does next.

The most common problems occur during the checkout process, which is the least ideal place. These interruptions are one of the leading causes of cart abandonment.

Finding Problems

The most common way issues are found is by shoppers reporting them, even though few take the time to notify you. That’s why it is important to read customer emails and responses, and take immediate action to fix. Another way is to test the store frequently, and encourage employees to do the same. Analytics and webmaster tools will also point out problems, including missing pages, broken images, and page-halting scripts.

Testing

Be sure to test the catalog, cart, and checkout. Many times reported errors are a result of bad formatting and wording. These are typically fixed by making simple edits to the messages that display when a user inputs something incorrectly.

The most common issues during checkout are these.

  • Generalized error messages, like “Missing Fields Required” or “Invalid Information.” Be sure to spell out exactly what’s wrong. Avoid words that are perceived to place blame on the shopper — “invalid” is one of them. If displaying a message at the top of the page or form, also highlight the field that needs to be addressed.
Be sure to use easy-to-understand terms and call attention to the actual problem. Source: Target.com.

Be sure to use easy-to-understand terms and call attention to the actual problem. Source: Target.com.

  • Non-qualifying or expired promo codes. Use different messages to explain why a promo code isn’t accepted. Be sure to state if the code is expired or if it’s entered incorrectly. If a coupon is valid only on certain products or subtotals, explain what the shopper needs to do.
Kohl’s explains that the promo code entered can’t be used with the items being ordered.

Kohl’s explains that the promo code entered can’t be used with the items being ordered.

Use distinct messages for codes that are expired or incorrect.

Use distinct messages for codes that are expired or incorrect.

  • Data entered in the wrong format. Don’t confuse shoppers by requiring information in non-standard fashion. Nowadays, shoppers shouldn’t have to include dashes or slashes in phone numbers and expiration date fields. If information needs to be stored in a specialized format, pre-code the input field or use a tool that converts the data on the backend.
  • Confirmation field mismatch. If you require email addresses and passwords be entered twice, consider including a “show password” or “show address” option so they can see what they’re typing.
  • Shipping cannot be calculated. Sometimes integrations that calculate and display real-time shipping rates go down. Either have a fallback method that displays during those times, or be clear about contacting the shopper with the actual ship costs.
  • CAPTCHA fail. Many of those images and text strings are difficult to read. And, most users despise the feature. An online checkout shouldn’t use CAPTCHA at all.

Some more serious issues may be isolated to a specific browser or device. Browser versions may also play a role, as can operating systems and Internet connections. If you cannot replicate a problem quickly, reach out to the shopper and ask for more details — operating system, browser, device, version, screenshots. Most who report problems are eager to help.

You can also use online tools to locate issues. There are many free ones that will scan individual web pages and report problems with scripts, coding, images, and more.

Pingdom will analyze a web page for speed, connections and errors. Go to tools.pingdom.com

Pingdom will analyze a web page for speed, connections and errors.

Most modern-day browsers include developer tools that will call attention to problems, even on mobile displays.

Fixing Problems Fast

Since most users won’t take the time to contact you, it is important to address problems as quickly as possible.

For error messages, test different wordings until you construct one that not only makes things clear, but also doesn’t intimidate or belittle the shopper. And, don’t scream. Unusually large, bold text with exclamation points isn’t ideal.

Zappos uses a polite, can’t-be-missed message to explain a checkout problem.

Zappos uses a polite, can’t-be-missed message to explain a checkout problem.

If possible, use custom messages for declined credit cards, too. Since gateway responses don’t always disclose specific reasons for card declines, encourage the shopper to double-check or re-enter the card number, expiration date, and security code.

Ask the shopper to re-check information. Source: Zappos.

Ask the shopper to re-check information. Source: Zappos.

Analyze the Changes

Immediately after implementing fixes, test them. In fact, test the entire checkout by leaving various fields blank and complete others with incorrect data.

Be sure to revisit the checkout often, and study analytics to look for exit points that may be a result of word choice or other placements of messages.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Jeff Bronson - eCommerce Warriors June 10, 2015 Reply

    Per finding problems, assuming the shopper checks out, is a post purchase, short survey to identify any challenges they had. Or a live chat during checkout option.

    Nothing is more off putting than a red error message, that isn’t even ‘field level.’ Having a readable, friendly error message AND telling the shopper exactly what the problem is goes a long way.

    Another easy enough idea, I didn’t see mentioned is auto-detecting the CC type based on the number field.

  2. Pamela Hazelton June 10, 2015 Reply

    Hi, Jeff:

    Surveys that request feedback are a great way to find out what might have gone wrong. I recommend these go on the invoice page and/or in email confirmations as hyperlinks (not a popup).

    I didn’t mention the auto-detection of CC number because the bulk of small business shopping carts don’t auto-populate it. Instead, they tend to match the first digit of the card against the selected card type.

    • Jeff Bronson - eCommerce Warriors June 12, 2015 Reply

      Hi Pamela,

      Agreed, the email confirm is a great place for this.
      Per CC matching, yes this works great as well.

  3. Tom June 16, 2015 Reply

    Pam, check first the stupid captcha box on this very page!
    try without a name: your comment will be lost.

    • Pamela Hazelton June 16, 2015 Reply

      Tom, I don’t have any control over how this page loads or functions. I have had similar issues on many sites, but I also realize that using it here eliminates a great deal of spam that comes into the staff.

      I’ve never lost my comment, but if that’s the case, you should reach out to Practical Ecommerce – I know they’ll listen to your issue.

  4. Elizabeth Hollingsworth June 25, 2015 Reply

    Using user recording software like Lucky Orange which shows customers navigating and interacting with your site will help you see where problems lie for future fixes, and you can save the sale by offering live chat to help them.