Losing Customers at the Register: 12 Checkout Blunders

Losing Customers at Checkout

This is a guest post from Justin Palmer of Palmer Web Marketing. We’re really excited to have him share his expertise with us here on Get Elastic, as his tips and tricks are always very valuable to online retailers. You’ll learn a thing or ten from his 25 Ways Series and more. If you subscribe to Get Elastic, you want to subscribe to Justin’s feed too.

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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20 Responses to “Losing Customers at the Register: 12 Checkout Blunders”

  1. While pretty much all of these points are valid, I wasn’t crazy about the author’s (in my opinion) patronizing tone towards developers throughout the article.

    It’s easy to tell this guy is in marketing…you can tell by the way he says “just fix it!”. As a developer these are the people who make life hard. They want whatever problem they are looking at fixed instantly and have no insight to the scope of the changes.

  2. Hi Linda: I sympathize with your biggest peeve (Default Credit Card Type Selected). Your suggestion of figuring out card type based on starting digit (4 for Visa and 5 for MasterCard) is absolutely correct. Do you think there is a reason why etailers don’t implement this? Are there any security concerns?

  3. This is a great article! Thanks!

  4. There are no security concerns that I know of that would prevent more e-tailers from from auto-detecting the credit card type. That information can be determined by the first few digits of the card number.

    In my opinion, its just one more thing a customer can goof up, so why not do it for them :)

  5. @CommerceStyle

    I apologize if the article came across as patronizing to developers. Actually, my background is in development, and I’ve only recently moved into marketing. So I do understand that problems such as these take time and money to fix. With that said however, its ultimately the customer’s needs that drive the urgency of fixes such as these. If they are in fact causing lost sales, they must be fixed asap.

    If there is any criticism here, it’s for the marketers. They are the one’s who need to catch these problems and communicate them to the development team.

    Thanks for your feedback.

  6. @ Justin

    While I agree with most everything you have said in this article, I would draw caution to #11.

    Have you thought about the customer experience when a user is having problems, calls the (800) number and cannot reach a live person?

    Other options may be of more value such as Click to Chat/Call and have a small staff available for those hours the call center is closed.

    Just to give everyone here an example, I just phoned Macy’s (800) number to see if I could get help with my order. After spending two minutes and going through the prompts to reach someone, I ended up getting a “we are closed” message with the hours of operation closing at 9pm. It was 10:48 pm central time when I called. There are no hours posted with the (800) number in checkout.

    On the Login page of Checkout, they prominently display their (800) for all to call. There are no hours posted with the (800) number in checkout. Now if I had been an actual customer I would have been disappointed with the experience.

    Determining the contact method needs to be cost effective as well. Click to Chat can allow a CSR to handle multiple help inquiries at the same time while phone calls may limit that CSR to one call at a time.

    I am sorry I typed so much here, but I really enjoyed reading this post as I do with many of the posts here at Get Elastic.

    Feel free to respond. I think this post should be discussed even more because conversion is critical for online retailers and maybe others will want to respond as well.

  7. Credit Card Errors is the top reason why I abondon a ecommerce website. The worst thing is – they doen’t explain what exactly is wrong.

  8. I agree with the login issue. Everytime I see a site that will require a username or password, I cringe. I dont want another password to remember!

    The shopping cart I use on my website uses cookies and IP addresses to remember the customer details. I think that’s the easiest way for customers.

    Great post!

  9. “Dead End Receipt Pages” – those are great ideas. The site I run day in and day out is a dead end, other than a single link back to the homepage (and the normal global navigation; it’s not a Yahoo cart nor styled as such).

    I’d love to see more written in detail about the last tip, “Product Stockouts”. It’s an obvious mistake, but not one with an obvious solution, particular for multi-channel retailers.

  10. The author of this post, Justin Palmer, has 3 examples of how retailers handle product stockouts on his own blog:

    Last Christmas I had the worst experience with Amazon – the item was out of stock, and I was never notified. The item simply wasn’t shipped. This was a Christmas gift for my brother, I ended up buying it at the local bookstore.

  11. Great post – we deal with out of stocks the following way. Every item, as part of the description, tells the customers if the items ships in 48 hours (meaning it is in stock) or will ship in 2 weeks (meaning we sold out and need to make more).

    All of our items are handmade by us and we want customers to feel that every item is unique. Some items are truly one-of-a-kind never to be remade while others (most of the items) can be restocked but no two are really exact. Putting on the page you have 23 items in stock would refelct poorly on a company selling “unique” art and jewelry, so this is what we came up with.

    Gives the customer relevant information without detracting from the unique and handmade character of the items we are selling.


  12. Ted says:

    It is a fact that an e-commerce site should cleanse or wipe out all security/design errors. Best practices (we all know them..) can guide e-shop owners to remedy Dead End Receipt Errors.
    Thanks for the post.

  13. James Cole says:

    Hi Justin

    I recently got a traffic ticket and was required to take up a defensive driving course in California. I would like to share my experience with you. I surfed through several websites, and finally subscribed with I Drive Safely. In the process, I discovered following mistakes made by most of the websites.

    Blunder #10: No “About Us” page or privacy policy

    There were no privacy policies, disclaimer, or about us page. It made be skeptical that this company is for real.

    Blunder #9: Where is the price?

    I could not find price on most of these websites. I had to literally hunt around to find the actual price.
    Although from a web designer perspective, this may be a good “feature”, it will only take a genius to figure out that they have google through rocket science before the price will magically appear on site.

    Blunder #8: Design for the 20%

    Most of the companies forget Pareto 80-20 principle, and design the website to account for all exceptional cases. I left many of the traffic school websites because of the time taken, and complexities involved in checking out.

    Blunder #7: Weak Security

    After going through all kinds of messages and disclaimers about how they valued their customer’s security, I completed the registration form in some of the websites. My confidence in that website disappeared when I saw the final thank you page. It said “Thank you for registering, please note your user ID and password for your records”. There it was – my password in pure plain text staring at me, on a non secure thank you page! I was enough for me to abandon my transaction.

    Blunder #6: Excessive Mandatory Fields

    Excessive mandatory field/ registration form in the middle of check out page is like adding speed bumps to a 60mph highway. It was one of the reason for me to abandon my registration in some of the websites.

    Blunder #5: Clearing all the fields in case of an error

    Many websites gave a clear registration form when entering any wrong mandatory filed. Unacceptable.

    Blunder #4: Forcing customers to create an account before they can add items to cart

    In the hope to register as many users as possible, some sites asked to sign in or register as soon i decided to purchase. It forced me to abandon the registration process.

    In the light of these, the perfect site i came across was I Drive Safely when registering to California Traffic School.

  14. Two additional checkout blunders:

    No SSL certificate.

    Transfer to another secure domain to enter credit cards details in order to complete the purchase.

  15. Vanessa says:

    I totally agree to all points.

    As I m a software test engineer, several time while testing an E-commerce site we have to force project managers or clients to change their project plan.

  16. Yes it is funny…. and looks like a “The Long Time Feeling Sexy?”
    Feeling bored, I go to listen Nazareth – “Love Hurts”

  17. dunk sb says:

    those blunders are easily negelected, so take care

  18. [...] of the biggest fears of displaying items in the shopping cart is losing the customer to a growing statistic of cart abandonment. However, if you are able to increase average order size [...]

  19. [...] was reading a guest post by Justin Palmer on Get Elastic called Losing Customers at the Register: 12 Checkout Blunders.  This is an excellent article for those of you in e-commerce that have anything to do with the [...]

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