7 Ways to Improve the E-commerce Checkout Process

Image: Mateusz Dach

User experience is now the dominant factor that determines the success of a website or an ecommerce store. Users have more options to choose from and are more sensitive to bad experience, which is why the best way to boost conversion and reach that new level of success with your ecommerce site is by fine-tuning the user experience to the last detail.

The checkout process is a big part of that experience. After searching for information and going through the usual decision-making process, your potential customers are finally ready to make a purchase. How can you improve the checkout process and deliver the best experience? Here are the top 7 tips you can use.

Maintain a Smooth Flow

I know how tempting it is to cross-sell other items, tell customers about this awesome promotional offer you have going, or even persuade them to shop some more and sign up for your newsletter before checking out. You want to garner attention to all of these things at once and adding them to the checkout process is a great idea, isn’t it?

Well, it isn’t. in fact, it is a bad idea. You already have potential customers in the process of buying your products; the best thing to do is provide them with a smooth flow throughout the checkout process. All of the extra offers and discounts are distractions that may – and will – lead to dropped carts.

As mentioned earlier, today’s users are more sensitive; they get annoyed much more quickly. When they do, even if it only takes another step to complete the order, they will abandon the cart. Those customers will not return to your site; at the very least, it will take a considerable marketing effort to bring them back.

Keep It Short

Another thing to keep in mind is the length of the checkout process. You want to make the entire wizard as short as possible; adding more steps so that you can capture more information about the customers or offer them discounts is indeed counterproductive. The checkout wizard must never be longer than 4 steps.

Customers start by reviewing their orders; this is step one. They then add a shipping address and select a shipping method that works best for them; this is step 2, and it is a step that can be eliminated when the customers are on their second purchases. Next, customers select a payment method, review the total amount they need to pay, and hit the Pay button to make that payment; this is step 3. The last part of the process is confirmation that the payment is successful and goods will be delivered soon; this is step 4.

Some sites are working harder to shorten their checkout process to 2 steps. With bigger ecommerce sites like Amazon, you can even make a purchase with just a click of a button. This is what you need to be aiming for.

Image: jeshoots

Make it Mobile-Friendly

This next tip is rather obvious, but it is a tip that many ecommerce sites still fail to implement. Having a mobile-friendly checkout page is an absolute must, considering over 60% of today’s internet traffic come from mobile devices. On top of that, mobile users are more likely to make purchases online when the user experience is pleasant.

Making a checkout process mobile-friendly isn’t just about making the pages themselves responsive. You have to make sure that every part of the process, from the automatic shipping cost calculator to the final Pay button, works as planned. Often times, there are scripts that simply wouldn’t run on mobile devices; these are the kind of issues you need to anticipate.

There are also technologies that allow mobile websites to perform better on mobile devices. Programing languages and UI kits designed for mobile sites are capable of delivering native-like performance, complete with fluid animations and speedy page transitions.

Eliminate the Back Button

In the old days, users are forced to go through the checkout wizard in a linear way. Users always started from one end of the process and were forced to complete every step to finish the process. When a user wanted to change the shipping address, that user needed to go back through the steps and find the shipping page to make the changes.

This should never be the approach you use today. Checkout wizards are still organized in steps, but that doesn’t mean the process itself can’t be fluid. There are ways to keep every aspect of the process accessible without breaking the user experience.

My favorite implementation is a dynamic sidebar, where information such as the purchased items, shipping address, the total, and selected payment method are displayed after every step. Customers can then choose to modify any of those details by clicking a small ‘edit’ icon (or URL) below each element. Don’t forget to take the customers back to the current page after making the changes; using a modal popup on desktop sites is a good alternative to consider.

Show the Customer’s Progress

Customers have the need to know where they are in the checkout process – and how much further they have to go to complete that process – so it is best to give them that information. Add a progress bar – you can get creative with the approach that works for your site in this case – to the top of the checkout interface so that customers can keep track of their progress.

Don’t forget to handle the payment process carefully too. You want to show movement as the system tries to process the customers’ payments. An animated progress bar that ends with the status of the payment – a green checkmark if it is successful or a red cross if it isn’t – adds that extra touch that the customers will appreciate.

Speaking about payments….

Offer Sufficient Payment Methods

Not being able to make a payment conveniently is still the top reason why customers abandon their carts. This means you have to take extra care when choosing the payment methods that you want to accept. Credit card payments should be the standard, so make sure you provide this payment method as part of your ecommerce site.

Digital payment methods are attractive too. Services such as PayPal and Skrill are services that a lot of customers use. Offering these services as accepted payment methods will help attract more customers to the site.

Lastly, stay up to date with the latest payment options. This is more for marketing and branding than for UX improvement, but it is a step worth taking nonetheless. When customers see that your site accepts Bitcoin, for example, they get that extra confidence that may just be what is needed to get them to hit the Checkout button.

Understand the Customers

Last but not least, always go the extra mile to understand your (potential) customers, especially during the checkout process. A good way to get started is by doing detailed hotspot analysis to identify how the checkout wizard performs. You can also improve conversion by being more actively attentive.

OptinMonster and its Exit-Intent tool is a good example to look into. Instead of annoying every potential customer, the tool spots customers that spend more time than usual during the checkout process and offer those customers live support or additional discounts.

These 7 tips on improving your ecommerce site’s checkout process are not the only ways to boost conversion and improve user experience, but they are great points to implement if you are serious about delivering the best UX. Start today, use the tips we discussed in this article, and watch as your ecommerce site becomes more effective.

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