ECommerce: How to Reduce Checkout Drop-out Rates and Convert More Visitors into Orders

If you’ve managed to get a customer through Google, onto your web site, choose a product and decide to purchase, the last thing you want to do is lose them at that stage. Yet, remarkably, lots of web site do exactly that with a poorly designed checkout process.

Below are some general guidelines for improving your checkout process and converting more visitors into orders.

1. Make the process clear

Show the customer how many steps there are, where they are now, and allow them to go back and forth through the steps without the pages showing the horrible “page expired” message. At the same time, you must obviously take care to ensure that sensitive information is only visible during the lifetime of the session and order (so that the next user can’t simply hit “back” and retrieve all the personal information from the checkout.

A 3 step checkout has been shown to be the most effective at conversion although this varies depending on the value of goods (source: getelastic)

2. Don’t force unwanted steps

If you don’t need to force a person to register then don’t do it, or at the very least, allow them an easy way of providing a password later so you don’t interrupt their flow. Being forced to register accounts for 31% of checkout dropouts (source: Along similar lines, don’t ask questions at this stage that aren’t necessary. You don’t need to know the customer’s favourite film or interests right now so don’t clutter the checkout with unwanted fields – even if it’s not mandatory, it will look more daunting.

3. Present the shipping costs clearly and as early as possible

Nothing annoys customers more than unexpected shipping costs popping up during the checkout process. High and hidden shipping costs account for a staggering 63% of checkout dropouts (source: So you’ve been warned : Make them clear, make them early – on the product page itself if possible.

4. Use an address lookup system

Entering a full address is a pain and it’s prone to error and customers entering details in the wrong fields. This can present problems when orders are surrendered through to courier services. If they see a Country name in the field where they expect a City then it can get rejected. Using an address lookup system like the QAS or the Royal Mail PAF database can short-cut the process.

5. Make the tab order of fields logical

When you hit return or tab you would expect to move to the next logical field i.e. name, then address, then city, then zip/postcode. Many people don’t look at the screen all the time – they look at the fields required, start typing and then concentrate on the keyboard. There’s nothing more annoying than realising you’ve been typing your address and it’s all been going into a box meant for the credit card number.

6. Make Credit Card field inputs match what the customer sees on the card

This is a personal hate of mine. Credit cards show the card number, the “Valid From” date and then typically the “Exipres End” date in that order. So ask for them in that order. An don’t call them “Date From” and “Date To” – call them what they’re normally called on the cards. Further, don’t force people to enter the dates with full text months and 4 digit years e.g. July 2011. On the card they appear as numbers e.g. 07/11 so ask for them in that way. Forcing people to have to work out that the 7th month is July is just creating extra work and potential for error.

7. Don’t impose overly strict validation

For instance, don’t insist that the customer must enter only numbers into a telephone field. If the field is only ever going to be read by a human in your back office then why annoy a customer by stopping him entering a dash between numbers or brackets or the + symbol? Similarly, for credit card numbers, allow the customer to enter spaces between numbers and strip them out yourself – people find it easier to enter that way and that’s how it appears on the card. I’ve also recently come across several sites that reject my email address as an invalid format because it is of the form [email protected] (ie. two dots after the @ symbol).

8. Think carefully about having a voucher code entry

There have been studies that have shown that the presence of a voucher or coupon box actually makes 10% of people disappear off in an effort to find a code on a coupon site never to return. This particular story from the Conversion Chronicles web site explains how removing the voucher box increased conversions by 300%!

Aside from the conversion issue, because there are so many sites listing available codes, it’s quite easy for you to end up paying referral commission to an affiliate based on a particular code when the affiliate was never in the process.

9. Dont provide too many distractions

There’s always a temptation to stick more and more eye catching offers in the checkout process. Try to resist this. Put them in the basket by all means, but once the visitor is in the checkout give them the bare minimum of other links to click on so that they are channeled towards completing the order. This may even involve removing a left hand menu so that they have some basic top navigation but otherwise the entire screen is devoted to one thing – getting the order completed.

10. Make it clear when the order is complete

I’ve seen several checkouts in my time where customers have reached the the penultimate step and believed that they were done and quit the site. A heading like “Order Confirmation” can be misleading since it could easily mean that confirmation is required on this page or that this page is confirmation that the order is complete. So make your wording very clear and obvious so that the customer knows there’s something more to do. Don’t leave it to the wording on a button which is probably below the fold on the final page.

One final tip – if you use Google Analytics then you can look at the Funnel Visualistion diagram which makes it very easy to see the steps where you lose visitors and where they go.

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