Checkout features that turn online shoppers into online buyers

Allison Zeller

For more than a decade, The State of Retailing Online — NRF’s annual study conducted by Forrester Research — has been the industry’s go-to source for key e-commerce metrics, providing benchmarks for everything from business objectives and mobile to marketing and merchandising.

The most recent survey of digital retailers included questions about the online and mobile checkout features that make the biggest impact on conversion and sales. To get additional insights and tips for retailers that want to improve the checkout experience, we asked Forrester Principal Analyst Brendan Miller a few questions about the data that wasn’t included in the SORO report released last month

Check out additional e-commerce benchmarks in The State of Retailing Online 2017. 

Check out additional e-commerce benchmarks in The State of Retailing Online 2017

What should retailers start doing to make it easier for shoppers to complete their transactions online?

There is tremendous opportunity to reduce the burden on customers as they move through the checkout flow. To compete, retailers need to offer simplified checkout experiences. Only ask for one address unless the user chooses separate billing and shipping addresses. Ask for the ZIP code first and auto-fill the city, state and country. Use Chrome and Safari’s autofill APIs and integrate Google Maps or similar APIs to suggest a completed address as the user types it in. Additionally, retailers should be clear about the total cost of the purchase upfront — including tax and shipping — before the final billing page to avoid any surprises as the customer nears the end of their cart experience.

How are retailers investing their resources in 2017 to optimize online checkout?  

One of the biggest areas of investment for retailers right now is the integration of digital wallets. We see great potential in Apple Pay for the web, PayPal One Touch and similar tools to create that simple checkout experience. Additionally, Amazon’s patent on one-click buying runs out in 2017, opening the door for competing providers and retailers to mimic the frictionless experience.

General Checkout

The State of Retailing Online 2017, by NRF and Forrester Research

Mobile Checkout

The State of Retailing Online 2017, by NRF and Forrester Research

Mobile conversion rates are generally low and direct sales are still small. What are the biggest opportunities for retailers to drive mobile sales? 

In the next few years, mobile traffic will outpace desktop and tablet traffic on your site, if it hasn’t already. Responsive web design is table stakes, and too often mobile websites are just a smaller version of the desktop site. Many mobile checkouts have not been fully optimized to leverage the mobile device and therefore don’t have streamlined tasks flows, do not utilize biometrics or do not utilize instant payment options.  

What specifically should retailers do with mobile checkout?

Focus on these four areas:

Streamline the checkout task flow. This means removing as many unnecessary and duplicative form fields as possible. In addition to Chrome and Safari autofill APIs, ensure you are giving the consumer the right mobile keyboard in the right form field — for example, a numeric keypad in the ZIP code field — and offer a guest checkout option.

Optimize mobile website performance. You can never control a consumer’s network speed, but you can control how images and content load on a page. Consumers tell us the number one reason they get frustrated on a mobile site is speed.

Accept digital wallets. Both Apple Pay and Android Pay are available now for the mobile web. These two systems reduce checkout friction for consumers who have registered for them. However, their reach is still limited: There are still consumers who haven’t signed up for either service or are using Chrome on an iOS device (Apple Pay is only available on Safari for iOS). Therefore, if PayPal has not been implemented, it should be a priority, as nearly 200 million consumers have now signed up for the service.  

Improve mobile checkout utility. Once you’ve created a streamlined path to buying in your checkout flow, you’ll still need to add key features that consumers have come to expect like promo codes, loyalty registration and alternative shipping methods. The key is to strategically surface these features to the consumer so you don’t veer them off the path to buying.

Two-thirds of retailers are using responsive design for mobile. What are the biggest obstacles for mobile checkout?

The biggest problem users reported with mobile browsers in 2016 is that websites load too slowly. If your mobile websites don’t load quickly and function reliably, your users will find another website that does. Beyond performance, retailers make two common mistakes in their mobile checkout: cluttering the checkout with unnecessary forms and bad mobile interfaces that require the user to pinch and swipe to navigate the page. Additionally, consumers still tell us they are concerned with security when buying on mobile, so utilizing touch ID and offering payment methods like PayPal go a long way in making shoppers feel more comfortable. 

Has consumer adoption of alternative payments gained traction? 

Yes, but we’re still in the early innings. Our U.S. mobile payments forecast shows mobile payments more than tripling over the next five years. U.S. consumers are using their smartphones more in every stage of the customer journey. Millennials and affluent consumers especially are comparing prices, redeeming coupons and making purchases using their smartphones in stores. Forrester’s survey data shows that there's a clear movement toward adoption of digital payments: The percentage of U.S. online adults who aren’t interested in digital wallets shrank last year and the percentage of consumers using digital wallets doubled.