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What you need in your checkout process

The checkout process is a very precious process. It could help customers glide through and finish their purchase. Or it could snag them like a door handle catches on your coat pocket on the way out of the room.

Obviously your aim is to get as many people through the checkout as possible, but what do you need to show them to accomplish this? What does a checkout have to do?

Hopefully I can help you with this.

A checkout has to gather information needed for the transaction, show information the customer needs for the transaction and do it all in the simplest way possible.

So first we need to work out what information you need to gather.

Gathering information

A checkout process needs to gather some basic information as standard. Some websites might need extra information because their product is age restricted or needs a doctor’s prescription etc.

A Checkout will need all this information from customers without an account as standard:

- Contact details – You will need an email address to send the receipt and phone numbers for instant contact in case of problems.

- Shipping address – You will need to know where you are sending the product you are selling. But for services like click and collect you don’t really need the shipping address so it would just annoy the customer to ask for it.

- Shipping method – If you have more than one type of shipping (and I suggest you should) you will need to know how the customer wants their purchase delivered.

- Billing address – If a customer is paying online, a billing address isn’t required but it will help to lower fraud on your site. In most cases the billing address will be the same as the shipping address, so don’t forget to add an option to use shipping address as billing address and save the customer some time and effort.

- Payment method – Before asking for the payment information you need to know which payment method is going to be used to ask for the right information in the input boxes.

- Payment information – This could be card details or bank details, but remember if a payment service which stores the users payment details is being used, you won’t need to gather any details at this step.

- Account Password – This should be an optional but make sure you point that out. Having to create an account in an eCommerce store is a big cause of cart abandonment. You want everyone to know that it is an option and not required.

Display information

The customer also needs some information from you. After all they are about to choose your company to spend their hard earned cash with. You want them to have all the information they could want.

There is a balance between providing too much and too little information that you will have to think about carefully.

Include as much relevant information as possible but keep it short, clear and to the point.

- Delivery options and estimates – Customers either know how soon they want delivery or are trying to work out how patient they are feeling. So you should show delivery estimates and guarantees. More than one postage option also adds an opportunity to upsell, add offers and increase customer satisfaction.

- Stock numbers – Letting customers know how much stock you have left will help them to make a decision on the purchase. There is no point pretending you have stock left, estimating 3 day delivery and ending up with a customer asking for a refund on the 5th day.

- Shipping prices – If you have to work out your delivery prices based on the area there isn’t much point displaying a delivery price until you know where they will need delivery to.

Part of the reason Amazon’s checkout works so well is because of the free shipping option. Customers know that there won’t be any surprise shipping costs at the end of the checkout. Faster shipping is always an option with a cost, but that would be their choice, not something they are forced into. I think it makes the customer more at ease and more likely to purchase.

- Product prices – Knowing what individual products they have added to their basket will help them understand what they are spending where.

- Subtotal of products – Knowing the price of all of the products together

- Total cost – The cost of all products, tax and postage. For international sales this could include customs charges like duty, import tax and taxes specific to that country

- Payment options – When it comes time to pay, customers need to know how they can pay. It’s best to show them the options after the total price so they know how much they are charging to which card.

Certain businesses may need to show more information; these are just the most common. Make sure you give extra thought to any additions you might need to make for your business specifically.

Simplify

Even if gathering extra information from your customers earns you more money per customer through remarketing, what is it doing to the cart abandonment rate?

As of this year (2015) over 68% of shopping baskets are abandoned on average, so can you really risk increasing that number? Will the customers you lose be worth more than the extra remarketing revenue?

Well, let’s look at it simply; if you increase your cart abandonment rate for more chances to remarket you are also narrowing down your audience.

Asking for too much might capture some people, but the people if puts off are less likely to ever come back and be customers.

The people who get put off by the less demanding checkout, or who just abandon along the way for other reasons are more likely to come back and become customers.

All you really need to start your remarketing relationship is an email address. So start small and build up your relationship.

Include

Probably the best way to look at the checkout process is as if you are guiding a delicate butterfly through a very tight tunnel. If there is something blocking the way, the butterfly will just fly away instead of reaching the end of the tunnel. (In this scenario butterflies can go through walls)

As well as having nothing blocking the way you need to let your users know they have a way out. Provide a ‘continue shopping’ button so that they aren’t worried that it is too late to go back and add extra items. Or that they are being pushed forward without being in full control.

Surprising users is also a bad thing. But all you can do is be transparent with your pricing breakdown, including the shipping estimates which you might have to show after gathering some address information.

Knowing which step is coming next will smooth out the whole process, letting users prepare for the checkout or get an estimate of how long it will take them.

Breadcrumbs are excellent for checkouts. They show the steps you have taken and will take in the checkout.

Including the option to go back to a previous step without the use of the browsers back button will avoid problems with user’s worries of technical problems like double payments.

Even a single payment can worry users so don’t forget to include any SSL and security seals. But present them neatly and don’t go overboard as it might have the opposite effect and actually cause suspicion.

Forcing users to make an account with you can be devastating. So many users are put off by this that it is just not worth pushing for it. The option can be there, but make sure you offer a guest checkout.

A great tactic I have seen being used recently is only asking for registration at the end of the checkout. So the checkout starts with two options, sign in and new customers. Once the checkout is done you let the customers enter a password to create an account. Only one extra thing to create an account? Might not be so bad after all… they might think.

Steps

Now your task is to fit all that and more into 1-5 steps. 3 being the snappiest checkouts at the moment.

There are so many more little details which could be added to the checkout for different results. You could cross sell or upsell or keep it minimalist and focussed. You could have live chat to reassure customers or help them out with small questions they otherwise wouldn’t bother to ask. You could include local shops stock numbers, directions, opening times. You could show all your reviews and testimonials just before the payment step for the last bit of confidence. You could turn autocorrect off for some input boxes so that odd names and places don’t cause autocorrect-frustration-syndrome.

But all in all, checkouts can always be improved. There might be a perfect checkout somewhere right now, but it will likely need to be constantly refined as trends change and technology changes too. Think hard about what your business personally need to include in the checkout and then do it.

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