Several years ago my son, David, and I created a customized one page checkout system for the Miva Merchant ecommerce platform that we named Pimp My Checkout (PMC). Cool name, not so great idea, it turned out.
Many site owners were requesting one page checkouts, so I assumed it was due to customer demand. But the myth of the one page checkout is something site owners and developers perpetuate that has no basis in real world usability.
The reality is, "one page checkouts" are usually no less clicks than a regular checkout process, they're just all on one page. The number of steps and the number of clicks is the same, it just looks like it's all happening on one page.
As we set up these PMCs, an amazing thing happened. Customers were not happy. Clicking a Complete Order button is a stressful thing, every time, even for savvy online shoppers. Is it going to process all of this correctly since it's going to submit all of the information at once? Sites with the PMC began to get complaints, and lower conversions. Customers wanted more feedback from the system in the form of confirmation pages.
It turns out that a one page checkout is not what is needed. A SIMPLE checkout is all that is needed. Customers will go through several pages without thinking twice if they know what they're doing and the pages are providing feedback about where they are and what still needs to be done to complete the order.
So forget the one page checkout. Here are three tips to truly improve your checkout:
1. Hold your customer's hand
You see your checkout every day. Your customers do not. They don't know how it works. They're nervous and don't want to have to study your checkout system to understand it. This means you should use graphics as much as possible. Here are three examples of checkout graphics that work:
2. Hold off on the Create an Account option until the order is complete
During the PMC experiment, we learned that skipping the account creation decision helped increase conversions. During checkout, asking customers to create an account is a major decision -- a decision that stops some people cold. They wonder what it means to create an account. It's asking for a commitment too early. By skipping the account creation option until the customer has given you their money, conversions increase, and more customers ultimately create an account.
Once they've completed the sale, they've gotten past the trust issue, so creating an account is less stressful. It's all about keeping your eye on the goal -- to make the sale -- and putting off decisions that aren't necessary for that goal.
3. Don't use the words "coupon" or "discount"
As I type this, I have a browser window open to Espresso Parts USA. It's been open at the final checkout page for two days now. I haven't completed checkout because it has a Coupon/Gift Certificate Code field, and I can't find a coupon code through Google. Like most online shoppers these days, I like getting the best deal possible.
If your customers see a Coupon Code or Discount Code in your checkout, many will jump into Google and search for a coupon code. If they find one, they get a discount that didn't help make the sale. Worse, if they don't find a coupon code, they get upset because they know that some people are getting discounts and they're not.
If you have a coupon code field on your site, change the prompt to something like "Tracking Code," "Advertising Code" or even "Promo Code" to avoid this pitfall.
How to Further Optimize Your Checkout for Your Target Market
I could give you a dozen more tips for improving your checkout process, but they may not fit your target market. It's up to you to determine what works with your customers. Ask some neighbors and some not-too-close friends to shop at your site with you looking over their shoulders. Watch where they pause, note what questions they ask you, and ask them to tell you what they're thinking along the way. You'll be amazed to find that they don't think like you at all.
For more information about usability and self-testing your site, get Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Then read it twice a year.