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Fundamental Guidelines Of E-Commerce Checkout Design

Here is the harsh reality of e-commerce websites: according to recent e-commerce studies, at least 59.8% of potential customers abandon their shopping cart (MarketingSherpa puts it at 59.8%, SeeWhy at 83% and MarketLive at 62.14%). The main question is why do customers abandon their shopping cart so often? Is there some fundamental mistake that designers of e-commerce websites do very often? Are there any common guidelines or rules of thumbs that make it more difficult for our users to purchase products? And is there some meaningful way to improve the conversion rates for our products?

Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to find out. In 2010, we recruited a batch of Web users and conducted a usability study, focusing only on the checkout user experience, from “Cart” to “Completed order.” The study was conducted using the “think aloud” protocol and was documented by recording everything that happened on the computer screen. The behavior of the test subjects was then analyzed by scrutinizing these recordings at a later date.

The study has shown that it is often difficult to lead customers to the final step in the checkout process when the only thing left is to submit their credit card details.

The 15 e-commerce websites that we tested were: 1-800-Flowers, AllPosters, American Apparel, Amnesty, Apple, HobbyTron, Levi’s, Newegg, Nordstrom, Oakley,, PetSmart, Thomann, Walmart and Zappos.

In total, the test subjects were given more than 500 usability issues, ranging from being distracted by animated graphics to being thrown off course by an illogical checkout flow. These issues were then analyzed and distilled into 63 checkout usability guidelines in a report titled “E-Commerce Checkout Usability.” In this article, we’ll share 11 fundamental guidelines from that report with you.

1. Your Checkout Process Should Be Completely Linear Link

Issue: Having steps within steps confuses and intimidates customers as it breaks with their mental model of a linear checkout.

One of the worst usability violations that we discovered in our testing was non-linear checkout processes. Websites with a non-linear checkout process left several of our test subjects confused and intimidated. At the time of testing, both Walmart and Zappos had a non-linear checkout process.

The typical way to “accidentally” end up with a non-linear checkout process is to create steps within steps. This happens, for example, when the customer has to set a “Preferred shipping address” (Walmart’s violation) or “Create an account” (Zappos’ violation) on a separate page, and is then redirected to a previous checkout step upon completion.

Below, you can see Walmart’s checkout flow in thumbnails (click image for larger view). Notice that it’s non-linear because the “Preferred shipping address” sub-step directs the user to a previous step:

Walmart’s non-linear process1
Walmart’s non-linear process. Large view2.

Luckily, making the process completely linear is easy. In this case, a sub-step such as “Account creation” should never redirect to a previous step in the checkout process, but instead direct the customer to the next step in the checkout process.

This is critical because the mental model of most customers dictates that a checkout process should be linear. Upon seeing the same page twice, most customers would conclude that the website has an error, because this is what happens with validation errors.

As one test subject said, “This looks suspiciously like the page I was on before. Is there something I didn’t do correctly?”

2. Add Descriptions To Form Field Labels Link

Issue: Without descriptions, many form field labels can be ambiguous.

“What does this “Address line 2” mean?” a test subject mumbled. Other test subjects were confused by “Billing address.”

The vast majority of test subjects had problems understanding certain labels. They varied in which labels they had trouble with. The problem was critical in a few cases, and one subject gave up a purchase because she couldn’t understand the label for a required field, making it impossible for her to complete the checkout process. Therefore, always provide clear instructions for each field.

One form that caused confusion belongs to HobbyTron, where test subjects had to guess what “First” refers to:

HobbyTron lack label descriptions

On Apple’s website, the majority of test subjects started typing their zip code in the field labeled “Area code”:

Apple lack label descriptions

When you have form field labels without any explanation, some of your customers will likely be confused about what information is being asked of them. Alleviate this by adding short descriptions and examples next to labels. Because not all customers need the extra help, you may want to hide these instructions behind a “What’s this?” link, or perhaps slightly fade its color or reduce the font size.

Below are examples of how descriptions below form field labels can help customers understands what inputs are required of them:

Form fields with correct labels

Even unambiguous fields, such as “Email address,” are great opportunities to explain what you’ll use the data for. “Email address” may be a sufficient description, but most people would want to know how you’ll use their email address. Why do you need it?

Finally, for fields that users have to fill in by referring to a paper or card, illustrations can enhance the descriptions a lot (for example, an image of an expiration date from a credit card).

3. Avoid Contextual Words Like “Continue” Link

Issue: Contextual words such as “Continue” are ambiguous and tend to confuse customers.

Depending on the customer’s state of mind, a button labelled “Continue” in a shopping cart could mean one of two things:

  1. Continue shopping
    Say, if the customer is also looking for a shirt to go with those jeans.
  2. Continue to checkout
    If the customer has all the products they need and just wants to pay.

Another example is “Back.” Back to the last page? Back to the search results? Where? And how about “Proceed”? These are all contextual words that change in meaning depending on the context (i.e. the page) and the customer’s state of mind.

HobbyTron was one of the websites on which multiple test subjects clicked on the “Continue” button thinking they would continue to the checkout section:

Hobbytron Continue button3
Hobbytron’s Continue button. Large view4.

After clicking a wrong button, one test subject said:

It was confusing because I thought, “I want to continue.” I didn’t think about continuing shopping, but rather I was continuing to checkout.

This is a good example of how contextual words, being open to interpretation, can confuse customers. Roughly half of the test subjects at least once clicked a wrong button because of contextual words.

Instead, use words that aren’t open to interpretation, such as “Check out now” and “Shop more.”

4. Visually Reinforce All Sensitive Fields On The Payment Page Link

Issue: Customers might hesitate if credit card fields don’t appear secure (regardless of actual security).

Many test subjects didn’t think about security until they had to enter their credit card details. In fact, several test subjects talked about certain parts of the checkout page in terms of being “secure” and “insecure” (typically related to credit card details).

Parts of the page with security icons, badges or text and a general “robustness” were perceived as being more secure, while parts without these visual cues inspired less confidence, despite the fact that these fields were all part of the same form on the same page. Technically, there was no difference in security. However, most customers don’t understand the technical workings of forms. All they know about your website is what their gut feeling tells them.

There is a clear divergence between the customer’s mental model of form-field security and the actual security.

As one test subject who had just abandoned their purchase said, “It didn’t look safe enough.” Her reaction wasn’t based on the technical security of the website, but rather on the perceived security of the fields.

Below is a quick mock-up I made to illustrate how you can visually secure your credit card form fields (version B). Notice the background color, padlock image and placement of the GeoTrust seal:

Mockup of visual reinforcement5
Mock-up of a visual reinforcement. Large view6.

By adding visual cues (such as borders, background color, and security icons and badges) around the form fields for credit cards, you can increase their perceived security for non-technical customers.

5. Don’t Use An “Apply” Button In Your Form Link

Issue: Customers don’t understand “Apply” buttons for distinct sections of a form.

More than half of test subjects were confused by websites with an “Apply” button somewhere in the form; for example, to apply a shipping method to an order.

In almost every case, these buttons were either:

  1. Not clicked, even if the relevant input field was filled out;
  2. Mistaken for the main form submission button.

Test subjects simply didn’t understand the purpose of having a separate “Apply” button in a form.

Below is Newegg’s checkout, where only half of test subjects who filled in their zip code also clicked the “Go” button (problem 1 from above):

NewEgg Apply button7
NewEgg’s Apply button. Large view8.

The consequence of mistaking “Apply” for the main form submission button is that customers will be redirected back to the same page in order to apply the change, thwarting their expectation of moving to the next step and likely leading them to think that there’s an error on the page (as we saw in guideline #1). This happened to two test subjects, who were left to guess what the error was because no error message was displayed (since a technical error never actually occurred on the page).

Below is a form for American Apparel, where test subjects mistook the “Apply” button for the main form submission button (problem 2) and consequently couldn’t proceed with the purchase.

American Apparel Apply button9
American Apparel’s Apply button. Large view10.

If you really need to update a value before moving on to the next step, then auto-update the value using AJAX or the like, without showing an “Apply” button.

6. Format Field For Expiration Date Exactly As It Appears On Credit Card Link

Issue: Fields for credit card expiration dates can be tricky to decipher if they aren’t written exactly as they are on the credit card.

Some websites use month names, while other websites use a combination of month names and numbers, while still others just use numbers. Which is best? The correct way to format a field for an expiration date is to match what the customer sees on their credit card (i.e. numbers only). This minimizes confusion and misreading because the user can easily verify the field against their credit card.

Below are four examples of how not to format the fields for expiration date. Example D, with the month written as text and the year in four digits, is the worst.

4 examples of credit card expiration date fields11

The correct way to format the month field is to use numbers and to prefix all single-digit numbers (i.e. 1 to 9) with a 0, so that they appear exactly as they do on credit cards (for example, 03 for March).

The correct way to format the year field is to use just two digits, to match the number on the credit card (for example, 14 for 2014).

Our test subjects didn’t have any difficulties when month names were included, as long as they came after the digits. So, “03 – March” is okay, but “March – 03” is not. Whatever is on the credit card should appear at the beginning of each option.

You could put a forward slash (/) between the month and year fields to further match credit cards (so, 03 / 14 for March 2014).

7. Use Only One Column For Form Fields Link

Issue: Customers have an amazingly difficult time understanding the relationships between form fields in two columns.

Half of the test subjects had problems when form fields were in two columns. There were two typical scenarios:

  1. One of the two columns of form fields was missed. It was either dismissed as unrelated or simply overlooked by test subjects.
  2. Unrelated form fields were filled in and/or submitted, often causing validation errors.

Below is Perfume’s form for signing into and creating an account: shipping form12’s shipping form. Large view13.

This form was interpreted in three ways:

  1. All form fields should be completed in order to create an account.
  2. The “Email address” field and the fields in the right column should be completed to use “Guest checkout.”
  3. Either the left or right column should be filled out.

Another example is PetSmart. There, the most common behavior was to overlook the second column, with the “Credit card identification number,” resulting in an error message: payment form14’s payment form. Large view15.

On two occasions, test subjects abandoned their purchase because they kept submitting the wrong data in the wrong column.

Our suggestion is to use a single column. None of our test subjects showed any difficulty with this.

8. Use Shipping Address As Billing Address By Default Link

Issue: Most customers order products to their home, so requiring both a billing and shipping address doesn’t make sense.

Customers typically order products to their home address. So, by default, you should use the same address for shipping and billing, unless you happen to record data differently for your store.

By defaulting the billing address to the shipping address, your checkout process will have many fewer fields, making it less intimidating for customers. Users also reduce the risk of misspelling their address if they have to enter it only once; they won’t rush through the form as quickly, and if there are errors, the customer will have to fix them only once.

NewEgg’s checkout16
NewEgg’s checkout. Large view17.

Moreover, you should hide the billing address fields entirely. Disabling the fields isn’t good enough. On the one website that did this, most test subjects were confused by why the fields were grayed out, with some users clicking on them. Instead, show only the fields for the billing address, unless the customer explicitly asks to use separate shipping and billing addresses.

Some websites have a “Copy shipping address” button. The problem with this is that it also copies any errors, so the customer has to correct the same information twice. While the customer could just click the “Copy shipping address” button once they’ve corrected the error, all of the test subjects in this situation forgot to do so.

Apple’s copy shipping address feature18
Apple’s copy shipping address feature. Large view19.

Also, depending on the website’s layout, such a feature could be easily overlooked. On Apple’s website, half of test subjects overlooked the “Copy shipping address” link and ended up typing in the same address again.

A check box (or something similar) is better for this purpose because errors will have to be corrected only once. Amnesty International’s checkout page is a good example of how to do this right:

Amnesty International’s checkout20
Amnesty International’s checkout. Large view21.

9. Use Clear Error Indications Link

Issue: Customers overlook error messages, making them less likely to resolve the errors.

More than half our test subjects had serious problems finding or understanding error messages on the websites we tested.

When a customer has problems with a form, the likelihood that they abandon the purchase increases significantly. When a customer fails more than once, they will be inclined to leave the website altogether (whether because they assume they were blocked or the website has a bug or something else).

Below are four examples of a lack of a clear indication of error.

On American Apparel’s website, the yellow bar at the top is actually an error message, saying that the data in the phone field at the bottom isn’t valid:

AmericanApparel error message

On Walmart’s website, the two red arrows (next to “Ship to home” and “Site-to-store”) are actually error indicators:

Walmart error message

On PetSmart’s website, the red of “State/Province” is not an error indicator, but rather just the style chosen for this particular label:

PetSmart error message

On’s website, the red does indicate an error in the “Phone” field:

Perfume error message

Unless placed in close proximity to the relevant fields, error messages were likely to be overlooked by our test subjects. Many websites present error messages only at the top of the page, not next to the form fields.

Without this proximity, error messages can be difficult to understand. Some test subjects, seeing nothing wrong with the fields, tried to submit the form again, assuming the page didn’t load properly the first time. This, of course, resulted in the same page being shown again with the same error message.

If a customer doesn’t notice or understand your error message, they will not be able to resolve the error or proceed through the checkout process. In such cases, abandonment is inevitable. So, put time and effort into designing and wording your error messages.

Make sure your error messages:

  • Are contextualized (that is, not at the top of the page but in close proximity to the relevant fields);
  • Are clear and concise;
  • Stand out so people notice them (provide high contrast and maybe even use arrows or other visual indicators).

10. Registration Should Be Optional Link

Issue: Customers strongly resent having to sign up for an account.

Customers dislike having to register for yet another account. This quickly became evident during our testing as every single subject showed great frustration when forced to do it. 30% of them ended up abandoning one of their purchases as a result.

There are many reasons for this resentment.

For one, customers already have a myriad of user names and passwords to remember and don’t want to create an entirely new account just to buy one or two products from an online store.

Registration required

Another reason is that 40% of test subjects expected to be spammed with marketing material, even if they explicitly declined to sign up for a newsletter during the checkout process. These customers have a mental model in which Account = Newsletter. Or, as one subject described it: “If I create an account, they can send me spam from now on and forever.” Their prior experience on websites that check the newsletter box by default and obscure it likely led them to this conclusion.

Also, customers likely realize that you’re storing their information indefinitely. While most companies keep a customer’s information in their database regardless of whether they registered an account, most customers don’t think of this. It’s about perception, and some customers just don’t like the idea of a website storing their personal information.

Signing up for an account also takes time. It adds more steps and fields to the process—and complexity. Yet another reason to dislike it.

Finally, many customers just don’t understand why they need an account to buy a product. As one subject clearly put it, “I don’t need to sign up for anything when I’m buying a perfume in a regular [brick and mortar] store.”

Most test subjects didn’t mind having the option to create an account, but they found it illogical and annoying to be required to do so. Some said they would voluntarily create an account if they regularly bought from the website.

If you’re looking for an unobtrusive way to get customers to sign up for an account, then consider simply asking them after they have completed their purchase. “Would you like an account? Just enter a password in the field below.” You can set their email address as their user name and fill in the account information with their order details. This way, the customer isn’t forced to create an account but has an easy way to do so after completing their purchase. (Remember to explain the benefits of having an account.)

11. Don’t Require Seemingly Unnecessary Information Link

Issue: Customers feel that their privacy is being invaded when they are required to submit seemingly unnecessary personal information.

Refusing to give up their phone number, one test subject anxiously clamored, “Look, why do they need my phone number? What do they need that for? They don’t need it!” Every test subject at one point or another complained about a website that asked for too much personal information.

Being asked for a phone number when the website already had an email address was especially irritating when subjects were trying to make a purchase. The logic goes, if the store already has one way to contact them, why does it need another?

Apple’s checkout process
Apple’s checkout process.

If the information is necessary, at least explain why. What is obvious to you may not be obvious to the customer. They have learned to expect the worst when shopping online (usually spam email and phone calls).

Our test subjects were surprisingly forgiving, as long as the website explained why the information was needed. Here’s a tip: don’t hide it behind a link; state it directly in the field’s description. In fact, the test subject we quoted above provided their phone number to another website without any complaints because the store clearly explained that the phone number was needed so that it could contact the customer in case of delivery problems.

The more expensive the order, the more accommodating the customer will be. When buying a laptop, customers want you to be able to contact them. But this holds true only if you require the information in order to complete the purchase. On websites where the field was optional, our subjects weren’t comfortable giving their phone number and simply left the field blank. However, this means that required and optional fields must be clearly distinguished.

Designing A Better Checkout Experience Link

While there are many more subtleties to designing a good checkout experience, these 11 guidelines go a long way. If you adhere to them, your checkout process will perform well above average.

In a study that he conducted 10 years ago, usability guru Jakob Nielsen concluded that large e-commerce websites violated many basic checkout usability guidelines. It seems little has changed when you look at websites like AllPosters and Walmart.

While a lot of the big websites boast impressive features such as geo-targeting, address validation and state look-up, they don’t manage to get basic usability principles right, and they suffer greatly as a consequence.

With the latest improvements in Web technology and browsers, the potential to create an amazing user experience has increased dramatically. Yet, advanced features shouldn’t be the focus until basic usability guidelines are met. If we add the latest technology just because it’s new and exciting, then today’s abandonment rate of 59.8% is unlikely to decrease.

Things like meaningful flow (see guideline 1), good copywriting (2, 3), simple form design (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), and privacy considerations (10 and 11) go a long way to creating a great checkout experience.

Do yourself and your customers a favor by following these 11 guidelines. Once you’ve covered the basics, you can venture into more advanced territory.

You can find further checkout usability guidelines in our report titled E-Commerce Checkout Usability22 (not free).

Further Resources Link

You may be interested in the following related resources:


Footnotes Link

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Christian Holst is the co-founder of Baymard Institute where he writes bi-weekly articles with their research findings on web usability and e-commerce optimization. He's also the author of the E-Commerce Checkout Usability and Mobile E-Commerce Usability research reports.

  1. 1


    April 6, 2011 3:43 am

    These are great design guidelines. I happen to abandon most of my shopping carts though, I often use it as a temporary wish list and intend to come back to it later. I’m sure others like me skew the statistics.

    • 2

      Christian Holst

      April 7, 2011 3:56 am

      Thanks. I sometimes do that too.

      If you want a truly meaningful shopping cart abandonment statistic for your own store, you’d probably want to leave out the “Cart” page so you only count people who actually start to engage with the checkout process.

    • 3

      I also use the Cart to figure out what shipping is going to be. I usually wait to see what shipping is going to be before I order (especially for items under $25); if it’s too much, I don’t place the order.

      I’m always very annoyed by online stores that don’t show your final cost w/shipping until the Order Confirmation page — making you enter your entire address and all of your payment information just to get a shipping estimate. Why can’t all sites let you estimate shipping costs at the beginning by entering your postal code?

      • 4

        FedEx rates are based on more than zipcode. A single zipcode can cover a very large area that encompasses everything from commercial zones in mid city to rural areas. FedEx has several surcharges including fuel, residential, extended residential, and out of area. Without a complete address, shipping rates can be way off.

  2. 5

    FYI the 4th image in the article has a spelling/grammatical mistake! (The the digits)

    • 6

      “FYI the 4th image in the article has a spelling/grammatical mistake! (The the digits)”.

      Is that all you have to do. I suggest you get a life.

      • 7

        Paul you idiot, he’s just pointing out things that you dont want to be doing when designing a checkout.

        Get a life and stop hating on people who are giving suitable suggestions. Bearpig was not hating on the author.

  3. 8

    I would add:
    Do not require your customers to enter a state, if they live in a country that doesn’t have states. It’s impossible for people to guess what they can add slip past the validation and still have their order show up.

    I have had packages with shipping address like:
    Street XYZ
    Not Available / Denmark Doesn’t have states / –

    State should not be require or at least only for countries where it makes sense.

    • 9

      I agree with that! But why do they even need the state when they have the postal code, which will give them the state if done correctly. That way it is clear for all countries.

      • 10

        Maybe for security reasons. They can use it as a check against the credit card information entered.

        • 11

          “Maybe for security reasons.”

          Doubtful. Very often even the expiration date is not used. Try it. Enter any future date for your expiration date on your next purchase. I bet it goes through.

    • 12

      Christian Holst

      April 6, 2011 10:18 am

      Absolutely correct. In fact you can put it a bit more general; never show options that aren’t relevant to the current customers context.
      E.g. a ‘state’ field when a non-state country is already selected, or ‘start date’ credit card fields when a VISA card number is provided (‘start date’ is primarily used on Maestro and Solo cards).

    • 13

      Denmark, much like England, has “counties” (15 in fact) which you would expect users to enter in place of “state”. Canada, and other countries, have provinces, which you would also expect users to enter in place of “state”. I usually label that field “state or province”. I may start labeling it “state, province, or county” to try to clarify it further.

      I can’t think of many countries that don’t have states, provinces, or counties and that information is necessary for credit card authorization so it is required.

      A trick I use when building ecommerce sites is to geotarget the visitor and automatically select the country they are visiting from. Then you can prepopulate the state dropdown with the states, provinces or counties available to them. There’s a small chance this might not be correct, if they are using a proxy or if they are out of the country they would like to bill or deliver to, but in those cases they can choose a different country from the dropdown and the states list will update itself.

      • 14

        I live in London, which is not in a county (I don’t live on the outskirts), and so I usually forced to enter London for the county as well because they tend to make it a required field.

      • 15

        Stomme poes

        April 9, 2011 2:00 pm

        Just because a country has subdivisions doesn’t mean those who aren’t geography majors know them. Or would ever consider them useful, necessary or meaningful on a postal address. Example: where I live, I am in a province, Zuid-Holland. However, postal addresses over here never use those. If I must add it to my billing address on an order, I know it means it’ll be slower getting to me because it’ll be an excuse for my postal system to get confused by it (since we do not use provinces in mail).

        If you don’t need it, don’t ask for it. Americans are used to filling in their states, so it’s not a big deal. Asking me to fill in my province is a “Huh, what? Why?” moment for me.

        The geotargeting thing is a good idea, IF I’m not ordering from a hotel in another country while at a conference, or visiting relatives somewhere. Though a “clear all this” option fixes this.

      • 16

        Does it make sense to ask for province/state/county when I already filled in the ZIP code and city? Shouldn’t you know what province/state/county a given ZIP code belongs to? Just asking, I honestly don’t know.

        • 17

          Not all countries have states or other subdivisions. My country, Hungary, has counties, but I’m not evil enough to force American eBay sellers to scribble my long, multiple-hyphenated, diacritic-heavy Hungarian county name on parcels, especially that it’s completely unnecessary as we have post codes that identify the cities, and city names are unique anyway.
          (This led to some funny addressed parcels; eBay used to automatically fill “default” in textboxes that were left empty, and my stuff was always addressed to “Miskolc, Default, Hungary”…)

      • 18

        Just wanted to note that you have to be careful with the term “county”. In the US each state is broken into “counties” which are collections of towns. We don’t use counties in mailing addresses, though.

        A better option might be to have them select the country first, then display the appropriate fields for the selected country.

      • 19

        New Zealand doesn’t.

        You may be surprised at the number of small countries that don’t, NZ still had 4million people so imagine there are plenty more than don’t use state/province or county in billing and shipping.

      • 20

        Frederik Krautwald

        March 14, 2012 7:39 pm

        You should not expect your users to enter anything meaningful in meaningless labelled fields such as ‘state’, when it is not applicable to them. FYI, counties are not used in postal addresses in Denmark. The same is true for most other European countries, where the postal code directly translates to a certain location.

        It is also false that states, provinces, counties, etc. are needed for credit card verification. Credit cards, per default, only holds the credit card holder’s name, a credit card number (a special case of ISO/IEC 7812 bank card numbers), a three or four digit card security code, and an expiration date as a two digit month and a two digit year.

  4. 21

    Scott Brown

    April 6, 2011 3:48 am

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read on here in a long time. Salient points with great explanations and examples.


  5. 23

    A great article
    It covered just about all my frustrations with online buying

  6. 24

    A comprehensive article with important guidelines. Thank you!

  7. 25

    Just this morning we realised our checkout page could be performing better and decided to take a look to see what we could do to reduce customers abandoning at this stage, so this is PERFECT timing for me!

  8. 27


    April 6, 2011 4:46 am

    Excellent advice (I’ve never commented here before). While we’re on the topic, why is it comment boxes always ask me to supply an email address. It can’t be to avoid spam, as any fake email will do.

    • 28

      Vitaly Friedman

      April 6, 2011 5:19 am

      We are using emails to load gravatar images on the left side, to make the comments a bit more personal. This is actually the only reason why we require email information.

    • 29

      Johnathan Williamson

      April 6, 2011 5:21 am

      Most are to link in to services like Gravatar … which is why you see an image next to some peoples names.

    • 30

      Elizabeth Kaylene

      April 6, 2011 10:01 am

      You can also subscribe to comment replies.

      I think initially, before Gravatar and comment subscriptions, email fields were required because of spam. If you really think about it, though, it doesn’t make much sense, because you’re right — anyone could throw in a fake email address.

      • 31

        Unless you needed to confirm your email address before the comment was approved. Who knows?

      • 32

        Email could be used as a confirmation (we will email you a confirmation link, bla bla), if you are trying to build a high quality content resource. If people are passionate about what you do, they will take time to complete the process.

  9. 33

    One problem I find with drop down menus for expiration dates. Users sometimes move their mouse scroll wheel. I find that 50% of credit card mistakes is due to wrong exp date.

    During checkout, is it best to not display any elements from the rest of the site, like menu, footer, etc? They say, the less distractions, the less chance someone will click out of the checkout process.

    • 34

      Christian Holst

      April 7, 2011 4:12 am

      I’ve seen the scroll-incident before, although we didn’t stumble upon this particular hiccup during our study so we didn’t include it – b that obviously doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

      In general it is best to remove clutter from the checkout so potential customers don’t get distracted by a graphic in the sidebar. However, removing too many standard elements can also make people feel they left the original site, which can be a problem if you’re not a well-known brand (Amazon can remove everything from their checkout except for their logo since people inherently trust the brand).

  10. 35

    Ned Batchelder

    April 6, 2011 5:36 am

    You go into great detail about letting the user see dates as they appear on the credit card, but skip the issue that has always bothered me about credit cards online: forms that insist on no punctuation or spaces in the credit card number! Why on earth can’t I include spaces in the number, if the card is printed with spaces in the number? Is your shopping cart code so fragile that it doesn’t know how to remove spaces?

    • 36

      Andy Farrell

      April 6, 2011 6:41 am

      Indeed, especially since the JavaScript (or Ruby or Python or whatever) required to strip non-numeric characters is so trivial.

    • 37

      Christian Holst

      April 6, 2011 10:47 am

      Thanks for adding this. In general one should accept all common formatting (and abbreviations) for all form submitted data and then reformat it back-end. At the time of testing allowed spaces in the credit card number – in fact they add spaces themselves while the user is typing without spaces.

  11. 38

    A really interesting article, once again. Thanks !

  12. 39

    Great information. I abandon many shopping carts because I have to give out so much information, sometimes a credit card number, just to find out what shipping is. Not worth giving out the information when there’s so many other places to buy from.

    • 40

      I often find myself going through an entire cart process just to find out the shipping costs, intending to find comparative costs.
      I too usually end up abandoning many and ultimately going with one that made this process a lot easier and was more considerate in giving out this information.

    • 41

      Christian Holst

      April 6, 2011 10:55 am

      Yes, in during our usability testing we found this to be true as well (guideline #50).
      The shipping cost and tax should be provided as early as possible. An alternative option is to provide an estimated lowest shipping charge (clearly marked as “estimated”) already at the cart step – this saves the customer the hassle to typing everything just to get an idea of total cost of the order. Ideally the two can be combined.

  13. 42

    Well done, very informative. Looks like I need to update my infographic of said subject.

  14. 43

    superb article, you really explained well what elements to use & why to use them

  15. 44

    Andy Phillips

    April 6, 2011 7:07 am

    Great post!

  16. 45

    Fazal Majid

    April 6, 2011 7:07 am

    One more: don’t use a country list sorted alphabetically. I’m pretty sure most e-commerce sites have more customers in the US than in Afghanistan.

    Better yet, use IP geolocation to set the country defaults. There are many free country-level IP geoloc databases available, and at that resolution they are well over 90% accurate.

    • 46

      Christian Holst

      April 6, 2011 11:02 am

      Good one. In fact when writing the report we got an idea for a new way to have the user provide their country – we are currently coding the last bits – so in the future you might see a “re-inventing the country selector” post here on SmashingMagazine (if the editors is interested?) or at the very least at the Baymard blog.

      But yes, otherwise use some of the dirt cheap or free IP lookups that are very precise when you only need to know the country, to pre-select the country drop-down. At the very least the the 5 most popular shipping countries should be copied to the top of the list as well.

      • 47

        Using autocomplete (like Google’s autocomplete in their search field) might eliminates the usage of dropdown for country/state/county etc.

        This way, developer can add in new country/state/county if it is not in their database already and User (especially user) dont need to click-scroll-hunt for their country anymore.

        The only bad side of this method is when user dont have keyboard to type. But hey, that’s most probably 0.1% chances ;) hehe.

    • 48

      I really doubt about presetting country for customers and the use of IP geolocation. Well, I admitted that such method may provide some convenience, but on the other hand they also make the “country” label easier to be overlooked. If we leave this label blank and let customers make the selection actively, the possibility of entering wrong country will be lower than that of results estimated by IP geolocation. And the cost of handling an after-sale service problem caused by wrong address exceeds the cost of one more selection.

    • 49

      Yes! This drives me up the wall. I can’t believe I have to scroll through Afghanistan and all of the countries beyond when obviously I’m in the US and the site is primarily geared towards the US. It blows my mind that someone wouldn’t have thought of this – in so many cases.

  17. 50

    Great guidelines, thanks for sharing. I’m so tempted to buy the full article now!

  18. 51

    Rob Mangiafico

    April 6, 2011 7:31 am

    Love this one! Some great tips for streamlining the checkout process. Linear is key, as is eliminating the superfluous questions.

    The “continue shopping” tip is one I never thought of, and is used a lot. Will take that one to heart.

  19. 52

    You guys should have used the checkout system, I was impressed with their UX/UI and simplicity. Very simple to use, understand, and modern.

    Great article guys, always a thrill to read and learn from.

  20. 53

    Chilliwack Website Design

    April 6, 2011 7:43 am

    Wow, great article. Very easy to understand and a pleasure to read. This should be considered the go-to manual for anyone creating an e-commerce checkout page. I learned a ton by reading this article and brushed up on a few of the basics. You couldn’t have done a better job teaching this stuff!


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