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Both customers and companies want a quick and easy checkout experience. From what I've seen, a big UX bottleneck at checkout is the billing and/or shipping address(es) because there are so many input fields per address.

The traditional way of typing an address is something like:

Street address: 123 main st

Unit: 101

City: Schenectady

State: NY ▼

Zip code: 12345

Country: United States of America ▼

This is usually frustrating for me, because some addresses are "edge-cases" and don't necessarily fit into the format required by the web page.

And often, these fields are duplicated to populate both shipping and billing addresses. My question isn't how to prevent that duplication (there are "Ship to my billing address" checkboxes for that), but it's about reducing the number of fields on the form from 6+ to just 1:

Address: 123 main st #101, schenectady, ny 12345

(could be a small, multi-line textarea too)

Is it a more positive user experience to combine all the fields for an address into a single input field?

(I know what you're thinking: how can you use or standardize messy input? Don't you need to parse it in order to be useful? Yes, and we have a way to do that. See this post over at Stack Overflow on parsing freeform (single-line) addresses.)

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I've always wondered whey we don't auto-fill more address blocks based on the zip code. –  DA01 Jun 7 '12 at 18:27
    
@DA01 Because zip codes sometimes span more than one city or even more than one state. –  Matt Jun 7 '12 at 18:44
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but that's definitely the exception to the rule, and a known exception, so could easily be accounted for. –  DA01 Jun 7 '12 at 19:04
    
@DA01 How would you handle that situation then? By "easily" do you mean client-side or provider/server-side? –  Matt Jun 7 '12 at 20:19
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@DA01 Good point. Perhaps looking at the fact that there are a number of exceptions (or difficult ZIP codes) keeps us from often times simplifying the experience for users. There will always be exceptions but do we program for the 80% or the 3%? With that said, keep in mind that ZIP codes change monthly. On average, 4% of the 42,000 USPS ZIP codes change in some way each month. Addresses are added and removed from a ZIP code, The boundaries change and ZIP codes even get cycled out of use by the USPS and others are created. Always in flux the ZIP codes are. –  Jeffrey Jul 2 '12 at 16:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you have a reasonably foolproof way to parse freeform addresses then I'd go for the single text box. I get annoyed on sites (particularly American ones it has to be said) that assume that your address conforms to a single standard and they force you to enter the data in their format when it doesn't. So if they say "City" and "County"/"State" and both are marked as required, but in the UK we only usually enter city.

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The problem with this is that when a customer runs into the address field it will look like a mistake to them (textarea box). People get used to what a "standard" billing form looks like. They may become confused on what this field is asking for and might end up giving you some irrelevant information that you just dont want.

If you do intend to go this way, be sure to give detailed instructions on what you want here, and even then it is hit and miss whether they will fill that field out correctly or not.

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Your point is certainly valid... users aren't expecting the single field for the address. Do you know of any case studies where it's shown how users react to a single text field for addresses? I'd be interested in any research that has been done but haven't been able to find much myself. –  Matt Jun 7 '12 at 21:38
    
I agree, a watermark would be very helpful in this situation. –  Angavar Mar 1 '13 at 21:56

Be auto complete friendly! Split up is better, but still needs to be flexible. As long as they are split up the browser is likely to fill the form out automatically. Automatic form completion is alway trumps, as the best UX.

However you can autofill your multiple fields for address even if the browser doesn't. You can give your user a head start by attempting to autofill parts of the form with google maps integration (many people save critical addresses there), or with geo location (which will at least give you city, region and country).

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Can't rely on geolocation because the user won't always be at the address to which they are shipping. Also, do browser auto-fill features not fill out individual fields, only groups of fields? –  Matt Jun 7 '12 at 21:32
    
they generally do a great job in detecting the designers intent. They fill in individual fields in the case of a lone 'email' field, or groups of fields inside the same form like, username and password, or shipping address. It's based on the name of the fields and label text, so it will not autofill a textarea with an address, only separated fields. –  Fresheyeball Jun 7 '12 at 21:37
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Geolocation would not be an end all either, as they would still have to fill in the particulars, it would just be to give the user a head start, as generally they will be shipping to the city they are in, or at-least the region or country. And head starts are good UX. –  Fresheyeball Jun 7 '12 at 21:38
    
+1 for the autocomplete point. –  sscirrus Jul 3 '12 at 5:12

Problems to consider:

  • there is no complete address database, so autocomplete may not be available for some customers
  • address is a complex thing, I see no error-porne way to parse random address (am i wrong?)
  • if we talking about international e-shop, address has to be foregners-friendly

We have the similar problem in out app and we came up to the following solution:

  1. At first we ask user to enter his address in any format he like. While user is specifing his address, entering more data, we are constanly searching for matches.
  2. User may choose any seach result. When he clicks on any of results, he see a complted traditional address form (like Matt mentioned) and may append missing data if required.

At any time user may switch to traditional form and enter address in a usual way.

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For international mail adress there is only 3 parts you can be sure should be there:

  • Name of recipient person/company/organization etc. (should be a free form single line input),
  • Country specific adress (should be a free form text box with at least 4 lines visible),
  • Name of country (in local language and format for the sender, this may be a dropdown input).

The last part is the only thing the mail companies are interested in when the adress is foreign, everything else is ignored until the letter/package is delivered to the correct country.

If you try to split the country specific part, you'll inevitably create problems. I've been sent a few issues of a magazine subscription from USA that was adressed to "[my name]; Oslo, Oslo random garbage with slashes and numbers; Norway" because the US-centric address form silently ignored several parts of my address that I've tried to force into irrelevant fields like Zip and State and City (none of which is relevant in Norway) because it wasn't a valid US-adress (duh!).

Amazingly the magazine was eventually delivered; about 2 months late, probably because my name is very unique. And I had to email them to manually correct my adress.

It may be that Americans are unable to type their own adress without specially crafted input fields... ;) But please give anyone else a plain textarea to type their own adress into.

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Though the question is old, but I would like to suggest single input fields with help text in specific format like : house no, street name, city, postal code, country.

eg: 123 main st #101, arnhem,12345,NL. System should automatically fill all the fields(hidden initially) and let user verify when he/she press enter.

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