In a previous article, we talked a bit about the causes of cart abandonment, and why it’s a serious issue for your e-commerce site. In case you forgot, cart abandonment is the phenomenon of customers placing items in their shopping carts, but deciding for whatever reason to not complete the transaction. It’s a common problem for any site, and like most common problems it has solutions. Today we’re talking about streamlining the checkout process on your online store.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. You’re shopping online for a pair of handmade woolen mittens. The site you’ve found has some well-rated products that are in colors that you like, so you put the mittens in your cart, then hit the checkout button. First you are taken to a page to review what’s in your cart, with another checkout button. That leads to another page that asks for payment information. Once you enter it in, you’re taken to a different page that asks for your shipping information. Then you are asked to confirm the contents of the cart yet again, and only after that are you allowed to place your order. At what point in this process do you start wondering just how badly you want those mittens?
Is this process arcane enough to make you abandon your order and look elsewhere? Perhaps not, but for many people on the internet it is. In surveys, one of the most common reasons given for cart abandonment was a convoluted checkout process. Even if the user is happy with the product and has already decided to drop the money for it, that last step can be enough to change their mind entirely. While it’s impossible to say precisely how much revenue this could cost your e-commerce site, you can agree that it’s silly to lose any money on an issue that you have the power to solve.
If your stake in an online store is primarily business or product-related, you might have overlooked this problem.
What we’re dealing with is a problem of User Experience, or UX. UX refers to the user’s experience with your site in every aspect, from layout to product to customer service. Good UX design isn’t easy—many designers spend years studying it—but there are pitfalls that even the least tech savvy among us can avoid to craft the best possible site. Here are a few basic UX principles to follow to ensure that your customers have a harmonious flow from browsing to checkout, while also making your site more user friendly in general.
The most important thing to keep in mind when creating any kind of interactive website is to follow your users’ mental model, which is a fancy way of saying that your website should be intuitive. In other words no links or buttons in your site should be surprising. If a user clicks a link that says “home decor” then they had better be seeing wall art and throw pillows, as opposed to monogrammed dog collars. In that same vein, any kind of function that triggers without the user’s consent or understanding is a bad idea.
Human beings, as a general rule, like things to make some kind of logical sense. It’s related to that monkey part of our brains that want to take things apart to see what’s going on inside. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really understand how websites or the internet works, even if the code is all laid out in front of us.
We’re all really adrift on the internet, trusting the developers to see us through. When you run an online service, it’s vital to foster that trust, and that means making your website make sense. If your site doesn’t behave as the user predicts, it will not take long for them to get frustrated enough to take their business elsewhere.
You can apply this principle to your entire e-commerce site, but it is doubly essential for your checkout page. Every button on it should be clearly linked to its intended function. For example, the function to remove items from a shopping cart should be easy to see and use. If you’re using an “X” or trash can icon, consider switching to a button that says “remove item” so that there is no ambiguity. When a user clicks on it, they shouldn’t be directed to another page; at most, there can be a pop-up that asks for confirmation before deletion. When a user clicks the checkout button, they want to know that they are checking out, not entering a half-dozen forms that don’t matter to them.
Simplifying your checkout is part of a process called the sales funnel.
The idea behind the funnel is that every part of your site should be geared towards moving your user towards making a purchase. The steps of the funnel are: introduction, education, evaluation, decision, purchase, and retaining. Notice that the actual purchase is just one step in this process; there’s a very good reason for that. The average attention span can only handle so much before it becomes distracted, especially when it’s on the internet. Complicating that last step is enough to derail the user off the entire purchase.
What does the ideal checkout page look like? There is no hard and fast rule, but less is always more. What is the minimum amount of information you, the business owner, need in order to complete the transaction? The actual list of goods, payment information, and shipping information, that’s all. The majority of this information can be confirmed in one page, two at the very most.
The confirmation of the shopping cart should be handled with a single button press, with cart editing options clearly available.
Once you continue to the payment and shipping information page, the process should be streamlined as possible. Have the different payment options clearly labeled.
Using services like PayPal can do a lot to make the entire process simpler. Also be sure to give the user the option to select their payment address as their shipping address in a single button, to avoid annoying repetition. Finally, when the user clicks the final checkout button, they should be taken to a confirmation page with, at most, a popup asking them if they are sure of their order.
Three separate web pages should be the most you need to conclude any transaction. If there is more that you’d like from your customers, such as demographic information or advertisements for a mailing list, then consider saving that for the confirmation page.
Even better, send that out as a follow up email. We’re not saying that these extra pieces aren’t important, but they are just that, extra. If they are getting in the way of your customers purchases, then they become a problem.
If these guidelines look like common sense, good! Good UX design is difficult, but bad UX isn’t that hard to avoid if you try to think like a customer. Think about what you’re willing to put up with in order to buy a great product.
Now think of what you’d put up with in order to buy a product you’re not so crazy about. Chances are you’ll get customers who feel both ways about what you’re selling. By making the checkout process as streamlined as possible, you can make sure that both kinds of customers go through with the transaction.