10 Worst Things That Can Happen In Your Checkout

Every online retailer should be obsessed with improving its checkout process. The following are 10 of the most common hiccups, is your store guilty of any of the following?

1. No persistent cookie

As I wrote previously, persistent cookies that remember what’s in a customer’s cart are important for customers that take more than one visit to complete a purchase. Without persisted carts, those who abandon the checkout process with the intention of returning later must start all over again.

2. Required registration / account sign in

According to Forrester Research, 23% of shoppers will jump ship when asked to register with your site. If that’s not bad enough, even your registered users lose heart when they can’t remember login information. “Forgot password?” links are not the answer. Analyzing the database of a very large online retailer, Jared Spool found only 25% ever tried to finish the checkout after requesting password information! Safest bet is to offer guest checkout with the option to save customer information at the end.

3. Trapping customers in your checkout

Many conversion gurus have preached the virtues of removing site navigation during checkout to minimize distractions and keep customers focused on the big shiny calls to action in the checkout process. But this makes it difficult for customers who want to go back and add items to their order (which increases average order value). For example, I recently made a cross-border purchase. The shipping charges to Canada were so high, I wanted to add to my order to justify the shipping cost, but was unable to do so without opening a new tab and visiting the site’s home page again.

While I’m all for removing clutter, and game for every site testing with and without navigation, I don’t think it’s necessary to remove all means for the customer to back out of checkout. At the very least, hyperlink the site logo to the home page.

4. Surprise shipping costs

Speaking of high shipping charges, this is the number one reason for cart abandonment according to Forrester Research. While how much you must charge for shipping is a business issue, not a usability issue, showing shipping charges too late in the process was also a customer peeve. 59% of consumers expect you to offer a pre-checkout tax and shipping calculator on the shopping cart page.

5. Asking for too much information

12% of consumers abandon checkouts that ask for too much information (again, thank you Forrester). A classic example of asking too much is Foot Locker, which makes favorite sports and shoe size required fields. Huh?

Take a look at your checkout forms and ask yourself which fields are untouchable and which fields you could sacrifice for a split test.

PS – stay away from captchas too. Only 1% of checkouts use them, they’re difficult for customers to decipher, and don’t put it past spammers to find workarounds for them.

6. Poor error handling

Forms that contain input errors are culprits to cart abandonment because customers need to understand what to correct. You must make the error message very easy to spot, very easy to understand and very clear why the error happened. Many checkouts fall flat in this area. Here are some examples from top e-tailers:

American Apparel packs so much above the fold that you can’t see where the error occurred when the page refreshes. If you’re lucky, you might notice the yellow strip containing the error message.

Chapters Indigo highlights all the errors at the top, which forces the customer to figure out which fields are associated with each error.

Worse, Skull Skates uses a dialog box that must be closed before you can continue. You can’t bank on customers to recall each error if there are more than one.

Williams Sonoma and American Eagle Outfitters do a better job, respectively.

Beware of browsers that can mess up the display of errors, making them near impossible to read.

Industry jargon like “AVS mismatch” should also be explained. Most consumers don’t know that the address verification service requires an exact billing address match to their credit card statement, including middle initial if applicable. This is especially problematic when the Shipping Address can be copied to the Billing Address section with one click and the online retailer uses AVS.

And don’t forget login screens, a common place for errors.

7. Not explaining the CVV

Like AVS, CVV (or CVC) is an ambiguous acronym. Make sure you explain it.

8. Not optimizing for page load speed in checkout

Do you focus your performance optimization efforts only on your home page or pages? Don’t forget to optimize your checkout, both for page load speed and your payment gateway performance.

9. Pre-checking fields

While it won’t impact conversion, it can erode trust post-checkout when customers unwittingly opt in to your marketing program and receive what is in their minds unsolicited email (aka spam).

10. No contact information

If a customer is experiencing a problem in your checkout, a prominent customer service contact number (or live chat link) may save the sale. So why do just over half of retailers (according to Jupiter Research) display one in checkout?

There are many other checkout nightmares that could happen. These are my top 10. I welcome your ideas in the comments.


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15 Responses to “10 Worst Things That Can Happen In Your Checkout”

  1. Well made list. Idea:

    #11: Checkout steps not being links. The only way to go to a previous step is by clicking a “back” link – not too smart when the customer is at the last step and discovers an error in the shipping address. During our recent usability study of checkouts all the test subject at least once tried to click at one of the process steps – only to be very disappointed on the sites where it was just an image, and not a link..

    In short: always have your process steps be links..

  2. goobernutz says:

    What is this, groundhog day?

    What is this, groundhog day?

    Please consider combining the many many “Top X horrible most unfriendly blunderous awful checkout mistakes in the checkout that you silly people mistakenly mistake in the rubbish checkout” posts into one. I understand the difficulty of coming up with original material, but 3 posts on the same subject with roughly the same content is stretching it a bit.

    p.s. I love the site. I really do!

    • Hi goobernutz,

      While I appreciate comments both positive and negative, I will explain my decision to post this today. Checkout is THE most important issue in ecommerce optimization.

      In the past, we’ve had 2 similar articles – a guest post by Justin Palmer http://www.getelastic.com/12-checkout-blunders/ with 12 tips (posted 1 year ago), only 2 of his tips are repeated in my latest article. The other similar post is How to Reduce Shopping Cart Abandonment: 10 No Brainers http://www.getelastic.com/shopping-cart-no-brainers/ with a bit more cross-over with this post, but not identical.

      There are 2 reasons why I choose to beat the drum on checkout improvement:

      1. Repetition of important concepts helps retention.
      1. Repetition of important concepts helps retention.
      2. Our readership is continually changing, we add a number of new subscribers every month. I will revisit important topics after several months have passed in order to keep everyone in the loop (I don’t expect folks to scour through the archive). Existing subscribers also don’t always get a chance to read every article, so a refresher of key tips and tricks is warranted, in my opinion.

    • Shaun says:

      Agreed, I’ve talked to people going through our order process that had trouble going back to a step because they were clicking the process steps, which were just images

  3. Ditto for #11 being not providing checkout steps as links.

    More frustrations:
    - Not displaying cart items as links
    - Redirecting to a page other than where the user cam from upon login
    - Not passing a promo code from an ad (internal or external) to the site for default upon checkout. (Sending them back to find the code could abandon the whole checkout.)


    P.S. @goobernutz: Today is tomorrow. It happened.

  4. Joslyn says:

    I couldn’t agree more with item number 5. I absolute HATE when they do that and that’s EXACTLY what I didn’t want to do when creating my own shopping cart.

    @Christian: #11 is quite a good suggestion, actually.

  5. Tony says:

    While I agree with your point on Guest Checkouts for retail – please remember that they’re unavoidable if you’re selling digital content.

  6. Masterful stuff, as always, Linda.

    I think the opt-in vs opt-out email list question is more complicated than presented. The value of these email lists is huge, and only 5 or 10% of folks will change the default regardless of which way it’s presented. I’d argue for the opt-in default with easy unsubscribe option on each email.

    My #11, why do I have to type in my city, state and zip, when you can figure out the other two with just the zip? Ask for the zip and auto-populate the rest.

  7. Any best practices around gift wrapping during checkout? This seems a potential reason for abandonment if not well implemented. Any thoughts?

  8. Hi Linda,

    Great article. I would also add:

    - Not showing enough product info in the shopping basket (including a link back to the actual product page, size info, colour, image etc)
    - Not showing the accepted methods of payment (I came across the most frustrating shopping cart where I wanted to pay with an AMEX and they didn’t accept it…nowhere in the site or checkout process did it say we do not accept AMEX or we only accept X, Y and Z – so I exited and went to the slightly more expensive competitor!)

    An interesting article from Graham Charlton @Econsultancy on locking customers in to the checkout process:

    I somewhat agree with this strategy after testing & giving the user the option to “continue shopping” at any point during the checkout.


    Head of Strategy
    Lightmaker UK

  9. Thanks Linda, Required registration bugs me the most on shopping carts

    Next on my list is 3D Secure, I prefer to use PayPal if I can over any other payment type, since its fast, sometimes you can get a way with filling out all your details, especially if its a virtual product.


  10. Hi Linda,

    Great list, and if retailers are still making these mistakes, the advice is worth repeating.

    I’m interested in your take on point three, especially since I wrote an article on why retailers should enclose / isolate the checkout process recently: http://ecly.co/a4GR8G.

    The advice we give in our guides is to remove headers and footers, but still leave a route out of the process via a homepage, or perhaps a ‘continue shopping’ link, while making information on delivery, security, returns etc readily available.

    This seems to be the trend for most on the top e-commerce sites in the UK, is this not so for US retailers?

    • Hi Graham, yes I expected that point to be controversial :) there is good reason to enclose the checkout to minimize distraction, for sure, and it is as popular in North America as in the UK. I personally prefer to check out when there’s escape routes, I don’t like to feel “trapped in.” I’ve also heard it over and over again from others that they hate not having an escape hatch. I believe the best approach if testing shows your site works better with enclosed checkout is to make the logo clickable to the home page, as yours and my post recommend. Interestingly, many enclosed checkouts don’t even offer that (*cough* AMAZON), and that’s one of the worst things they could do, in my opinion. Frustrated/confused shoppers may not bother typing the home page back into the browser.

  11. Albie Attias says:

    Another tip to consider – ensure Google Autofill is supported for all form pages. Not sure how many people use this feature but I always try this first when purchasing online and often sigh with frustration when it isnt and I have to type in every single field.

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