eCommerce Checkout Tricks: Ask for Less and They’ll Buy More

If shoppers have committed to buying a product, your job is to get them through checkout as swiftly as possible. To do so, ask as little of them as possible.

Most online stores assume the best way to streamline purchases is to reduce the number of steps in a checkout, hence the popularity of “one-step” checkouts. But a one-step checkout is no different from a five-step checkout if it demands the same input from customers, just condensed onto one page. The only real difference is that customers have to squint more.

one step checkout

To truly ask less of customers, the checkout has to take on the burden. Below are four unique areas where the checkout can do the work for the customers:

1. City, State, and Country

Web forms ask for addresses in the same format that people use on envelopes. It’s what people are familiar with, and it reduces the chance for errors.

online checking out

However, in a world where we can deduce information and categorize relationships into tables, there’s a better way to format the fields.

zip code autofill

By moving the zip code form to the front of the address entry, we can use information already available to us in order to streamline customer input. Using free lookup tables, a checkout can match the exact values for city, state, and country solely from the zip code. The checkout does the work, thus eliminating the need for customers to type in the information.

2. Credit Card Type

In order to validate credit cards, payment providers still need to know the type of credit card being used. As a result, we see lots of checkouts still asking for the credit card type upfront along with the credit card number, expiration date, and the 3- to 4-digit CVV (card verification value) number.

credit card type dropdown

But just like the zip code lookup, the credit card type can be calculated by the credit card number itself. All credit cards from a common provider (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Discover, etc.) follow a pattern.

credit card detection

As a result, an algorithm can be used to calculate the credit card type based solely on the first few digits of a user’s credit card. Scores of checkouts are doing this now, including Google Checkout and GitHub.

google checkout

github checkout

3. Returning Customers

Most checkouts start with a potentially jarring set of questions: “Are you new here or a returning customer? Don’t remember? Follow this hyperlink.”

login vs. returning guest

This is yet another scenario where algorithmic detection can help answer the question. The user’s email address can be looked up automatically in the e-commerce store’s database to determine whether a customer record exists.

If it does, a login prompt can appear. Otherwise, the user can move forward undisrupted.

login prompt

4. Shipping Method

Though most standard e-commerce checkouts have corrected this, some still fail to select a default shipping method for their user.

By selecting the most inexpensive option by default, the checkout does the work of filling in yet another form for the user.

default shipping

Do You Face limitations to Simplifying Your Checkout?

Many e-commerce stores are on a hosted solution where customizing the checkout is just not possible. For those stores, try the following:

  1. Create a feature request ticket on your hosted solution’s support system. Let them know it’s a feature you want as it directly relates to your store’s conversion rates. The more money you make, the more they make too. This way there is dual incentive to making into the next version release.
  2. Create an extension/module/plugin on your own, through your developer, or through a freelancer on eLance (also consider Matchist and Odesk). Most hosted solutions allow you to install extensions that enhance existing features. Sometimes checkout extensions already exist:
    • For Magento Store owners, Awesome Checkout includes all 4 optimizations stated above. There are also 100+ checkout extensions available at Magento Connect.
    • For Virtuemart users, extensions are the easiest way to start. Extensions like CMSmart fill in Country and City from IP Geo Location.
    • For PrestaShop owners, add-ons can be used. Add-ons like Module One Page put zip code before city and country.
    • For Zen Cart owners, plugins for checkout exist. Some checkouts there skip the user login process like Fast & Easy Checkout.
    • For Shopify owners, apps are not available when it comes to the checkout experience. But utilizing Google Checkout or Paypal is a great alternative as it contains many of the improvements described in this article.
  3. Move to a self-hosted e-commerce solution. Shopping carts like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento Go are hosted by the companies that make these solutions. Switching to a community or enterprise version of the software might give you the flexibility you require. This is the last alternative but for high-grossing e-commerce stores, 1-10% conversion increase in quarterly sales is just the spark you need to make the upgrade.

What awesome checkout examples can you share with us?

You know the “smart” stores when you see them, and so do users. They’re the ones that implement automated, streamlined practices with shoppers in mind. Which “smart” stores have you come across recently? What makes them smart?

About the Author: Nirav Sheth is the creator of Awesome Checkout, a Magento checkout extension that guarantees higher checkout conversion rates. He also is the founder of Anatta Design , a Magento and WordPress development shop that builds online businesses.

  1. Very interesting. One major thing though – always TEST a one page versus multiple page checkout flow. Depending on what you are selling and the sophistication and mindset of your target audience, you will find it can vary, so always test – never just presume one page will work best for your visitors. Indeed, some visitors may be overwhelmed by seeing that many fields at once, and increases the chance of them making an error/abandoning. And just in the same way there is no perfect homepage, there is no perfect checkout… even though this looks great!

    Oh, and I love the tips on making it easier to make changes to your cart – very useful indeed, and is a complain I often hear from ecommerce clients.

    • 100%. I don’t advocate using one-page checkout, but if you do – atleast to it better! Too many stores get it wrong. It’s about making it easier on the customer, not just you.

  2. Jennifer Showe Jun 18, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Really excellent list of low hanging fruit for optimizing checkout paths. Streamlining address inputs can be slightly more complex if your organization is doing commerce internationally as formatting varies a lot. It’s important to consider international credit card types as well, some such as Maestro did not adhere to consistent use of pre-fixes as outlined here.

    I would also strongly caution organizations which provide feedback to users about the existence of user accounts based on email in the manner you outline above. That can be used to great advantage as an attack vector by third parties looking for accounts to compromise. When used in the context of a login process that type of feedback to a user is generally flagged during a regular PCI compliance scan. Not sure if you’ve had success using it in another context such as email sign up.

    Why not consider using federated login such as Google / Twitter / Facebook or Amazon as well? Do you have data that describes how use of these services impacts conversion rates at checkout?

    • I would love to see data about using federated logins and how that impacts conversion rates. I haven’t seen anything out there yet but it would be a great study to conduct.

  3. Hi,
    my english is bad, sorry.

    This is a very interesting article, but I have another experience. We did a lot of testing checkout process on several Shop – a one-page checkout had the highest departures. Sure, we could make a mistake, but many people are horrified when they saw so many fields on one page. After splitting the 3 steps to complete the order rate has increased significantly – I think that for people it is usual to

    • Agreed with you Honza. 1-step checkouts definitely have higher abandonments than three-step checkouts. And I think it’s really impossible to do them without scaring the user with the number of fields. Unless shipping/billing + payment information is saved and works more like Amazon. Then 1-step is not so scary.

      • You’re certainly right, but how much is stores like Amazon:-) Of course – registered customer has only basket and confirm. This process is simple and works well. These are the people who have already bought a shop know. But for new customers, it does not work. But it can be other, such national, habits and customs. It is interesting that the onepage-checkout completed more men, when we did the classic checkout, the ratio is more equal. It may be more difficult for women?

  4. If it’s not easy to check out, you’re gonna lose me. I am impatient!!!

  5. Hello Nirav,

    You have mentioned check out extensions / plugins for shopping carts like Magento , Virtuemart, PrestaShop, Zen Cart and Shopify. But what about WordPress ? WordPress has certainly many an extensions to convert it into a shopping portal.Is there any plugin for today’s most popular CMS – WordPress ?

    Thanks,

  6. Three notes on Item #2. The graphic showing the card numbers matched up to the card type has an error (Discover and AMEX are reversed)

    Also, another thing to speed up checkout in terms of catching types faster is to actually do the checksum validation of the card entered, which while it cannot say if the card is good or not, can quickly let you know if the digits add up correctly to match the last number on the card, which is the checksum number. (Sorry, not on my regular computer where I have a link to the method bookmarked)

    Lastly, also to help speed up things and avoid checout errors, LET people put in spaces or dashes! I have a card that has four zeros in a row and other double digits! When all 16 digits are entered with no breaks, harder to look to see that I typed it right. I think even the link you gave offers a regex that will let you strip entry down to just numbers only.

  7. What if in your country Postal Department assign same ZipCode to multiple location, try with India 500018.. Result in another field!

  8. This extension doesn’t mention gift message option on Magento. Also, in the 3 step checkout, I think we can get rid of the 3rd steps as there is the Shopping Bag review on the right sidebar.

  9. Hi,

    Great points on the checkout process. Do you plan to release this for Prestashop too?

    PS: The demo on the website has a problem, it won’t update the ‘state’ field even after country is set to India, check it out.

    Yuvraj

  10. I like this checkout a lot in theory, but it doesn’t have support for custom registration fields. This is a fairly basic option and is strange in that most people need more than the default registration options of magento to log in and create an account. Really disappointed I have to find another shopping cart to work with custom fields for registration. :(((

  11. Hi! My husband’s eCommerce website has been doing poorly lately, and he guesses its because people aren’t happy while checking out! I’ll be forwarding this blog to him so that he can read up on the latest checkout tricks of the eCommerce trade. Thanks!

  12. Very informational post. Really One-page Checkout has helped both costumers and the companies. It helps costumers to save their time and efforts and makes them satisfied. As the costumers get satisfied so they place maximum orders which helps the companies by increasing their sales. The things which you have told will make the checkout process more easier and this will help more to both costumers and companies and will result tremendously well.

  13. Really nice post. As you said one-page checkout is complex and has some limitations but it is beneficial for online shopping sites. It improves the sales by 65 to 70% and also lowers the time and efforts of the costumers which make them satisfied. VMCheckout is one such paid plugin which is compatible with joomla2.5 and virtuemart 2.0 and work really well.

  14. Hey good post. I new and starting with prestashop. Are these points working on it??? ;-P

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