Confidence, Clarity and Convenience - The 3 C's of Good eCommerce Checkout Design

Ben Foord
By Ben Foord
21 Aug 2013

How many eCommerce websites do a great job of generating traffic through search, PPC or social media; then offer a pleasant user experience through product selection; only to blow it at the last minute through a poorly executed checkout process? Too many, if you ask me. Well-designed eCommerce checkouts deliver in 3 critical areas: confidence, clarity and convenience.

Confidence

Think for a moment about the data you are asking your customers to provide (credit card details, email addresses, personal addresses and so on).  For customers to happily provide this data they need a relationship with you based on trust; trust that you won’t spam them or sell on their details to an undisclosed 3rd party. A very important goal of the checkout design process, and one that’s all too often overlooked, is building the feeling of trust starting from the cart page. That’s where you need to begin creating the confidence to encourage somebody to click the ‘proceed to checkout’ button.

Trust seals are an important factor in building confidence and trust seals that people recognise seem to be particularly important. Baymard recently published research into the perceived security of different trust seals on eCommerce websites including VeriSign, Thawe, McAfee Secure Site etc. The research was conducted with US rather than UK online shoppers so there may be some debate about which ones work best here.

Trust Statistics from Baymard

What you can be absolutely sure about is that trust seals matter, even though most users of eCommerce websites have little technical knowledge of how they work. We know from our own split-testing research that omitting trust seals from the shopping cart and checkout has a significant negative impact on conversion.

The relative importance of trust seals might depend on how well-known your brand is. But even Debenhams choses to display VeriSign and Visa/Mastercard Secure code logos in their shopping bag. Small touches like buttons saying ‘pay securely now’ or featuring a padlock icon almost always work better than buttons that just say ‘pay now’ or ‘proceed to checkout’. Have a think about what your checkout process is doing to actively build confidence that people’s data will be secure.  If you haven’t got a ‘secure feeling’ checkout button in place like this already, then we’d recommend running a test on your own site to see the results for yourself.

Cut out the clutter

One C you don’t want is clutter. Decluttering shopping carts means that reassuring text such as ‘100% Secure Transactions’ and other trust building elements like the trust seals are prominent. Other areas where people want reassurance might be with your returns policy or delivery charges; so make sure all of this is easily accessible from the shopping cart. People want to be sure there are no nasty surprises around the corner. Decluttering means fewer distractions and easier access to the functions and information people need to help them through the buying process. 

Fundamentally, people also want to be sure that you accept the means of paying they want to use, so always display credit card icons, PayPal or whatever else you accept.

Clarity

Once a customer has entered your checkout process your objective should be to help them get through as easily as possible without distractions or confusion. This means removing any on-screen elements that are not part of the process: headers, footers, general site navigation. Make the page as clean and straightforward as you can.  We usually recommend reiterating your accepted payment methods and your trust seals, but keep everything else to a minimum, especially links that allow the customer to leave the checkout process. As a rule of thumb the only link that should allow them to leave the checkout process should be the main site logo which would typically link back to your homepage.

Your customers will still be looking for one important reassurance - that the process is going to be quick and efficient. Your uncluttered, minimalist design should reinforce this view. A progress indicator that shows the steps in the process will also help. Try to have no more than 3 steps if you can. Yes, I know Amazon uses more, but you are not Amazon.

Merchant Fox eCommerce Checkout Steps

Convenience

It should go without saying that making your eCommerce checkout process as convenient as possible for your customers should be your biggest priority. Unfortunately this clearly has gone many times without being said, which is why you still see so many clunky designs. Checkout processes that are hard to follow or attempt to force people into registering for online accounts that they don’t necessarily want or need are conversion killers. Offer an account creation opportunity by all means and point out in friendly language why this is a benefit to your customers, but always leave the choice up to them.

Here are some things your customers will definitely appreciate from your checkout process:

  • Provide a simple interface allowing customers to lookup their full address by postcode. Have a straightforward manual address entry for missing or inaccurate postcodes (eg new properties).
  • Provide a simple and intuitive way to handle multiple addresses such as different delivery locations or delivery locations that are not the billing address while making it clear to the customer that their billing address needs to match the one their card is registered to (if paying by card).
  • A simple checkbox to confirm when the delivery and billing address are the same so you don’t need to display multiple address entry fields that are not needed.
  • If you need to ask for additional information such as a phone number, make it clear why you want it in customer-friendly language (eg ‘We will only contact you in the event of a problem with your order such as trouble locating your address while out for delivery’).
  • Offer a quick and simple guest checkout and don’t insist or imply that people need to create an account before buying from you (this just looks suspicious).
  • Only display the boxes people need to fill in. For example, remove the issue number box if people are paying with a card that doesn’t need it.
  • Pre-fill the cardholder name with the name the customer registered under (the majority of websites will have their purchase made by the same person who orders but make sure this can be changed easily if required).
  • Generate a password for customers who went through a guest checkout (didn’t get to create or choose a password) at the end of their transaction so that people can track their order online. This is a bit like creating an account but done in a way that is clearly helping your customer and doesn’t involve extra effort.
  • Avoid asking for seemingly irrelevant information such as date of birth. This can look like you are collecting profiling data so you can bombard people with targeted sales emails (as if). People are generally becoming more savvy at online shopping and if you really need to know my date of birth before delivering my new Kindle you need to explain why.

As a rule of thumb, almost anything you can do in your eCommerce checkout to help people through the process more efficiently will pay off with fewer abandoned transactions. We always recommend split testing to ensure the results you get can be directly attributed to a change you’ve made. For example, handy graphics that pop up at the right time to illustrate where to find the CV2 code (many people don’t know it’s the last digits on the back of their card and it’s called something different on nearly every eCommerce shop). Features like this will help people who are new or occasional online shoppers without slowing up more experienced users of eCommerce websites.

eCommerce Checkout Design

Help should be on hand

If people get stuck you want them to ask for help rather than bailing out and taking their business elsewhere. So have a prominent helpline number (with opening times if it’s not 24/7) and an online chat facility – these really do make a difference.

If your eCommerce website is getting plenty of hits but low conversion rates and you know there’s not a problem with your product offer or prices, your checkout process might be a good place to look. Is it clear, does it inspire confidence and is it convenient? If it does all of these you’ll get the other C’s that matter (Conversion & Completion).