Smashing Magazine's recent article on some fundamentals of usability for the ecommerce checkout process gives some incredible insights. I'm a big fan of Smashing Magazine. Their articles are usually top notch and give a lot of useful information, even if their sidebar ads are a little excessive. This article goes above and beyond, offering 11 tips based off an extensive usability study they conducted last year.
While the original article is worth a read if you are a designer or have a shopping cart on your website, I will give the condensed version here.
- Make your checkout process linear - don't sidetrack the user and then send them back to a previous page. It messes with their Zen.
- Add descriptions & examples to form field labels. Useful ones, not just "First". Give an example, or a sample image of where to find the info.
- Avoid ambiguous and contextual words. Don't say "Continue" or "Back", but rather "Shop More" and "Checkout Now".
- Visually reinforce all sensitive fields. We know it's secure, the user doesn't. Put trust badges next to the sensitive info (the credit card).
- Don't use apply buttons. Users think buttons are good for one thing - submitting a form. Use Ajax if you need an intermediate step, like calculating shipping info from a zip code.
- Format credit card expiration date fields exactly as they appear on a card - 01/12.
- Use only 1 column! I can't say this one enough - multi column fields confuse people. A lot.
- Use shipping address for billing by default. Most people buy things from and for the home. _Hide _the shipping info until the user explicitly asks for the addresses to be separate.
- Make your error messages clear and next to the fields with errors. Putting the messages at the top just isn't good enough.
- Registration should be optional. We've known this for the better part of a decade, yet people still try to force it. Ask the user to register after they have checked out.
- Don't require unnecessary information. Another duh we've known forever, yet I still get asked for a phone number. Uh, why do you need digits when I'm buying an ebook? A laptop, sure, but not a $10 digital purchase.
This article is well worth a read. The author states they tested over 500 usability principals and published 63 guidelines, but didn't offer a way to find the other 52. For now we'll have to settle for these 11.
But with shopping cart abandonment rates of 60-80%, these are gold.