7 Proven Secrets of High-Converting Checkouts

7 Proven Secrets of High-Converting Checkouts

Reader Comments (41)

  1. Excellent article.

    Two things I’d add for countries outside the US…
    One is that drop down for country. Put it first. Then populate the address fields according to the way that country works addresses.
    We in Britain hate being asked for our Zip Code. That field says – you’re US-centric, you don’t care about me.
    Worse when you say State (US only). So you don’t care about my full address unless I live in the US?
    And US is usually up at the top, but for the UK I have to scroll down 10 screens past such important countries as Azerbaijan and Andorra. Put your top countries near the top, or even better, link to some IP address software which finds where I’m logging in from and puts my country at the top.

    Don’t write stuff as if the user is an idiot.
    Messages like “You haven’t filled out the form correctly. Please add…”

    Change it for something more friendly. Let them leave it out if it isn’t really important (like middle initial). Pre-populate it. And if it is happening a lot, your form is wrong – make it more obvious.

    Lastly give in gracefully if someone gets the form wrong and orders the wrong thing.
    For example, I ordered plane tickets for the 7th but somehow the return came back as being on the 28th. I didn’t find out until I arrived at the airport for the return. They told me I must have done it wrong and charged me full fare for the flight.

    Now I know I didn’t do it wrong. At some point their software jumped to its default – the end of the month. But their attitude riled me. When I go there every month, I now travel on a different airline.

    Simple error. Expensive lost customer.

    • As a Canadian, Peter, I totally hear you on the “zip code” thing. 🙂 You get used to it, but it’s a much better experience when a form *doesn’t* make paying customers think of themselves as second-class customers.

      I’ve been frustrated by default dates in forms, too – especially so when I become a power-user of a solution and start moving faster than the software is built for. Example: I love MailChimp, but when you’re scheduling an email, it defaults to today’s date for the send date, which has caused an early send more than once for me. Perhaps this is another reason to register in ecommerce checkouts! Website managers can tailor experiences for returning and “power” users, learn about the biggest mistakes they make, and pay extra attention to optimizing those fields for that particular visitor segment.

  2. Joanna, thanks you for your post.

    I’m very happy to see the article that contains more than just valuable text, but also appealing and relevant images.

    There are some interesting facts and results of experiments that you have outlined. However, I’d like to note, that in each particular case it is better to split-test, because what worked for one website and its audience may not work for another. Moreover, what worked yesterday may not work today and tomorrow for the same website.

    For example, red color is supposed to be too aggressive and cause fear. But I’ve seen a case study that showed changing ‘buy now’ button’s color from classical orange to bloody red increased sells by 20%.

    So split testing should be our friend I guess.

    • Yep, testing is always the answer. It’s helpful to know where to start testing though — I got some ideas that I want to try myself from this article. Well done, Joanna.

    • It’s true, Michael – what works on what site should inform a test on another. And what one academic study (especially qualitative) shows should inform tests on your site. There are no best practices; there are only better practices. Some of the above examples aren’t tested but rather are examples of better practices at play; they should feed test ideas for you. So, long story short, yes, always be testing. 🙂

  3. “We’ll pay your shipping” is a real nugget – a lot of sales have been lost because a shipping cost doesn’t “feel” like the customer’s “getting” anything…

    I know I’d rather pay more for an item I really want and get free shipping than pay what feels like an extra transaction to just… get my damn goodies.

    And having an account works well for exclusivity, like in membership sites, but you’re right, when simply buying an item, “create an account” is just a PITA alarm.

    Great advice here, Joanna.

    Cheers, Pete

    • Thanks, Pete! I love “we’ll pay your shipping”, but I don’t see it that often. When I worked at a large tech company, the legal department pushed back on that message and insisted we use “free shipping” (ah, legal departments), so I suppose if you can’t technically say that your company “paid” the shipping, you should stick with “free shipping”… but if you CAN say that, then it’s definitely worth a test!

  4. Joanna, I love your post, read it word for word as I can easily relate to what you’re saying. Despite being a blogger, I love online shopping too and there have been many instances that I just abandoned my shopping cart after spending an hour or so picking stuff to buy. My reasons? The lengthy process, the lack of security assurance and the absence of free shipping. Your post has great advice for business to tweak their checkout process and page, hope they can read this too!

    • Yeah, here’s hoping, Azalea! I think optimizing checkouts can seem so intimidating to web owners — usually because they’re built with restrictive third-party templates or they require custom dev work — that, even when they know how to fix them, they just don’t make it a priority.

  5. Well done.
    What a wonderfully researched article.

    Very well done.

    I’d love to know what you’d recommend if you’re linking up to systems like Paypal or 2checkout.com where the options to change or even slightly modify your cart is very limited.

    • Thanks, Sean – so nice of you to say! As for those pre-made carts that come with PayPal, 2checkout, etc, admittedly they’re very hard to customize. I use WooCommerce’s pre-made checkout, and although the form fields themselves can’t be customized easily, the pages in which the forms sit can be. So I add sidebars to each page of the checkout, and in those sidebars I put assurances like money-back guarantees, great testimonials, and “you’re almost done” messaging; you can also add messaging above and below the checkout forms, in most cases, which is great for value prop messaging (e.g., in your headline), repeating “free shipping, etc” and other delighters. The skeuomorph credit card is on my wishlist. 🙂

      The more a person’s business grows, thanks to cart improvements (and other things), the more a person ought to invest in a custom checkout solution, given how much rides on this critical part of a website. Would you agree? I know you do a lot of work in this area, Sean. 🙂 Been reading you for a long time!

  6. Thank you so much, Joanna Wiebe!

    Although I don’t have a shopping cart site [yet], the general principles are applicable to landing pages of any stripe. I’ll be using this article to rethink a few…starting with a “continue” button.

  7. I definitely agree with numbers 6 and 7! Nothing creates conversions better than reassuring clients all the way through the checkout process. I think the visuals cues to help a customer understand where they are in the checkout process also really helps.

    • Agreed! I didn’t get into progress bars — there’s a lot I left on the editing room floor 🙂 — but helping people understand 1) how much work they’ve already completed and 2) how little they have left to do can improve their sense of “commitment”, as Cialdini would call it, and often boost conversion rates / reduce abandonment.

  8. Wow, it’s a great article! A lot of studies about human mind within mktg strategies 🙂 nice and wired at the same time :p thanks for sharing!!!

  9. Great article! I love how it all comes back to user experience. Making it easier for the user in every way possible helps the entire process of checking out to go faster and smoother leading to more sales.

  10. I loved this! I cannot even begin to count how many carts I left because they did not pay for shipping.

  11. I wish somebody from Woocommerce would read this article and finally make checkout page and fields more customizable or at least default styling more user friendly.

    Being the owner of 4 online shops I’ve used several ecommerce platforms from Magento to Woocommerce as well as countless themes and plugins. It seems that most developers don’t use checkout fields themselves and have no clue that product pages and checkout fields are the most important part on ecommerce site.

    Regarding split testing, keep in mind that in order to actually get insightful data you need enough traffic and transactions. For smaller online shops it might take months. There is nothing better than test it yourself, place 10 test orders on your site, it should be enough to get an idea what is wrong with your checkout, get rid of things you don’t like if you know how or can afford a developer.

    Thanks for a great article! Back to my beloved Woocommerce, firebug/inspect element, custom functions and css 🙂

  12. With Amazon ruling much of the online game and offering free or prime shipping to customers, it’s almost an imperative to offer free shipping. Personally, I like deals where “everything is included” for a highlighted price. It takes the worry out about hidden handling fees and end of cart gotchas that make me cringe.

  13. What a fantastically well researched article! That Traffic U example looks great. I love the reassurances at the point of purchase.

    Thanks also for the shoutout to LongHaul.com.au 🙂

    Behind the scenes we actually *always* create an account, it’s just that in order to create an account we only ask for email address, even if you click the “sign up” button.

    If someone enters an email address that we’ve not seen before we send them an email asking them to choose a password. Once they’ve chosen a password they can have their data pre-populated next time.

    I’m also a huge fan of the “if you don’t need it, don’t ask for it” principle in UI design. When I built that shopping cart I really wanted to have absolutely no friction in the purchase process.

    For example, we ask people to rate the store *after* their purchase is complete; and right after we ask for their rating we ask if they’d like to subscribe for monthly sales emails.

    I was astounded to find that the majority of people not only stuck around to rate the store but also selected to receive sales emails.

  14. 2 Questions:

    1). Have you seen or done any tests with video used on the shopping cart page? (examples: customer testimonial, benefits emphasized by the author of an information product, etc.)

    2). For ecommerce, what are some developer- / customization-friendly shopping carts? (what kind of setups have found to be successful for small ecommerce companies)

  15. Amazing article. Forced registration – what a failure! If there’s anything that puts me off, it’s having to register to find out what shipping will cost – how about I don’t register and I buy it from elsewhere?

    • Totally, Frederik! I think marketers have long been downplaying the reality of shipping costs — including hiding those costs as if customers won’t notice — at the expense of their business growth. I know it’s expensive to pay shipping; you know it is; we all know it is. But if marketers stick their heads in the sand and don’t at least a) show shipping costs earlier, b) do your best to position those costs as affordable (which any copywriter should be able to do!) and c) actually make those costs more affordable, it seems unlikely that their bizzes will grow by leaps and bounds.

  16. Thanks for the great article Joanna!

    A couple more interesting things to add. Rather than asking for the type of card used in payment, you can auto-detect this based on the first numbers – http://webstandardssherpa.com/reviews/auto-detecting-credit-card-type.

    For UK sites, you also should never ask for County information – Counties have not been used to deliver goods since 1996! First line of address and postcode is enough.

    Also if you fancy some more information on the downside of offering users the opportunity of using discount and coupon code, we wrote a blog with some examples and alternatives – http://www.formisimo.com/blog/the-perils-of-voucher-codes/

  17. Great article Joanna, there is some real gold here! The psychology behind creating successful and high converting shopping cart experiences is something I love to read about. I have implemented some changes on client sites using tips in your article and I am seeing the benefits. Many thanks.

  18. Are there ecommerce platforms that allow for testing better than others? Or are there some platforms that have more customizable checkouts? I’m currently dealing with a proprietary platform that is all table based and difficult to modify securely.

  19. Hi Joanna,

    Your articles are so incredibly researched and filled to the brim with helpful information. I see many blogs are now going this direction and I truly think you were one of the first trend setters here.

    You make 1000 words seem shallow. 🙂

    I’m curious to know how much time you normally spend on articles like this, including the research and formatting, getting the screenshots, etc. ?

    It appears more and more folks are recognizing that depth and detail (which requires time) is the best blog approach, verses spitting out a post every day that’s only 750 to 1200 words of repeated content or just shallow.


  20. Such a great and useful post Joanna, thank you very much.

    From my own experience, complicated forms and bad UI is the reason that make me abandon shopping cart.

    Also, giving a customer options to get discount by login with their social profile, Facebook, Twitter or G+, can motivate them to register, make their purchase viral and bring more potential customers.

    Btw, I read lot of comments that people having problem with e-commerce platforms and customizing forms. I suggest you to use http://opencart.com, it’s free, open source and fully functional and customized. It’ have lot of free and paid plugins.


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