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25 Ways to Improve Your Checkout Process

by Justin Palmer - September 28th, 2007

Imagine walking into a busy, high traffic grocery store. Despite the large number of customers in the store, you notice abandoned shopping carts strewn about the aisles and checkout lanes. For many online businesses, this example illustrates perfectly the predicament many online retailers find themselves in. Why? For one, I believe many online retailers rarely actually test their own checkouts from the user’s perspective. If they had, they would have identified stumbling blocks. Below I’ve compiled a fairly comprehensive list of ideas on improving the checkout process.

    1. Eliminate pages, eliminate scrolling: Many usability experts decry the benefits of shortening the checkout to as few pages as possible. While in theory this works, sometimes the real world provides other factors that must be considered. For example, suppose you combine your whole checkout into 1 page. Sounds great, unless the page is a mile tall and requires excessive vertical scrolling. In my opinion, the basic rule of thumb should be to condense the checkout into as few pages as possible requiring little to no vertical scrolling.
    2. Hide the Navigation: Hide both your top and side navigation once the customer has initiated the checkout in order to prevent distractions. At this point, your goal should be to finalize the order as soon as possible before the visitor loses interest.
    3. Hacker Safe Logos: Services from HackerSafe or Control Scan can be a great way to boost confidence during checkout. For more info on Hacker Safe, check this post.
    4. Secure Certificate Logos: Most likely, your Payment Gateway and Secure Certificate provider offer a clickable security logo that you can install in your checkout pages. This provides an external way of validating the authenticity of your site.
    5. Progress Indicator Bar: Always show shoppers where they are in the process. Everyone likes to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
    6. Prominent 1-800 Number: If you offer a live help line, make sure the number is highly visible everywhere in the checkout screens.
    7. Live Chat: For those not wanting to call a 1-800 and wait on hold, Live chat is an excellent customer service feature. I’ve found it to be very effective for businesses with high value items such as jewelry.

  1. No Default Credit Card Type: Typically, before or after you enter your credit card you are asked to select what type of card it is. DO NOT default this option to one of credit card types as many people will not notice it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve neglected to change the default option, and tried to use a MasterCard with the Visa option selected. Customers then become confused when they received an error telling them their credit card it invalid.
  2. Auto-Detect Credit Card Type: Many card processors, including Authorize.net don’t even require you to have a credit card type drop down box since the first 4 numbers of the card determine that. Paypal does a nice job of automatically detecting and showing the credit card type with AJAX.
  3. Don’t Up-Sell or Cross-Sell: Resist the temptation to up sell or cross sell during checkout. Remember, this is not like a supermarket checkout aisle. Users get distracted and are free to abandon their shopping carts at any time for any reason.
  4. Gift Receipt / Gift Wrap Option: Customers have begun to expect this, especially during the holidays. No one wants to send a gift with an invoice showing what they paid. At the very least, offer a gift receipt with the prices not showing. Even better, include an option for a gift message.
  5. User Friendly Credit Card Errors: I rarely have seen this done, yet it can make worlds of a difference. In the complex world of online credit card processing, it’s crucial to simplify any potential problems for the end user. If their credit card is declined due to an address mismatch, give them a list of possible solutions. For example, maybe they have moved recently and the processor or bank still has the old address on file? Or maybe they don’t know where to find the 3 digit security code on the back of the card.
  6. Don’t Require Phone or Email: Though most e-tailors would like to have this information, you must ask yourself if it is important enough to risk losing the sale. Many privacy sensitive customers don’t like to give out this information.
  7. Email List Opt-Out: Validate Email Address: Always allow people to opt-out. Though technically this is not required since they are making a purchase, it is a best practice required by most ISPs in order to be considered for white listing.
  8. Copy Billing Info to Shipping Info: Most sites have this feature, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Nothing is worse than having to type the same information twice for the billing and shipping.
  9. Don’t Require Login: Again, certain people will prefer not to create an account, so don’t risk losing the sale over this. Provide a “checkout without account” option.
  10. Prominent “First time signup” Link: If you’re like most businesses, you probably get a significant amount of online business from first time shoppers. For this reason, there should always be a prominent “first time signup” link in the checkout when you ask someone to sign in.
  11. Offer Paypal: While I have doubts about certain online payment methods such as Google Checkout and Bill Me Later, I strongly believe adding Paypal will help conversion, especially for international customers or those without credit cards.
  12. Offer E-Check Payments: Another common payment method is by an e-check. Many customers who pay this way have checking accounts, but no credit or debit cards.
  13. Security Code Explanation: Always provide a clear explanation of what this credit card security code is and why you need it. While most sites provide an image of where to find it, rarely do they answer the question of why they need it. Many shoppers are wary about giving this out, so provide an explanation of why it’s necessary for an online purchase.
  14. Disable “Finalize Order” button On Click: A lot is going on technically speaking when the user clicks the “Finalize Order” button. Many users are impatient, and will click this button again and again until something happens. Depending on how your checkout is programmed, this can cause serious problems such as double billing or duplicate orders. Prevent this confusion by disabling the button after it’s clicked.
  15. Show Estimated Processing Time: In addition to the above, show something to the nature of “please allow up to 60 seconds to process your order.” after the shopper clicks the finalize order button.
  16. Bookmark able Receipt Page: Make sure your receipt page is not the same page that processes the order via a form post. Shoppers tend to bookmark receipt pages, but if it’s not available later they will be very confused.
  17. Shipping Time Estimates: Usually, the first question on a customers mind after submitting an order is “when will I get it?” Prevent needless customer service interactions by providing an estimate of both when the order will ship and when it will arrive.
  18. Eliminate Insecure Page Errors: A customer should never have to see a “this page contains insecure items” error right before they enter their credit card. Usually, this is just a case of the webmaster not using relative links properly with images (http:// vs. https://).

I hope you found something here useful for your online business. This is actually the 4th post in my “25 Ways to” series, so please checkout the other posts as well. Like these 25 tips? Here’s 192 more.

About Justin Palmer

Justin Palmer is the owner of Palmer Web Marketing, an internet marketing & e-commerce consultancy. Justin also runs several other websites, including Med Saver Card, and PawPlan.org.


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2 Responses to “25 Ways to Improve Your Checkout Process” by Justin Palmer

  1. Improve Website Conversion Rates | Online Marketing | Search Engine Marketing | SEO | PushON blog Says:

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  2. 25 Creative Ways To Improve Internet Customer Service | Article On Internet Says:

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