9 Tips to Increasing eCommerce Conversions At Checkout


On Friday I woke up with the distinct feeling that I was going to fall over. There was dizziness and light-headedness and no ability to discern if these two things were, in fact, the same. So I did what any self-respecting lady would do. I took the day off and spent the afternoon Internet shopping. I mean, that’s how you’re supposed to spend a sick day, right?
That’s what I thought.

However, one of the side effects of this job is how easily simple activities turn into case studies for how things could have been done better. Spend a few minutes on the Web attempting to shop and you can’t help but notice that many common sense eCommerce marketing practices are not as common sense as you thought. And then, instead of watching re-turns of The OC on the Soap Network, you’re penning blog posts in your head about how eCommerce sites can tighten up their checkout processes to dramatically increase conversations. Because that’s how sad my life is.

But that’s beside the point!

Below are nine tips to help eCommerce sites increase conversions by plugging up holes in their checkout process. Because if people want to spend money with you, it’s really only fair that you let them. ;)

1. Include a “Check Out Now” Button

There is a certain state of euphoria that overtakes someone when they make the decision to add something to their shopping cart. They’re excited, their heart is racing, and they’re completely ignoring the fact that in three minutes they’re going to wonder if they really need that giant owl locket. This is the moment where you want to convert them and it’s why displaying a “check out now!” button as soon as an item has been added to their cart is a very good idea. Maybe they’re not done shopping and will keep browsing, but if they are then you want to get them to that checkout BEFORE the self-doubt creeps in and makes them second guess their purchase.

2. Guilt Trip Those Who Attempt To Leave

I don’t want to brag or anything but I am THE Queen of Abandoning Full Shopping Carts. I fill up my cart with everything I want to buy, I get excited…and then I roll that shopping cart (or “wagon”, as us Long Islanders call it) to the trash can and quickly run away. It’s your job to not let me do that. If someone is trying to leave your site with items left in their shopping cart, consider hitting them with a pop up or another notification asking them if they really, really want to make a thousand puppies cry by doing that. Sure, we all hate popups, but never underestimate your ability to use that hatred (combined with a mother-sized guilt trip) to your advantage.

3. Tell Them Where They Are

When I’m checking out, I want to know how long this is going to take. Tell me if I’m on Step 1 of 3 or if I’m on Step 3 of 7. This lets me feel like I’m moving along, that there’s an end in sight and that I won’t be stuck on your Web site forever. And if there’s a reason you’re NOT telling me this, like maybe you’re trying to hide your 20-step check out process, then that’s something you should fix. Because the Internet took a vote and it hates you.

4. Don’t Require an Account for Checkout

HEY YOU! Stop. Slowing down. The checkout process.

Just because you want people to create an account on your site so that you can better market to them does not mean you should throw this hurdle in their way while customers are trying to finish a purchase. Whether you realize it or a not, to a credit card-wheeling customers the “create an account” option screams THIS IS GOING TO TAKE FOREVER! And it makes them want to go away. I know this because I often leave sites that require me to register (I do the same for blogs that require the same to comment, BTW). Let people checkout as a guest. If they love you that much (and if you provide a compelling reason to do so), they’ll create an account later. This is the not where you want to annoy them.

5. Pre-Populate Fields with Known User Information

If I’m making a purchase while logged into your Web site (aHA! You got what you wanted!), then you already know certain information about me. You know my name, you know my email address, heck, you may even know my address. If this is the case, then why are you making me type that information in again when I go to checkout? The more stuff you make me do between “OMG, I WANT THAT” and “OMG, I GOT THAT!” the less likely it is I’m going to see that last step. Or that you’re going to get my money.

6. Only Collect Information Related To Purchase

Once I am in the checkout process, every question you ask or piece of information you collect should be 100 percent related to this purchase. Otherwise, you are distracting me from my goal and making it less likely that you will ever see my credit card information. Don’t be a dummy.

7. Be Aware Of My Internet-induced ADD

Similar to above – once I’m in the checkout process, buttons and links to do ANYTHING else on your site should be removed. Once I’m there, encourage me to stay there, to finish the process, and to be giddy about those over-priced shoes I just purchased. Because if I have the choice of giving you my credit card information OR checking out that cute dress you’re showing me a listing for, I’m probably going to go check out the dress. And then I might not come back.
Remember the goal of your page and then remove all elements that do not match that goal. Most people will do anything not to complete a purchase even if they want to complete it. Take away the distractions.

8. Keep. It. Simple.

Your checkout process needs to be kept as simple, as streamlined and as intuitive as possible. This isn’t a place where you want people to think. It’s where they are to act like robots and hand over their payment information without stopping to smell the roses. The simpler your process, the more likely this will be the case.

9. Perform Your Own Usability Testing

While following eCommerce best practices is a great way to get yourself 80 percent there, we’d always recommend performing your own usability testing to truly understand how customers are navigating through your site, where they’re getting caught up, and what roadblocks are stumping them that they may not even realize. At Outspoken Media, we’ve become fans of UserTesting.com to help us do this.

There. Do you see how easy that is?

Your Comments

  • Lannon

    Another awesome post, thanks Lisa. I agree, I couldn’t possibly count the amount of times I’ve left a site on a full shopping cart. If they had directed me to the chek-out point strategically before my self-doubt instilled they would’ve had my credit card details! Oh and the “Require an Account for Checkout” thing is irritating as hell! – Voted for you on small-business-influencer btw :) woohoo, breaking records!

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Lannon. I think the combo of a quick checkout + “are you done? can we subtly direct you over to the check out right nooow?” would really help increase conversions for many folks.

      And thanks for the vote! :)

  • Jerry McCarthy

    I hate leaving complimentary comments every time I come here (no groupie stuff intended) but this is so money. I agree. Especially with # 4 “Don’t Require an account for checkout”
    You want to keep them in the loop but not at the expense of annoying them. Logging in as a guest is the only way to fly for me but what about”selling the benefits of the mailing list better?” Give them an option but relate to the customer’s P.O.V. which is normally “I don’t want you emailing me every week.” Let them know this is a once a month deal or 4 times a year deal with information relative to promos or tips on product use.
    People don’t care about you, they care about what you can do for them (no harshness intended). Make the list clear about time frames in between future emails and for goodness sake, give them the option to sign is a guest and if they choose otherwise, get a programmer to write the software to automate the information later to categorize it for you. Don’t make them do them do it manually (bad business buddy). Thanks Lisa. :-)))

    • Lisa Barone

      See, I don’t even think you should be selling the mailing list once you have someone in the conversion funnel. Send them an email later where you thank them for their order, let them know how they can track, and then sell the mailing list there, listing the benefits, frequency, etc. But, IMO, that doesn’t belong in the conversion path. Once they’ve made a decision to buy all distractions should be removed. Otherwise, you’re just giving them reasons NOT to give you monies. ;)

      • netmeg

        Mostly I agree with you, but one of the office supply places (Office Max?) has a neat idea that I intend to test some day – there’s a field for promo code, and it has a little question mark next to and says “How do I get these?” and if you click on that, a little popup for you to add JUST your email address comes up. Takes about 7 seconds. I really like that idea, and as soon as I get can get it programmed into a cart somewhere, want to see how well it works.

        • Nick Gowdy

          I’ve seen that done before – and my only piece of advice would be to make sure you hand them a promo code immediately after they give you their email. Even make a special one exclusively for people who sign up for your newsletter, and tell them they’ll get it as a reward for them coughing up their email.

          If you don’t put a promo code in their hands right away, you’re running the risk that they’ll walk and wait for the next newsletter / promo code so they can be sure to get the best deal. And in that time, maybe they lose the impulse and excitement and decide they don’t really NEED what you’re offering. At least not right now.

          • rumblepup

            I’d add something to your remark there Nick. Unfortunately, you just can’t be throwing out discount and coupon codes willy nilly, because both willy and nilly will spread that puppy around to every coupon spot you can find. This is both a good thing (some sales) and a bad thing (heavily discounted sales) and as an online retailer, I simply cannot giveaway the shop in order to get sales. On those email popups or discount opportunities, I request a verifiable email that will immediately be sent a coupon code, and other goodies. It works eight out of ten times (I get a subscriber and a purchase) and the of the remaining two, one will just forget about the coupon code and buy the product, the other will put in a fake email, not get a coupon code, ditch, and come back two days later (Well, about 57% of them, I do A LOT of analytics) to finalize the purchase anyway.

            • Nick Gowdy

              I agree 100%.

              By “right away” I didn’t mean to imply directly on-page. Perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged for the reason you cited, to ship it to the email they’ve provided. As long as they get it right then and can use it on the purchase they’re in the process of making. If you email them a promo code right away, not only are you adding incentive to the current purchase, but you’re reinforcing the value of being a subscriber.

              You just don’t want to derail their impulse train in the name of getting newsletter sign-ups — and I’ve seen plenty of sites do just that. “Oh, hey – if you sign up for this newsletter we’ll send you special offers & promo codes each month. You won’t get one until the next issue goes out in a few weeks, but please, proceed with your full-price order anyway!” For some, the impulse might still win out – but it’s a risky venture to play it that way. Calls for testing.

              One last comment in that an email doesn’t necessarily have to be “fake” to be worthless. Anyone can sign up for a free email account through any number of providers, and only check it for purposes such as these. I do.

              Fortunately for me, I am in the B2B world. This affords me the ability to test tiers of emails based on perceived quality. The vast majority of my serious, repeat customers will provide a business email, while more flimsy customers will pitch me a free email account (gmail, etc.). I’ve seen tremendous gains by offering better promos to the former (and making this known at sign-up).

      • Jerry McCarthy

        Well said Lisa. Later on down the line is valid. Good point.

  • TrafficColeman

    One of the most important things is that they should not have to login to pay for anything..if so then this is not good.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • netmeg

    What people don’t realize is that even when they’re checking out as a guest, they’re essentially creating an account anyway. The only field they don’t fill in is the password – pretty much everything else is there. So if you’re a smart shopping cart designer (and most of them aren’t – dealing with shopping carts is a huge part of what I *do* in life) you let them check out as guest, and then at the very end, you say, “Hey, if you want to have this information on file for the next time you come back, just pop a password in this field, and we’ll keep it warm and safe for you.”

    Easy peasy.

    Single page checkouts are the bomb; but they have repercussions on how you configure your analytics, so make sure you know that going in. But I stamp my feet (both from a user standpoint and an ecommerce consultant standpoint) if it takes more than three pages to pay for everything and get out of Dodge.

    I want an estimate of shipping cost BEFORE I fill everything out. You should be able to do that with just my zip code (if you’re not doing flat rate or table shipping) If I get through filling out a bunch of forms only to find out it’s gonna cost me eleventy billion dollars to ship, I’m not only going to abandon your cart, I’m going to say vile things about your mother’s family tree on Twitter.

    And speaking of forms – yea I know it’s 2011, but put the flippin’ correct TAB INDEX on your fields. I am keyboard-centric – a lot of us are – and we go hopping from field to field via the TAB key. Nothing is more frustrating than to be filling out field #9, hit the TAB key and suddenly wind up on field #26. Or back to field #1.

    If there’s something wrong with the way I filled out your form, or I left something off or didn’t format it correctly, TELL ME WHAT IT IS. Make the error message noticeable. And understandable. I’ll correct it, but you gotta meet me half way.

    That’s for starters. I’ll be back with more.

    • Lisa Barone

      LOL. Amen on so much of that. Especially the ability to tab and having error messages that actually SAY what I need to fix. Because *I* did not make the mistake, you did. If your form was easier to understand, I probably wouldn’t have entered in the information wrong.

  • Mike Kalil

    I’d add: Have a “free shipping” option. Unless you’re selling anvils, standard shipping isn’t expensive and you’ll probably sell a lot more by offering it.

  • Shaun Maharaj

    Great article, and I couldn’t agree more with number 4. Why not offer some type of incentive on the thank you page or simply ask users to enter a password at the very end of the process (after the order has been placed of course) to create an account, since you more than likely already have their email address and name at that point.

  • Anna

    Have you used GoDaddy recently?

    I’ve never seen a company try to upsell SO MANY products at purchase point.


    Instead of looking at the offers – which may be great – I scroll waaaaaaay to the bottom of the page and say, No Thanks.

    It shouldnt be like this.

    • Bharat Patel

      Anna i back you from bottom of my heart. Godaddy has so many upsells i don’t even bother to read anything after adding anything to cart. Its so much of crap things on the checkout page. I guess there would be at least 3 upsells into godaddy which is really not good for customers.
      And for people who has such kind of checkout process believe me you must be losing at least 50% of your conversions.
      @lisa Don’t you agree that there should be something like 1step checkout process so that there are no hassles for the visitors to buy as well as higher conversions for ecommerce retailers.

      • Lisa Barone

        +1 on the GoDaddy customers.

        I think there should be a 1 step checkout process for customers and sites that it makes sense to do that. For example, I probably spend twice the amount of money I would otherwise at Amazon just because it’s SO EASY to check out. However, not all customers are going to like that and it may scare them. In a perfect world, there’d be a way to integrate both so you’re hitting everyone.

  • Stuart McMartin

    Useful article and excellent comments. I’ve been using Foxycart which I think meets many of the suggestions above. But one thing it does by default is take the customer straight to the cart from the Add to Cart button. The Checkout button is immediately visible (check Step1 above) BUT other eCommerce tips suggest showing the Cart right away is not so good as there is a possibility that they won’t buy any more stuff.
    Could that be like a Suit salesman selling the suit quickly before selling the shirt and tie (where the profits may be)?

    • rumblepup

      Stuart, a lot of enterprise level shopping carts will send the customer straight to the shopping cart, this is easy peasy and really not that unique to your favorite cart. After a few years of doing this e-commerce thing, I’ve found that you increase conversions by a few percentage points when you send them straight to the cart, and a back button or “continue shopping” button isn’t on anybody’s “Ahhh f@#* this!” List.

  • Adam

    Some good tips here! I run my own affiliate blog so I don’t have to worry about any of this thankfully, Amazon does the rest once I get my visitors there.

  • Jason Stuart

    Lisa, I’d like to nominate you to be in charge of e-commerce for the Internet. To whom do I speak about that?

  • Rosa Luciano

    i have abandoned a many of shopping carts because of #7! ADD kicks in and I start to second guess my purchase… ‘hmmm let me check out Macy’s website to see if they have these shoes cheaper…’

  • Henry Louis

    Thanks for sharing these ideas, Lisa but are they really going to work out?

  • Sandra Rand

    Two thoughts:

    1. Forcing me to create an account also screams “I’m going to send you a daily promotion that has nothing to do with the products you seek.” (I’m looking at you, Old Navy.) Even if it doesn’t mean that, that’s what I assume will happen. I’m a nice marketer who chooses to unsubscribe to those people vs. click the SPAM button at the top of my email. Not all recipients are that nice.

    2. French Connection does a great job of sending me an email after I’ve left something in my cart (I, too, am a shopping cart abandoner) to remind me there’s something in there AND to hook me up with 15% off as incentive to complete the transaction. The first time that happened, I was so excited that I started abandoning EVERY shopping cart on EVERY retailer’s site, hoping I’d get a little something in my email within the next day. Lesson learned: 99% of retailers I shop at don’t do that.

    • Nick Gowdy

      And French Connection is banking on there being less of you and more one-offs who get back on the horse with that original purchase and don’t make a habit of abandoning carts. The same way that “manufacturer’s” and grocery stores play the numbers with not everyone being an extreme coupon-er.

      But if more people get wise, the game could change.

  • John Green

    The fourth point is the thing that every business professionals should consider while designing any site.Its very much irritating to put your name and other similar stuffs inorder to register and then confirm email.Surely considering this point will benefit everyone in getting higher conversion

  • James John

    Thanks Lisa for amazing write up. Provide the option to buy the product without signing up, i.e. guest buyer, they don’t have to signup just they select the product and directly take them to the payment page where they have to feel their payment details and shipping address which can save their time.

    Post discount codes on popular discount code sites which can be helpful in traffic generation.

    Build the trust by adding authorized logo on the bottom of the payment page which can help in building a trust with the buyer.

  • Larry

    I would appreciate comments on shopping cart abandonment re-marketing being offered by services like SeeWhy, Listrak and Barilliance. I.E. If you provide your email address on the shopping cart and abandon, you get 1-3 emails, the first asks if there was a problem.

  • panchgani

    I know this sounds obvious but you’d be surprised at how well hidden some sites’ call to actions are. Make sure yours is clear and that the language you use on the button clearly describes what you want the shopper to do. Button text like “Buy Now” or “Add to Basket” is used worldwide for the simple reason: it works!