Losing Customers At The Register: 12 Checkout Blunders

This article was originally posted April 7, 2008 and as one of Get Elastic’s most popular, is worth a second look. This post was written by Justin Palmer of Palmer Web Marketing

Losing Customers at the Register: 12 Checkout Blunders

We’ve all heard the adage, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” For many e-tailers, both large and small, the weakest link lies in the checkout process. Mistakes at this critical juncture are costly and unnecessary. Below, I’ve gathered 12 of the most common mistakes I see with checkouts.

1. Unfriendly Credit Card Errors

Getting your credit card declined is always an embarrassing situation, even online. How gracefully does your checkout handle these errors? Unfortunately, website error messages tend to be written by programmers, who don’t always consider the needs of customers.

When handling these errors, suggest a probable solution. If the error is due to an invalid CVV code, show customers a picture of where the code can be found on the card. Is the error due to a billing address mismatch? Suggest having the customer check their credit card statement to ensure their billing address matches. Most importantly, display your customer service contact information where customers can get additional help.

2. Login

Many customers detest the thought of having to remember another username and password. In addition to this concern, you risk returning customers not being able to remember their login information on a subsequent purchase. Sure, you may have a password lookup feature, but what if their email isn’t working or is inaccessible at the moment? For these reasons, offer your customers a guest checkout option that doesn’t require account creation. After the order, you can always ask if they want to create an account for next time.

3. Default Credit Card Type Selected

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Now I consider myself fairly experienced with placing online orders, since I work in the eCommerce industry. Yet I don’t know how many times I’ve entered my Mastercard number with the default Visa card option pre-selected, causing my card to be declined. In their hurry to complete a task, people tend to skip fields that are already populated with data. For this reason, require your customers to choose their credit card type. Better yet, automatically detect the credit card type based on the number (see Paypal’s checkout for an example of this).

4. Cancel Buttons

I always chuckle when I see a “Cancel” button juxtaposed next to the “Submit Order” button. Don’t make it too easy for your customers to abandon their order. A cancel button is the equivalent to asking “Are you really sure you want to buy it?”

5. Up-selling or Cross-selling

There’s a time and place for cross-selling, but it’s too risky at checkout. Too many options can send a customer into a paradox of choice, leading to an abandoned cart. In general, once someone has moved past the shopping cart, it’s time to stop marketing and close the sale.

6. Disclaimers, Explanations, and Warnings

Recently, I reviewed an eCommerce site for an online gift store. Right before clicking the “Finalize Order” button, I was casually informed my “IP address is being recorded for security purposes.” Now honestly, is that disclaimer really necessary? While it may deter fraudsters, (though I doubt it), such needless information will only raise red flags in minds of privacy conscious customers. Other needless disclaimers include “Clicking order button more than once will result in double charges” (maybe you should fix this issue rather than explain it!) or “Products subject to availability” (maybe you should display accurate inventory online!?) As a general rule, keep disclaimers on a need-to-know basis. If it causes visitors to second guess their purchase decision, remove it.

7. Insecure Page Errors

This is possibly one of the most preventable checkout mistakes that arises due to technical issues with secure pages (https://) containing non-secure elements (http:// images, javascript files, etc.). When this happens, some browsers such as Internet Explorer, love to warn customers that “this page contains insecure elements.” When you’re about to enter your personal payment info, this is not a comforting message. To prevent this, make sure you run through your own checkout frequently, with your browser set to display these warnings.

8. Only One Payment Type

Don’t you hate when you don’t have cash and a store doesn’t take credit cards? Many customers feel a similar frustration when a site only takes credit. Alternative payment forms have become almost an expectation these days, with Paypal, e-Checks, BillMeLater, and Google Checkout leading the way. Adding an additional payment method can go a long way in preventing abandoned shopping carts.

9. Dead End Receipt Pages

It’s a shame so many shopping sessions end on the receipt page. Rather than wasting your order confirmation page with a conclusive “Thanks for ordering!” message, why not continue to engage your customers? Consider adding a tell-a-friend form, displaying customer service FAQs, or asking customers to complete a survey.

10. Hiding Additional Charges

Nobody likes surprise charges at the last minute. Make sure that all shipping related charges and taxes are displayed early and often.

11. No Prominent 1-800 Number

People like buying from people, so customers always like to know someone is immediately reachable if they have a problem. While not every customer who sees your 1-800 number will call, just having one creates a sense of trust.

12. Product Stockouts

Oh by the way, it’s out of stock! Surprisingly, a disturbing amount of online checkouts wait until the customer has initiated the buying process before informing them about stockouts. Product availability should always be visible on the product pages and the shopping cart. Any later than that, you’re going to anger your customers.
Avoiding mistakes on your checkout is eCommerce 101. Don’t just take my word for it though, test these suggestions for yourself. With tools such as Google’s Website Optimizer, performing A/B tests on your checkout are surprisingly easy and inexpensive.

About Justin Palmer

Justin Palmer writes the Palmer Web Marketing blog, which covers topics such as eCommerce, SEO, and website usability. Palmer Web Marketing also offers personalized SEO recommendations and eCommerce Site Review services.


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23 Responses to “Losing Customers At The Register: 12 Checkout Blunders”

  1. Michael says:

    Time is money and when I only have a short period to sign-up for things it can be frustrating to run into any of the mentioned problems.

    Then I usually will leave the site and never return, moving on.

  2. That’s a great starting-point list, Justin. Good post.

    An important factor, related to your Cross-sells point, is Distraction throughout the funnel. You should test whether including the full navigation, subnav, various shipping options and offers in the cart helps or decreases conversions.


    WiderFunnel Marketing Optimization

  3. My cart passes all of these except, having a tell-a-friend form, or asking customers to complete a survey….

    Never thought of that……I will think about this one.

  4. Great list of things to avoid. Also add to the list the confusing confirm page and a lack of knowing how many steps until the process is complete.

    LexiConn Internet Services, Inc.

  5. You’ve made some really good points, Justin.

    What many marketers and e-tailters still fail to realise (or don’t like to admit) is that for the majority of people purchasing products online is still a relatively new and daunting prospect, especially considering the longtime emphasis on securing credit card payments and the threat of identity theft.

    With that in mind, it’s no wonder it’s so common for customers to baulk at the last minute and cancel a purchase; so why give them a reason to?

    A well-designed checkout would, ideally, recognise these challenges and allay these fears, as well as being technically flawless and operationally seamless.



  6. Phil Raynor says:

    Good post, Justin.

    I have recently read a 300 page($800!) consultancy paper on the subject. I should have just read your post. It’s just common sense! Why don’t e-tailers get it?

    Final thing, I think it’s unsecure pages. Insecure pages conjures up images of a website asking me it it looks too frumpy in its new dress!

  7. I also wonder why my websites dont split the input box for credit card numbers (16 digits) into 4 sub boxes?

    Its visually quite difficult to check a 16 digit number but much simpler to check 4 lots of 4.

    Virtual Surveys

  8. Great list! I especially like the one about refraining from cross-selling. I just read the book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, by Robert B Cialdini and co-authors,in which they describe how the decision making process becomes too much of a burden when people have to compare between too many options and they simply choose not to make a decision.

  9. It is important to have a completely uncluttered check out process in order to keep the purchase process moving along.

  10. Nicholas says:

    Great stuff. Another addition might be inconsistency in messaging at during checkout.

    I recently worked with a client who had changed their value prop and even their target market a few times in the recent past, and there were small artifacts of past messaging in the checkout flow.

    Small enough for the client to miss, but large enough to cause a significant impact on users in checkout.

  11. Great stuff – I will also add that companies do ajax form validation as a user fills out a form rather than relying on submitting and then returning an error. It can be simple as just checking that the format is correct (e.g. 16 digits for MC/Visa and that the email address is valid format). If that cant be done, make sure that not only is the error message clear, but also that the offending form field is visually identified.

    Also, make sure that shipping and billing info can be copied as to not require the user to input it twice.

    I’ve also done some interesting A/B tests on splitting login, shipping, billing, confirmation functions into separate vs. combined pages with some dramatic results. Less steps is not always better if the information is broken into more digestible & logical steps.

  12. Linda – I had not seen that article, but it is a much better example of the point I was trying to make. Thanks for sharing b/c I LOVE the videos that illustrate the before & after.

  13. Leigh says:

    I love all of the examples brought up in this post. As we head into the holiday season, online retailers really need to double check their websites.

    Would you mind if I share this post on my blog?

  14. The Luke Wroblewski article contains some great insights.

    Unless I’ve missed something it does *not* tell us which version made the most money for the website owner. Well it was only a simulated test anyway.

    For example the guinea pigs completing the forms faster may not translate into more real people completing more forms correctly in real life.

    I’ve had mixed results in A/B split tests: in one test the Landing Page with inline validation performed worse than a similar LP with server-only validation. This was not a test of equals because the inline page was 60K including its js libraries – but the plain LP was only 25K.

    We considered adding some ‘scrap iron’ to the plain LP to weigh it down and make the test more equal – but decided it was not ethical and then we moved onto other topics without really getting to the bottom of this.

    Thanks for the link – and thanks even more for your original article.

  15. Great article Linda! Having too many buttons at the last minute has been proven to ruin sales.

    You might like to check out out a A/B split test for Laura Ashley at http://whichtestwon.com/?p=1815

  16. pedro says:

    Thank you a lot for this article. Very interesting read, and it is soo true. I’m still learning, so this free information is very valuable to me. Keep up the good work.

  17. L.Morera says:

    What many marketers and e-tailters still fail to realise (or don’t like to admit) is that for the majority of people purchasing products online is still a relatively new and daunting prospect, especially considering the longtime emphasis on securing credit card payments and the threat of identity theft.

    With that in mind, it’s no wonder it’s so common for customers to baulk at the last minute and cancel a purchase; so why give them a reason to?

    A well-designed checkout would, ideally, recognise these challenges and allay these fears, as well as being technically flawless and operationally seamless.


    Very good point

  18. MartinLe says:

    Great List.

    Ive always found that registering for new accounts just to buy something on a new website is time consuming and yes a little bit of a hassle i agree that ecommerce sites should a guest check out option or at the very least a password look up app

  19. [...] time ago, I read an excellent blog post over at Get Elastic called “Losing Customers At The Register: 12 Checkout Blunders” about how e-tailers lose revenue on their site. First point on the list you’ll see unfriendly [...]

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  21. Mumin says:

    wow great article. I knew most of them but few of them are new for me. thanks for sharing

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