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On e-commerce websites (e.g. Amazon), I noticed that the main navigation bar is not displayed any more when the user proceeds to checkout. Why?

If the user wants to go back, he can only do it by clicking on the 'back' button of his browser or on the logo of the website which is not that obvious for the lambda user.

Is this really user-friendly?

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I don't know about Amazon (never used them), but in ecommerce websites, it's often the case that payment page is actually a third party website (usually owned by the payment gateway or a bank). This is done to avoid the need for the ecommerce site to be PCI compliant. On those sites, I believe the reason why the payment page don't have the same theme as the main website would be due to limitations of what can be customized on the payment page (again due to PCI compliance). –  Lie Ryan Feb 17 '13 at 16:18
    
Are you sure that you can click on the Amazon logo at checkout? IIRC it's not linked there. –  unor Feb 21 '13 at 18:02
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9 Answers

up vote 31 down vote accepted

The question that was not asked directly:

Should we hide the main navigation in the checkout process?

Yes, we should hide it.

A merchant wants to hide the main navigation mainly because of the conversion rate (ratio between people entering the checkout process and the ones actually finishing it). For average users the checkout process can still be relatively complex. That's why we want to reduce visual clutter/noise and anything that could distract users from completing the checkout process.

Is this really user-friendly?

If the assumption is that the user wants to finish the checkout once they navigated there then the answer is also yes. But there are different opinions on this topic. I personally do not believe that users always want to navigate around, especially not if they entered the checkout process. And I do believe that users know how to use the browser back button.

There is some research about this topic. One is the Baymard 2011 checkout usability report (unfortunately not free). On page 66 their conclusion is to hide the navigation during checkout.

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This is the correct answer. If the user wants to continue browsing the site why did they click the 'checkout' button? Therefore you are making it as easy as possible for the user to complete their goal which = good UX. –  MrMisterMan Feb 18 '13 at 11:42
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I am going to break this response into three parts:

Is using the back button non intuitive to the user ?

I would disagree with this. The back button is one of the most commonly used elements in the web browser and users know how to use it and finding that it doesnt work can actually be a really frustrating experience as they will have to initiate the process again or worse loose all the data which has already been filled in.

To quote this article from smashing magazine :

Keep the ‘Back’ button fully functional

The back button is one of the most used buttons in a web browser, so you can be sure some >people are going to employ it during the checkout process on your site. Some sites disable the functionality of the Back button through automatic redirects or error messages, which is sure to negatively effect the visitor’s experience.

Not only should the back button lead to the previous page without encountering any errors, you should also save the user’s data so that it is displayed again if it’s a form. This allows people to make adjustments and carry on without having to re-fill the whole form. Yes, sometimes it’s too late to go back, like after clicking that last ‘Complete order’ button, but by ensuring that all the other pages get along with the Back button you can deliver a better user experience to your customers by saving them time and frustration.

Should the navigation bar be hidden ?

It depends. If the site design is such that the navigation bar will enable the user to perform the checkout more effectively then it should be available or atleast a subset of the navigation bar should be available which could potentially help him. However the thing to note is that a checkout process must be linear and any steps which take the user of the checkout process to completely different page break the flow and cause the user to lose focus.

Hence it is of paramount importance to keep the visual clutter in the page to a minimum as greenforest rightly pointed out. To quote the above referenced smashing magazine article again:

The checkout process is different to the rest of the browsing experience on your site. During this process your customers aren’t shopping — they’re making the purchase. This means all the browsing controls are redundant here and would only distract your customers from the task at hand. Eliminate these unnecessary elements — e.g. product category links, top products, latest offers, and so on — to keep the interface simple.

Provide a “return to shopping” link in case the customer wants to go back and buy something else. Additionally, ensure all the buttons that point to the next step in the process are large and prominent so they’re not missed.

Also another key thing which is called out in the same article is the importance of not taking the person out of the checkout process. To quote the same article again:

Don’t take the user out of the checkout process

It’s essential that the checkout process isn’t disrupted, for example, but taking the customer to a different page. Taking the user out of the process can cause two problems: 1) they might get confused about where they are and even lose the checkout page by closing the tab or window. 2) they may get distracted and fail to complete the process.

To remedy this, we really need to find a way to show all of the necessary information on the checkout pages themselves. If you need to provide some help or information that doesn’t fit on the current page, use floating windows or, as a last resort, a pop-up window to display this. This allows you to present new material to the user without taking them out of the checkout process.

Here are some examples of sites which show a subset of the navigation to the user during the checkout process to ensure he has a point of reference at any time

enter image description here

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Is this bad usability ?

I would say Yes and No

No,because you are making it easier for the user to focus on the end process of checkout and removing potential distractions which might prevent the conversion

Yes, because you are restricting the control of the user in doing what he wants to do (note some sites avoid this by providing a back to shopping option) as shown below

enter image description here

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No, this is not user friendly. Main navigation should be present at all times for navigation and trust. If the main navigation disappears, the user might feel she is somewhere else. That's not good at all.

The possible reason for removing the global navigation bar in a checkout process is to avoid the user from being distracted and continue to check out. However, the downside is that the user loose context (where am I?).

Thus leave the main global navigation visible at all times making user feel safer.

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You can manifest it without letting user go outside the ordering process: put logo in top, show the purchase process in visual way... –  Dominik Oslizlo Feb 17 '13 at 20:26
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No, it isn't user friendly. I speak as a user of Amazon, and it annoys me when they do it. On other sites that I use less frequently, if my options vanish, I am more likely to abandon the checkout process. I can understand if I've been moved to another site, like Paypal or some other payment gateway, but when I am on the same site but they have removed the menus, I don't like it, as it makes me feel like I am being pressured into doing something.

If your user interface is so confusing that a user isn't able to checkout properly, then you should really be addressing your interface, not hiding it. Hiding it smacks of the kind of thing a used-car salesman would do.

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During checkout the goal user wants to achieve is to place the order. Funneling the process is something that will make this process easier, as user will to have a chance to go the other way.

Thus, definitely, this IS user friendly. You should only provide the user with options to:

  • go back, to change previously entered details
  • cancel the whole process
  • continue shopping (equals temporary canceling the order, but due to different message it will play different role for the user.
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In the case of Amazon, it is completely not user friendly at all.

I get the idea that the main reason is to not distract the user as they're making a checkout. But a lot of the time, I'm going to the checkout not because I need to pay but because I want to find out

  1. whether the product will actually send to my country (a lot of the times they won't)
  2. what the postage cost is

There's no other way in Amazon to tell this.

So not only do I have to provide my credit card details and my shipping address just to get those two things, but there's not even a link to take me back to my existing shopping experience if I decide that I want to keep looking.

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I'd also agree that the Amazon check out process isn't that well designed. Though it also demonstrates how people 'just get used' to sub-optimal design, so often it stops being an issue. –  PhillipW Feb 19 '13 at 11:04
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I suppose in this case it depends more on what's good the merchand - and how big or complex his/her shop is.

Some years ago I worked on an e-commerce site and we touched that subject. The client (shop owner) expressed her wish that the buyer should be able to jump back to the catalogue from any page given - in case he/she wants to add another item to the basket.

Now I suppose that amazons catalogue size / the vast amount of objets they're offering turns out to be a 'problem'. Maybe at amazon they realized they had to hide the main navigation in order to get the client finalize the checkout process and not endlessly distracted by all those alternative shopping options...

And of course, keeping distractions away from the user could also be a UX-goal – so i guess hiding the main navigation on checkout could be called 'user friendly' in this case...

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I think that it's dependent on the goals the website/business itself. If the goal is to increase conversions on checkouts, it would make sense to reduce the visual clutter on the page to allow the user to focus solely on the task at hand. This brings up the issue of cognitive overload.

However, it is debatable whether this is user-friendly or not. Yes, it will more than likely increase conversions BUT users feel lost without the main navigation? What if some users decide they want to keep shopping in the middle of the checkout process?

Is it worth supporting those behaviors of users at a loss of conversions?

Why not test it using an A/B test? See which method results in more conversions...

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Taking the navigation bar out may not be user-friendly but it is certainly scenario friendly. A user who is looking to complete the process of check-out wouldn't be interested in any other aspect than checking out. So by taking un-necessary options out, we actually help him achieve his goals and that becomes user-friendly in another perspective.

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