We asked 21 experts: "What’s one thing retailers are doing wrong and one thing they’re doing right?"
You could be thinking of a thousand things you didn’t like about your last online transaction. However, we’re too lazy to think of a thousand of anything, so we posed a simple two-part question to 21 UX experts from the ecommerce, CRO, Marketing, and Product Management space to bring you over 40 different takes on the subject.
We’ve split each answer into a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ practice to let you decide what’s best for you based on your own moral compass. Or, better yet, the behaviour of your own users *nudge*
Bring in the experts!
One of the most common mistakes I see with ecommerce checkouts is forms that ask for too much unnecessary and sensitive information, all at once.
It’s a quick way to get a customer to bounce – checkout is not the time to throw obstacles in the path to a purchase. Ask for only what you need.
One thing I see more stores doing well is breaking the checkout process into multiple steps, as well as showing the customer how close they are to completion and what’s coming next.
Our brains don’t like leaving tasks incomplete, so when we can see our progress and predict what’s coming next, it helps grease the skids towards conversion.
I think retailers, in general, need to deal with forgotten passwords better.
In the real world, people remember the key passwords and pins – online banking, credit cards, logins to favourite sites etc. If they buy one thing from a site and come back 2 months later, they’re unlikely to remember the password, or even that they created an account.
Password reset processes can be unnecessarily difficult at times.
As someone who’s covered this for almost 10 years, I think most of the big barriers have been removed. It’s rare to see forced registration these days and forms tend to be easier.
I like inline/instant validation that catches errors as users make them. A combination of this and clear messaging prevents a lot of frustration during checkout.
The one thing I notice many marketers do when it comes to ecommerce optimisation is treat mobile customers the same way they do desktop ones.
Applying a bandaid solution, ecommerce stores make their desktop design look nice on mobile by using responsive design.
Most businesses are seeing much more mobile traffic coming in and much fewer conversions. This is happening because responsive design does not cater to the unique behaviours or emotional needs of mobile customers. Mobile customers are usually on the go and multitasking, and don’t always feel comfortable checking out on their devices.
To optimise mobile checkout performance, marketers need to address the mobile customer’s needs:
To find out which type of experience your mobile customers expect, dive into Google Analytics, polls and surveys.
A study by Infosys recently showed that 78% of consumers and visitors are more likely to come back if a business offers personalised offers and messaging.
I’ve seen many companies start using personalisation in their checkouts and generate great results. Of many simple personalisation techniques, two that stand out to me are displaying local currency and notifying customers in advance about location-specific shipping costs.
Another technique is offering additional products that complement the product your customer is buying. Results speak for themselves and personalisation matters (especially on mobile), so I hope to see more retailers joining in.
Worldpay that hasn’t been properly integrated and isn’t mobile optimised annoys me.
It just seems like the merchant doesn’t want to pay for a more sophisticated solution. I have a whole host of other UX gripes that have been around forever – like when my details aren’t auto-populated, even though I’m signed in. I also don’t like having to add a billing and delivery address, even when they’re the same.
I’m a fan of single-page checkouts.
Too many people have too little mobile data or too weak a connection, so page refreshes can start to feel old fashioned. “Next… Next… Next…”
The one thing retailers still do wrong is forcing guest checkout.
I know why they do it – to get more information and make the return visit seamless. The bad news is these retailers aren’t Amazon and by requiring guest checkout, are alienating their one-time buyers (or people who simply don’t want another darn login and password).
One thing ecommerce retailers have been doing a lot better in the past few years is optimising their thank-you pages.
They’ve finally understood that the thank-you page isn’t only a good place for giving order information, but also an amazing place for relevant cross and up-selling.
One of the biggest things retailers get wrong during checkout is not making it obvious when something has been added to the cart.
They either use tiny, difficult-to-see fonts or practically hide the confirmation. When people can’t quickly identify that they’ve added an item to the cart, it creates undue friction.
Many retailers are getting better at providing great-quality images of their products, from multiple angles.
Particularly when you’ve got an expensive item or one with lots of bells and whistles, giving shoppers the option to focus on the details can make all the difference.
There isn’t enough focus on usability, and making checkout as quick and simple as possible.
In my experience, ecommerce checkouts aren’t regularly UX tested. Data analysis has become a habit, but proper usability/UX testing hasn’t.
When a user is ready to part with their money, your sole focus should be on getting them through the payment process with minimal friction. Too many checkouts slow users down, or even worse, confuse them.
Confusing situations for users include when you force them to enter the same address twice (billing and delivery), or don’t provide form field validation and error messaging as they complete their details. This means users have to complete the entire form before error messages are displayed all at once.
Streamlining mobile checkouts by removing non-essential elements and tapping into device-specific capabilities is good.
Smart mobile checkouts use less content (copy, images etc.) to reduce page size, and more retailers are speeding up by taking advantage of device and browser capabilities.
For example, using geo-detection to find the nearest local store for collection or supporting mobile payment options (e.g. Apple Pay in mobile apps).
Ever felt anxious and a bit frustrated after being suddenly pushed to an unknown payment gateway by the site you tried to buy from? I know I have.
IMHO this is the worst thing an ecommerce store can do to its potential customers. The checkout pages provided by an external payment gateway are often based on a template.
The required functionality is there but there’s nothing to reduce a customer’s fears and anxieties, and nothing to remind the customer why they wanted to spend their money in the first place (eg. product photos).
We’re now more likely than ever to encounter optimised mobile checkout flows.
Ecommerce retailers have realised that mobile phones aren’t just used for browsing, so they’ve improved mobile UX to the point where it sometimes exceeds desktop UX.
No customer will ever feel they shouldn’t buy that dress because their thumb is too fat to tap the tiny checkbox that’s right on the edge of the screen.
Once customers decide to enter the checkout funnel, all the fun suddenly disappears and the focus of most e-commerce sites is on a boring form and the price of what you’re buying.
That’s really annoying! At least keep showing the picture of the product(s) someone is going to buy, throughout the entire checkout process – it’s the best way to motivate them to keep going through the boring stuff.
Businesses are better at taking away the fear of buying online by offering pay-later options, return guarantees etc.
Forced registration is the worst.
This study was from a while ago, but found that something like 1 in 4 people abandon online purchases due to forced registration. Then there’s the classic story of the $300 million button, where they simply removed forced registration to achieve such an amazing lift.
While I think it’s less common now (probably due to stories like those above), anything that increases friction during checkout es no bueno.
What should you do instead? Read this guide on ecommerce conversion optimization for a full walkthrough, but here are two quick ideas: Don’t even mention the word “register.” Say “New Customer” or use other similar terminology. Wait until they check out and offer account creation on the “Thank You” page. Since you’re asking for their name, email and address anyway through the purchase process, you’ll already have the info. That way, on the last page, you can just offer to create an account with 1 or 2 clicks. Much less friction this way.
My favorite thing in the world is free and fast shipping.
Amazon Prime changed my online shopping habits, so I have this ridiculous standard when it comes to other sites. I know that’s probably not fair because shipping is such an operational decision and it’s not economical for some companies to do it. But free shipping (even with a minimum purchase threshold) makes the process much smoother.
If you can find a way to maintain margins (increase price, increase volume, decrease costs etc.) while offering free shipping, then do it.
I would argue that the most critical point of a checkout is performing the actual payment.
The user is happy with the contents of their shopping cart, the price, shipping costs and is ready to make a purchase. If the purchase fails at this point, it’s like a person standing at the cash register with the product and you refusing to let them buy.
What I’m seeing at this point is that many retailers are offering too many payment options. I understand their logic — allowing each user to select the best option for themselves. At the same time, you have to understand the energy involved in making most purchases online. For every uncertainty and choice made, the user is putting in effort and draining their own ego — what we know as ego depletion. You want this last step to be an easy, rewarding drop and not another wall to climb in the obstacle course.
The more payment options you offer, the more decision fatigue you are imposing on the user. Even if you decide to have 3 options, my recommendation would be to design this as a recommended option with 2 alternatives. Users will thank you for choosing for them.
I like what retailers are doing with address validation.
After I’ve entered my address, I may get asked if this is correct and even be allowed to choose from an alternative address, which may contain more accurate details.
This check is a win-win situation for the retailer and customer, as both can feel confident that there won’t be any shipping problems due to faulty address information. I can’t stress enough that address validators must still allow the user to override the proposed shipping address.
Sometimes the user is actually right and the database is outdated. You’ve still forced the user to double-check their address – hopefully, in a non-obtrusive way – which is the whole point of this step.
With so much data about repeat customers available to speed up the checkout process, it’s always surprising to me that each checkout “feels like the first time” (to quote that 70s rock band).
Additionally, when items are abandoned in carts mid-transaction, I never seem to be reminded across the array of devices I use about completing my transaction. There’s an opportunity to “sweeten the deal” at these pivotal moments with personalised and localised offers, which bolster customer loyalty.
Retailers, like Starbucks, that understand customer behaviours and needs, integrate loyalty rewards and deals into checkout, and provide seamless transactions on a multi-channel scale, will be successful.
They’ll attract new customers and strengthen their relationships with existing ones.
I’d really like to see somebody innovate on the shopping cart idea. I can’t think of any other design pattern that allows you to “add” things to a page you can’t see.
In a real store, that would be like throwing products into a bottomless pit as you shop, then trying to find the physical checkout without signs, where all the stuff you threw into the pit is – when (or if) you get there.
With today’s technology, that can’t be the best possible shopping experience design.
The most interesting ecommerce companies seem to be the ones that do something more – like Warby Parker (company values) or Thrillist (content).
Or all the companies that “curate” instead of relying on search. Or anything else that expands on the concept of where “shopping” begins and ends.
A huge trend in tons of ecommerce sites is asking users to sign up for their newsletter right on initial page load.
One could argue that this is an incredibly successful practice – that’s why so many retailers are doing it. They get a marked increase in signups to their newsletters, which I’m sure drives some real revenue.
What I don’t think they’re taking into account is the degradation of the brand and the shopping experience. I’ve never heard of someone who described these interstitials as positive. Necessary for survival? Maybe. But I’d like to see more thought put into the people that drop off. I’d like to see studies where they talk to users that did not sign up and did not purchase. More than anything, I think this is one of those trends that has popped up and may be successful, but will degrade the experience for so many users that it’s just irresponsible.
The good news is that the general checkout flow has started to mature.
It’s not like everything is homogenous, but at least some common best practices around shopping carts and checkout flows have been established. I’d say that checking out for most products is relatively straightforward and easy – a huge step from even a few years ago.
From a product manager’s perspective, there’s no one thing everyone gets wrong – it depends entirely on the circumstances.
This is why context and understanding of user needs are so important. Figure out what people need – their goals, frustrations, distractions… everything – then figure out how well your ecommerce capability meets those needs. Improve, then rinse and repeat.
And don’t forget Marty Cagan’s observation that “people don’t know what they need until after they’ve seen it”.
When you design a checkout, your overall goal is to have a low bounce rate – passing through the checkout flow should be as fast and effortless as possible.
Your customers have already make the decision and want to buy. Of course, it’s also important that the purchase flow is secure and your customers need to know that. If you know the story of the $300 million button, you probably know how important it is to have as few form fields during checkout as possible. Asking customers to create an account during checkout can cause a high bounce rate, especially if an email confirmation and extra login is required. So, the first low-hanging fruit is to decrease the amount of steps and data input required during a purchase. Where acceptable, a Facebook connect might be a much simpler way of creating an account, rather than having to fill in endless forms.
When it comes to microinteractions, a huge amount of effort is spent on providing your credit card details. And it’s not only about typing the digits. When you buy something online, you need to put down your laptop, find your wallet, pull out your card, put it on your computer and start typing. Browsers’ auto-complete features support this use case (even for credit card details) but a surprisingly high number of checkout interfaces aren’t properly optimised. Especially for impulse purchases, this can be a major roadblock. It might also be useful to consider providing PayPal support, where only a password is needed to confirm the payment.
Not showing the shipping rate before the checkout.
Don’t surprise the customers.
Allowing guest checkout.
It increases purchase rates.
Customers don’t want to buy items, they want to own them. And the checkout process is one of the hurdles that stands in their way.
This is why ecommerce retailers need to help people succeed quickly when it comes to the checkout process. However, ecommerce retailers often fail to let customers make quick progress by requesting more data than needed. Unnecessary questions and optional fields during checkout are unnecessary obstacles that hinder customers from accomplishing their goals.
Those ecommerce retailers that understand the importance of helping customers succeed are the ones focusing on removing every kind of distraction and effort from the checkout process. Besides transparency and trust, a reduced number of controls and inputs are key to success.
However, the best experience is often not less UI, but no UI at all – meaning the best checkout is no checkout at all. Uber, for instance, replaced the painful checkout process by automatically charging the credit card when the customer leaves the vehicle.
Scenario – you enter a shipping address and then when you try to pay, the website “tries to help” by changing your shipping address to the billing address.
A lot of websites get this wrong. The intention may be good – second-guessing that you’re sending a parcel to the same address your credit card is registered to – but this time-saving feature can actually add more confusion.
Some sites start by asking for a delivery address and then a billing address, before automatically updating the shipping address for you! I appreciate that this pre-population can save a lot of time for the user (and no one likes filling out forms) but I think more could be done here. The journey could start with a question, “Are the shipping and billing address the same?” Either 1 or 2 address fields are then provided, depending on the answer.
I’ve also had the situation where I’ve ordered for someone else living at my billing address, and the website noticing “my mistake”, then changing the intended recipient’s name to mine. This can cause confusion when sending a gift.
The end-to-end, multi-channel process amazes me!
I can remember how difficult it was to get anything only a few years ago compared to how it is now. There are many UX features that I could pick out as being good but the overall change in the last few years – re how products are sold – is staggering.
Amazon has the strapline “thought it, bought it.” I think it goes way beyond that. Through personalised emails, you are told what you are about to want and the journey does not finish with buying something. The item is delivered when it suits you and once you receive it you are asked for feedback. Compare this to just a few years ago, when you were limited to the products in your nearest high street.
Established companies have moved with the times, as business models have changed and grown. Commerce became ecommerce, then mCommerce and back to commerce again in a world where the device is irrelevant. It’s the user’s journey – not a store journey, a web journey or a mobile journey but all of them.
(Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent those of Capita Employee Benefits.)
Many ecommerce retailers are still forcing customers to register prior to checking out.
According to a study conducted by Jared Spool, removing mandatory registration from a major ecommerce site contributed to a 45% increase in sales – delivering an additional $300m in sales. Generally, asking users for additional information with no clear “value exchange”, gets in the way of them achieving their goal and will decrease your conversion.
Many retailers are beginning to realise that the sweet spot for asking additional questions, or encouraging users to do something else, is on the screen which confirms the user has completed their purchase.
Typically, when users are attempting to accomplish a task on a website, they will fixate on that goal until they achieve it. Asking too much before that point will result in them taking action to overcome the barriers you’re putting in their way, rather than addressing them. Conversely, putting a succinct satisfaction survey or relevant cross-sell after they’ve achieved their goal will increase their propensity to engage with it.
An effective ecommerce checkout experience starts with a well-designed cart.
But what is a well-designed cart? What is the function or purpose of the cart? It’s easy to assume that by the time a customer is viewing their shopping cart, they’re pretty much ready to pull the trigger and check out. But when buying a number of items, customers (including me) often use the cart as a ‘holding area’ from which they make a final decision about what to ultimately keep or discard.
For example, as a jewelry artist, I typically purchase my supplies online. I actually compile my order over a series of days. During that process, I’m tweaking the contents of my cart by adding and deleting items, and adjusting quantities. I use the cart as a place to compare the different types of beads I’ve compiled. I compare bead colors, hues, textures, sizes, types of finishes, etc.
For this reason, it’s important that the cart provide good quality pictures and descriptions that enable me to easily compare various items. I usually have a budget in mind, and a ‘friendly’ cart auto-calculates my total and helps me determine whether or not I qualify for free shipping.
Fortunately, the site I use maintains the contents of my cart throughout my multi-day process.
Needless to say, if the site didn’t do this, I’d be sunk. But for customers on many sites, it’s a guess as to whether or not the contents of their cart will be maintained, and for how long.
The best ecommerce sites seem to understand the importance of the shopping cart in the customer’s decision-making process. But the sites that create delight are those that remind customers when there’s stuff still in their cart, and then offer an incentive (a discount) to move ahead and place an order. Those are the sites I like the most!