Why traditional checkout flows fail

J Castillo
June 5, 2012

For as long as the web has been around there has been the need for people to buy and sell online. Traditional e-commerce patterns dictate a certain set of steps all users need to follow to ensure a successful transaction, unfortunately this model doesn’t always work for everyone, same as with aspirin, where you find that ‘most’ people benefit from it, about 1% or more have some sort of horrible reaction to it, one working checkout model for one company such as Amazon.com doesn’t mean it will work for you.

As it is with any industry, when things fail, a new ‘expert’ role is brewed, call it marketers, analysts, sales specialists, etc, there seems to be a big opportunity for someone to make a buck of you when the user doesn’t successfully checkout out.  The bigger the company, the more ‘experts’ you will find, ranging from people that based their conclusions purely on analytics data to those that copy exactly what competitors do as a desperate attempt to stay in the competition.

The bottom line is that there is a lack of common sense when it comes to predicting what the user wants; is simply overwhelming.

So, let’s demystify why these traditional checkout flows fail.

Designing without Human-Factor in mind

How many times how you gone to the store and while trying to pay for an item the cashier asked you “What’s your address?” or “What’s your login name?”,  instead, what really happened is that you were greeted and asked how you wish to pay for the purchase. This approach is what we call “human approach” or “human like” behavior, that’s because that is what a person would expect and is also used to; unfortunately this is not the case when purchasing online.

Applying a human like approach to your checkout holds the key to a successful sale. When users click on ‘checkout’ be proactive, ask them how they wish to pay for the order.

Did you know that 7 out 10 users who have entered a credit card number complete the transaction? Customers who have provided a credit card number have mentally agreed to complete the transaction because they feel compromised that they have already rendered the payment, so why don’t act upon it, right?

Today’s checkout flow cookie cutters don’t work because the page is not pretty enough or because you don’t have the right information in it, it simply doesn’t work because it lacks that ‘human touch’. This is the special ingredient that you’ve been looking for or perhaps you didn’t know about it, it’s possible. I’m sure there are companies out there that think they are reaching their quota when it comes to sales and don’t thing they can do better.

In any case, each time you ask your marketers or data analysts about sales and bounce rate, the answer seems to be always the same (almost as if it was auto generated); new customer. Why is that? You’d wonder, and the answer is simple, returning customers are acquaintance with your site and most likely familiar with it while new customers are quite easy to spook.  All it takes is one confusing question to turn them away.

The correct approach

It appears as if we are not all in the dark. There are a few companies out there that have seen the benefit of exploring the ‘human behavior factor’ and are taking advantage of its full potential.

When it comes to checkout flow, applying ‘human like’ approach is crucial, in my opinion. Your first step in the right direction should be to stop believing that ‘embellishing’ the form/ page will increase your chances of completion the sale. A pretty form is not more effective that a regular form, the key is how you word it and how it is presented to the user, whether is a single page or a 5 page flow, always include the user’s point of view and expectation into the equation, don’t simply rely on a designer to come up with an amazing mock up. You would be surprise how much your checkout flow could change compared to the competition when you do your homework and start listening to your own customers. Remember, what works for Amazon.com may not work for you!