Finding unmined opportunities in your checkout.
A central tenet of the online journey is "all paths lead to product" — from highly directed searches and the global navigation to brand editorial and collection/product storytelling — with the path taken depending on the user’s intent. Brands invest untold amounts of time and resources in creating compelling messaging, rich content and a beautiful design to spark an emotional connection with prospective customers.
Once there is a strong desire to purchase a product, then speed, ease and trust becomes paramount to a successful checkout experience and revenue. However, there are a lot of checkout experiences that drive away sales and put a cap on revenue. Web UX research group Baymard Institute found that the average cart abandonment rate for online retailers is 70%. Even when you remove those who are simply browsing and do not initiate the checkout flow, there is a material impact on revenue loss that can be recoverable. In Baymard’s research amongst U.S. shoppers, 1 in 5 shoppers indicated they abandoned checkout due to a “too long/complicated checkout process”. Other reasons included extra costs, required account creation, trusting the site with credit card information, and site errors, to name a few.
Here is where brands can run out of gas due to a couple of reasons: the tightly coupled tech stack may make changes very risky, or there’s a pervasive feeling that checkouts are fine as long as a customer can transact. Nowadays, neither excuse holds much water. Ecommerce technology has come far enough where it’s possible to build a sturdy checkout that can handle optimization without breaking everything else. As far as checkouts “being fine”, it should be treated like any other part of your store – something to be regularly analyzed and tested for improvement.
There are many facets to completing a purchase with optimization opportunities at every step of the journey. Continually taking the friction out of checkout will not only increase your conversion rate but also lift the ROI of the marketing programs that bring traffic to your site.
In this piece, I’ll explain the three essential components of high-performing online checkouts, and then outline 14 steps online retailers can take to optimize their checkout experience.
3 essentials of high-performing checkouts: speed, ease, and trust
In my last replatform project at a global luxury brand that’s recognized for its fashion authority and digital leadership, both the business and tech teams cited site speed as their #1 requirement. Fast loading pages that react quickly to each user interaction will progress the journey, build trust with users and improve conversion. In a study commissioned by Google, they found that «decreasing mobile site load times by just one tenth of a second resulted in major performance gains. Specifically, conversion rates went up by 8.4% for retail and 10.1% for travel.»
Faster transactions generally make for easier transactions, but ease takes other forms, too. Minimizing the fields a user needs to fill out, for one. And product content should always load in the local language, be priced in the local currency, and offer payment through a gateway that’s trusted in the region.
A few more considerations, especially when you have a global user base:
- Address formats and validation
- Label naming conventions
- Clear error messaging
In my experience performing usability testing in different international markets, there were marked differences in how users engaged with the site and their recovery paths. Adapting your purchase process to local norms demonstrates that you understand the market, leads to higher conversion rates, and conveys respect for the customer.
A fast-loading site signals that you’ve invested in your online experience and suggests you’ve also invested in security, developing quality products, and providing adequate customer support.
Other signals that combine to win users’ trust include product availability, full payment options, shipping providers and delivery options, return policy, contactability, language, customer reviews, etc.
Now let’s take a look at some concrete steps online retailers can take to improve the speed, ease, and trust of their online checkout experiences. As you implement these steps, it’s important to keep three principles in mind:
- You can continuously optimize the checkout funnel at every step to reduce your abandonment rate.
- As you observe customer behavior, you can add new features to cater to their preferences.
- You can adjust your checkout functionality to capitalize on new revenue opportunities (e.g. introducing subscriptions) and scale your business.
Note that all of these are things you can (and should) do on an ongoing basis to optimize checkout.
14 steps to optimize your digital checkout
Consider each device independently, e.g. mobile vs. desktop, to better understand your customers’ shopping behaviors and drop-off points. Are customers visiting your site on mobile, but converting more on PC? Is the average order value consistent across devices or higher on desktop? Understand these differentials.
Capture the drop-off at every step, from add to shopping bag, the cart, sign-in, shipping, payment, order review and order placement. Develop hypotheses for each drop-off and gather available data/insights from tracking tools. Identify where gains can be made and prioritize A|B tests. Optimization goals should be set at each step, resulting in an overall conversion improvement.
Leverage social log-ins and digital wallets on mobile. Avoid capturing extraneous information unless the business value elsewhere outweighs the conversion impact (e.g. titles). If you find that in most sessions, the customer’s shipping and billing address match, make this a default state. Provide a way for customers to save their payment method for future use.
The “always with you” device creates more shoppable moments than the PC. Express checkout is particularly beneficial on the small screen that is prone to entry errors. Plus, designing for the small screen brings simplicity and clarity that will carry over well to the desktop experience.
Factor in the dominant operating system(s) used by your customers which may have different design patterns and features. Be aware of upgrade releases and run usability tests in advance to make sure the experience doesn’t break.
This includes page loading, user interactions, and database calls. The target should be less than 100ms per API call.
Check the instruction label for clarity. Review field formats for ease of entry and error messages for recovery suggestions. Make sure required fields are essential and clearly noted. Is address auto-complete or autofill utilized? Does the credit card field follow a 4-digit block format so that digits can be visually validated? Does the error message suggest a way to correct it? Does the phone number capture country code?
Let them know all the steps required and their progress at any time. If you sell high consideration products and have implemented a proactive chat service, test its effectiveness in checkout based on different thresholds of time spent.
Give your customers feedback as each field is entered. Confirm that it was completed successfully or in error.
Include the local payment methods that your customers expect. This is a significant driver of conversion. Can you readily add new payment options as they emerge? In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of buy now, pay later (BNPL). Be sure to have the ability to test emerging payment methods.
Ensure that not only are SLAs in place to meet delivery promise dates, but that they are also tracked. If you have multiple stock locations, is your inventory strategy set up for speed?
If you have a retail presence and strong market coverage, include this option if it provides convenience for most customers.
Customers might need assistance during checkout. Give them a way to contact you. It’s also a trust element. Test chat, but if offered, make sure it’s 100% available during business hours.
If one datapoint is changed, return quickly to the final review page.
Understand areas for improvement. Satisfaction doesn't always lead to repeat purchase, but dissatisfaction definitely deters it.
Start by clearly communicating to customers. By now, your site should comply with GDPR and CCPA. PCI is the industry’s standard for security compliance for payments, but does your site utilize HTTPS, TLS, and other web protocols? What about multi-factor authentication to secure users’ data? Your mileage may vary, but you should look at all these measures.
This is a moment-in-time checklist. I recommend making these tasks a regular part of your site maintenance to ensure that you’re adapting to changing customer behaviors and preferences and capitalizing on new technology developments. Your platform and architecture should let you evolve quickly so you can offer an experience that meets customer expectations. With a headless solution, you’ll be able to make front-end design changes without impacting your back-end databases.
Savvy retailers will continue to focus on taking the friction out of the shopping experience. They will raise the bar on customer expectations which will benefit the industry overall. Be that retailer.
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