Improving Your Checkout Process
Once you’ve gotten a shopper to add a product or two to their cart, you have a reasonable chance of converting them into a buyer. The process of moving them from the cart or basket page through the checkout steps to the final receipt page is known as the checkout process. There are a number of usability best practices for checkout screens. We recently performed a cleanup of the checkout screens for one of our clients that followed these guidelines, and I want to present some of these ideas with screenshots from the redesign. Read on to find out what we did and the results we’ve seen.
Many shopping carts don’t provide a single-page checkout, and the jury is still out on whether they are more user-friendly than checkout processes that span multiple pages. If your checkout process includes more than one page, make it simpler by reminding your customer where they are in the overall process with a clear graphic. Think of it as the sign near the entrance to your local shopping mall with the “You are Here” pointer, except it’s a map for your website. As an added bonus, you can also reinforce the concept of security with your choice of words and graphics in the image.
Ask for as Much Information as You Need…
…but not a single field more. A customer’s sense of dread increases dramatically with every field you add to a form on a page. For some, it’s just a matter of the time it takes to type in all their information; for others, their worry about identity theft and fraud grows with each piece of information they need to provide. Even if your shopping cart software has a default field, you likely don’t need to use it. For example, if you don’t use a customer’s fax number for anything, why ask for it? Most e-commerce communications are handled by email and phone, not fax, so many companies can omit this field. If you only ship within your own country, don’t ask customers to choose a country. Simply put a small statement at the bottom that reminds people of your policy, instead of a dropdown with a single country in it. (Or even worse, a dropdown filled with countries that generate an error when the form is submitted!)
Required and Optional Fields
A corollary to the above rule: don’t make a field required unless it needs to be. Visually, the customer address forms need to have an indicator that shows which fields are required and which ones are optional, and they need to align well vertically. The most common indicator is an asterisk. However, if every field is required, don’t put an asterisk by each one. A single statement at the top that says “All fields are required” will suffice and clear some of the visual clutter – and customer confusion over why every field has the asterisk.
Scrubbing addresses is becoming more widespread on e-commerce sites. The idea is that there’s a layer of technology on the back-end that takes the addresses (especially the shipping address) and compares it against a known set of addresses, such as the US Postal Service address database, and returns a scrubbed address – one that has been verified as a real address, and formatted according to carrier preferences.
This concept has a number of benefits. First, it can reduce address-correction fees with your shipping carriers (UPS, FedEx, and the postal service). Second, it can reduce costs associated with returned packages due to undeliverable addresses. Third, it can improve the accuracy of sales tax calculations in destination-based tax states. The USPS provides this service, but under very limited circumstances (for example, you must be an active USPS shipper). Our own AccurateTax service offers address scrubbing as a stand-alone service or as part of our sales tax solutions. And there are other options for various carts.
Use Trust Marks
Recognized trust marks are a simple way to remind customers of the protection you place on their personal information and payment details. Trust marks come in a variety of forms. The simplest one to include, that usually doesn’t add any additional cost to your overhead, is the security badge offered as part of your SSL certificate. All of the major SSL certificate providers offer such badges – you’ve likely seen Verisign, GeoTrust, Thawte, and other security badges on major e-commerce sites.
A second form of trust marks includes those from companies that scan your site for security holes and PCI violations. These became well-known several years ago when the HackerSafe logo become prominent, and MarketingSherpa reported amazing increases in conversion rates for PetCo when displaying the logo in the site’s header. Today, HackerSafe has become McafeeSecure and is still a leader in this type of service. While the McafeeSecure logo can still be seen on many e-commerce sites, they’ve been joined by a number of competitors, including ControlScan and Shopper Safe.
On checkout pages, particularly the page where customers enter their credit card details, it’s especially important to show it high on the page. On our redesign, we grouped the trust marks into a bar along with the customer service phone number and provided it near the top of every page in the checkout process for consistency.
We’ll be exploring other trust marks in an upcoming article.
Indicate Processing and Shipping Times
Customers want to know when they will receive their order. In most cases, this depends on two factors:
- Processing time: how long it takes your warehouse to pack the order for shipment, and
- Shipping time: how long it takes the package to reach the destination.
Explain both to the customer as early as possible in the checkout process, and repeat the information as needed and in the confirmation email.
Provide a Printable Receipt
A printable invoice or receipt is necessary because a) emails don’t always reach their destination, and b) customers don’t always remember their orders. Offering customers the ability to print a black-and-white, bare bones receipt once their order is complete allows them to get hard copy proof that they did indeed order X, Y, and Z from you. It also helps them find discrepancies and call to have them corrected earlier in the process.
Send an Automatic Receipt by Email
You should automatically send a receipt by email immediately after the order is placed. Some customers won’t use the printable receipt, but will expect the emailed receipt to arrive in their inbox within a minute or two of the order being completed. The email should provide a copy of the billing and shipping addresses, the cart contents (including any discounts, tax, and shipping charges), and a phone number to call in case of errors. If you can’t send out an email immediately, state the expected delay time boldly somewhere on your web-based receipt page.
Use the Receipt Page for Merchandising and Engagement
The receipt page is an often-overlooked place to ask the customer for additional sales, feedback, and participation. Here are a few ideas to include on your receipt page:
- Link to your Facebook page
- Link to your Twitter account
- A form to sign up for your email newsletter or paper catalog
- The chance to add a popular accessory to their order
- An offer to upgrade their shipping for a special price
What about you?
Have you tried any of these already on your site or your customers’ stores? What kind of difference did you see? In our particular case, we’ve noted a 1.5% improvement in conversion rates inside the funnel since implementing many of these changes, and we still have two pages left to tackle (the login page and the receipt page) – not to mention the receipt email itself! Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.