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Optimizing Shopping Cart & Checkout

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Visitors are most vulnerable during checkout. Desserted shopping carts are a big problem for every online store. Effective use of texts, pictures and logos is necessary to take away fears and doubts of potential clients.

This is what your checkout should reflect:

Safety: let your visitors know your online store is secure and that their privacy is ensured.

Transparency: Be transparent and indicate precise shipping costs and details about VAT.

Payment methods: Show clearly all payment methods that can be used to process the payment (credit cards, paypal, bank transfser, etc.).

FAQ: When there are frequent questions about the ordering and payment process include them in a FAQ.

Persistent shopping cart

A lot of visitors place a product in the shopping cart, but want to check out at a later point. By leaving the products in the shopping carts they can proceed to payment straight-away during their next visit without having to start a search to find the products again. The chance is even substantial that, when they find an empty shopping cart, they will not start the purchasing process again.

A good solution is to offer a persistent shopping cart. The visitor can keep their shopping cart, also after closing your online store (or his/her browser). When you doubt about how long the product should be kept in the shopping cart, follow my advice: the longer the better.

Remove unnecessary fields

Although visitors may love spending time in your online store by clicking, scrolling and browsing through your great range of products, when they are at the checkout they want to pay as quickly as possible. A fast and clear order process is therefore very important.

Start with removing the extra and/or unnecessary fields in the checkout. Do you really need their date of birth, telephone number or sex? Probably not. Remove them, or make them at least not obligatory.

Ensure the visitor doesn’t need to enter the same data twice

A visitor never wants to enter the same data twice. When he will have to enter the same address for both the invoice and delivery address this will cause frustration. You can solve this by adding a checkbox in case he wants another delivery address.

Enter as much as possible information as you already have

Like I wrote above, a visitor will get frustrated when he has to enter the same data twice.

If he already provided information in step one, don’t ask it again in step three – simply copy it!

Keep the entered date after validation indicates mistakes

This is in addition to the previous two tips. When a client accidentally entered the wrong information in the checkout (for example his e-mail address without @), make sure that the other fields are still kept as they were, to ensure he only needs to add the correct e-mail address.

Nothing is more frustrating for the visitor if he looses all data because of a small mistake in one of the 12 fields of the form.

Make clear whether the field is optional or obligatory

Use the asterisk (*) to make clear which fields are obligatory. It can be confusing when certain fields are not deemed necessary by the visitor while you do need the information to process the order.

Even if all fields in your checkout are obligatory you should always use the asterisks to make it extra clear.

Give an example for each field

To make the chances that a visitor makes a mistake in the form smaller you can give an example in each field to show how the information should be entered. In this way the visitor knows exactly what to expect from him.

Make the “Name” field shorter

Why should you use three fields (first name, middle name, last name) to find out the name of the customer? You can shorten this to one field

Although I find three fields definitely too much I am a proponent of two fields (first name last name). In this way you can personalize your future e-mail communications with your clients. (You saved his first name seperately).

Keep the labels always visible

Many online stores show the labels of each field in the field. When you click on it this information dissappears and you can enter the field.

Although such a design often looks smooth and clear it is not a wise choice. Like I wrote in the introduction of this page, visitors often rush through the checkout. They may click on the field before reading it (or use the tab-key). He can’t see what information is required now.

Keep the standard lay-out

The visitor has had to fill in hundreds of forms in his life already and therefore expects that your form is likewise logically organised.

This means he wants to work from the top down with a known sequence of fields to enter.

You could, when you ship internationally, ask what country the product(s) should be shipped to. This allows you to present the rest of the form in a localised way asking for states or provinces depending on the country.

Input field length should correspond to expected input length

The majority of visitors make a direct link between the length of the input field and what they are expected to enter.

For example, when you ask a zip code, don’t make the length equal to the input field for city. It is best if you allow exactly the input length necessary for the zip code.

Be specific with button texts

Avoid the use of general texts on buttons such as “continue”. The button “continue” can mean two things in the shopping cart:

  • Continue with shopping (adding more products)
  • Continue with payment (go to checkout and pay for these products)


This may make the visitor insecure during the checkout. Make use of buttons that are clear and specific. Use texts such as “continue shopping”, “go directly to payment”, “to checkout”, etc.

Directly show validation errors

You can directly check forms while they are being entered by way of Ajax technology. This makes it unnecessary to click “next” to start a check whether the entered data are correct.

It is best to directly show a green √ “check!” sign or a X red cross when a user entered a field.

In case the entered information is not correct show this as direct and close to the field at hand as possible. This greatly increases the usability of the form.

Don’t make it obligatory to register an account

According to a recent research of Econsultancy 25.6% of online consumers would end their purchasing process if forced to first register.

By making it obligatory to register before finalizing his purchase he gets the feeling he is not anymore fully in control of the order. This increases chances of him leaving your online store significantly.

Make an account registration optional and/or ask on the page where you thank the customer for their purchase if they want to register. Some clients like to register accounts to be able to checkout more quickly and easily next time.

Let the visitor choose their password

Don’t send automatic passwords to the customer. He will never remember them. Often somebody has just a few passwords which he uses for everything. Give him the possibility to use his own password.

Make “paying as guest” clearly visible

If you show the “register as guest” more clearly than “paying as guest” the visitor may still feel forced to register an account. It is better to make the “paying as guest” option more visible. You can do this by making the text a bit bigger or by using a bigger button.

Make the primary button the most visible

While we are surfing the web we constanly group the buttons on basis of what we expect them to do.

In a normal shopping cart and checkout page there are often various buttons such as “remove”, “renew”, “continue shopping”, “to checkout”.

Make sure that the button you want people to click on – “to checkout” – is bigger, more visible, and more dominant than all other buttons. You want that the visitor clicks that very button.

Avoid unnecessary buttons in the shopping cart and checkout

All buttons that don’t have a specific aim should be removed from the shopping cart and checkout pages.

All other buttons should execute the desired action by way of Ajax. For example, removing a product from the shopping cart. Make sure the update is directly executed and that the page doesn’t need to reload.

Consistency in the primary buttons

By constantly using the same buttons, visitors learn which button to use to proceed.

Make sure that the design of “add to shopping cart”, “to checkout” and “confirm order” are the same.

When your checkout process consists of multiple steps each primary buttons should be located on the same place to ensure consistency between the steps.

Limit navigation during payment

You finally convinced the visitor with your online store to add products to the shopping cart and the visitor want to pay for them now. By limiting distraction in the checkout your visitor will be more likely to finalize payment.

Remove as many links and navigation from the checkout as possible. This can only lead to the visitor navigating away from the checkout. Only show those things which encourage the visitor to finalise the purchase, like guarantees, returns policy and supporting information.

Already fill in some fields

By already selecting a few of the fields for the customer he has to think (and click) less. The client will continue to the payment page quicker that way.

Instead of letting the client choose the shipping options you can have the most popular shipping option already selected for him.

If your country has a payment method which is by far the most popular you can also already pre-select it for him. Of course it can always be changed by the customer but these pre-selections make that the client has to think less during checkout.

Another option is adding labels, such as “popular” or “most used”, to shipping options and payment methods to make the choice easier for the client.

Show all steps in the checkout process

Many checkouts work with multiple steps in their checkout. When you work with such steps every step should be described so the customer knows where in the process he is.

Only mentioning step 1, 2, 3, 4 and step 5 is not enough, better is the following:

  • Step 1: Register
  • Step 2: Data shipping address
  • Step 3: Data invoice address
  • Step 4: Choose payment method
  • Step 5: Paying

Make the process steps navigable

Each of the steps in the checkout process should moreover be clickable, allowing the client to return to any of the steps to check it.

You shouldn’t only have the buttons “previous” and “next”, but instead it should also be possible to navigate all steps in a bar at the top of the page.

Don’t surprise the visitor with unexpected extra costs during checkout

When visitors suddenly see extra costs during the checkout, they will get the feeling they are being cheated upon.

You should always show the visitors the extra (shipping and handling) costs on beforehand. Best of all already on the product page. It should be clearly indicated when these extra costs will be added during the buying process.

Use an opt-in checkbox for your newsletter

A newsletter is one of the best marketing methods available. Having a newsletter is an important sales generator.

Instead of directly adding each client for the newsletter it is better and fairer to first ask this. By explicitly asking for a subscription the quality of your newsletter subscribers will rise, your newsletter will be less marked as spam, and you get more reliable statistics.

effective checkout pageShow your guarantees

Most clients expect some kind of guarantee when buying something in your online store. In most countries it is required by law to give such a guarantee. Let these guarantees work to your advantage by clearly stating them on your product pages, in your shopping cart and in the checkout.


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