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I'm currently auditing an e-commerce website, and I noticed that the checkout process has 3 steps:

  1. Login/registration

  2. Delivery address/payment

  3. Verify/place order

The page of the step 2 is quite dense and I'll suggest decomposing the checkout process into 4 different steps instead:

  1. Login/registration

  2. Delivery address

  3. Payment

  4. Verify/place order

Is there an ideal number of steps?

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I just heard a presentation from Jeffry Eisenberg where he mentioned that he's done extensive user testing on this, and he's found that 1 and 3 page checkouts work, but has yet to see a 2 or 4 page checkout process succeed (despite numerous attempts). He has no idea why, though. –  Beofett May 29 '13 at 17:47

6 Answers 6

Though the number of steps you defined looks fine to me, This is going to be really hard question to answer unless you show screenshots of the pages in question since there are single page checkouts as well which handle the information density well and guide the user well.

But to answer your question, there is no right or wrong number of checkout steps as long as the checkout process is linear and the user is clearly lead from one step to another. To quote this smashing magazine article:

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.

Also another thing which is critical is that users need to be clearly informed about the number of steps they need to cover before the process is done. Hence use something like a progress indicator to keep them informed so that they know exactly what is pending before a complete checkout process is done.

To quote another smashing magazine article (12 Tips For Designing an Excellent Checkout Process)

Checking out is usually a multi-step process. This means the customer will have to navigate several pages before the order is complete. To make this process usable be sure to add a progress indicator that says exactly at what stage of the checkout process the customer is right now and how long there is left to go — i.e. list all the steps.

enter image description here

Apple shows an elegant progress indicator on their checkout pages.

Knowing where you are in the topography of the site or process will give your users a sense of control, which is important from a usability perspective. Also, knowing what stages are yet to come will eliminate any confusion — i.e. they will know when they get to the last step. This will makes it easier to click through as you know you can still modify or cancel the order at any of the stages before that.

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Without the full knowledge of your business requirements, its only a wild suggestion, but I'd suggest the following:

  • Step 1: Login/ Registration (or guest checkout)
  • Step 2: Address and Payment options - if the user is paying through Paypal, you can use their stored delivery address, just by confirming from the user. In the same step, put the all-important 'Place your order' confirmation as well.

This would reduce your steps from 3 to 2. From personal experience, I am happy to fill out forms, except when I see there are 4 steps to go and no idea how many questions/ fields I have to go through in each step.

In the suggested flow, the user would be saved from this anxiety and you'll probably have a more user-friendly checkout.

As a sidenote, check out Gumroad's checkout (its for digital goods, but the principle applies):

enter image description here

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The simple answer to this is "Reduce the amount of steps to least amount possible"

I think e-commerce sites have ran away with themselves with the amount of information that is required, this has been pushed for the need to get contact information and accounts so that businesses can flood them with marketing material.

When working on e-commerce solutions the journey I try to replicate is that same as that when you are shopping in the high street. I find my product by browsing, I take my product to the till and pay by card. There is nothing more to my purchase than these simple steps, I get asked from time to time to give over my email address to which I refuse quite abruptly.

Why should the digital checkout not be the same as this, it's also becoming more apparent that people are more willing to purchase on their mobile devices, whilst mobile browsing has been growing rapidly, users were still wary of making a purchase, a 5 stage process with 20 fields to fill in will simply not work in this scenario. The key here is to build for mobile first and then scale this up to tablet then desktop. I was a bit dubious at first but it really does work.

I am currently working on an e-commerce system that will require nothing but the email address, delivery address and card details of that user.

The email is for any issues that may arise through the delivery process. The address is for the delivery. The card details for the payment.

This is all situated on one page, there is no reason for the user to create an account (though there is a non intrusive option to do so) and the process is over and done with quickly and efficiently.

On a side note, when selling this to a client I always use this scenario;

If your store was on the high street and 100 people came into your store, when they got to the checkout they had to fill out a myriad of forms and sign up to a discount card so you could send them junk mail do you think your customers would do this? If 75 of them walked away would you not change this process immediately?

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I found three examples of A/B Tests done on multi step checkouts vs single step checkouts. All 3 times the single step checkout won.

Of course every website is different, so this doesn't mean you should blindly follow, but there does appear to be a trend of single step (one page) checkouts having the advantage in conversions.

Possible reasons one step checkout performs better:

  • Less screens = less loading time
  • No need to check/confirm details that were typed into previous screens, as all info is on the same page
  • Checkout process is very focused, with no interruptions


Sources:

http://www.proimpact7.com/ecommerce-blog/checkout-ab-test-checkout-test-which-increased-conversion-by-13-39/

http://www.getelastic.com/single-vs-two-page-checkout/

http://www.abtests.com/test/224001/other-for-the-corkscrew-wine-merchants

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I've conveniently ordered my answer in order from best to worst for you.

None. (One click checkout)

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

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You should take a look at the check out process that Bonobos.com has. It takes the user through every single necessary step and minimizes what's not needed. The process is user-friendly because you don't have to go back and forth between pages. All of the steps are in an accordion so it's easy to see the information you've input as well as edit.

I wouldn't recommend an ideal number of steps just as long as you're capturing the information that's needed for checkout and that you're taking the users through the most efficient process.

Generally, you'll have at least four steps much like what you've already covered:

1) Shipping 2) Billing 3) Review 4) Submit

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Not sure if this really answers the question all that well. –  kontur Feb 18 '13 at 11:24

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