Ecommerce

There are many elements to consider when designing the checkout section of your ecommerce site. In this post, I will be discussing the first stage of the checkout process – the pathway page.

What Is a Pathway Page?

The pathway page is what your customers see when they’ve added an item to their basket and proceeded to the checkout. Essentially, it’s the login/registration page.

Its design varies from website to website, but it often looks something like this example from Accessorize:

checkout optimisation pathway page

Or the following, a typical format that you’ve most likely encountered on many websites:

checkout optimisation pathway page

The above two examples present the customer with three options for advancing through the checkout:

1. Register as a new customer

2. Checkout as a guest

3. Sign in to an already existing account

It is generally accepted that forcing users to register at the first stage of the checkout process is one of the main causes of basket abandonment. Some customers may not want to create a long-lasting relationship with a site or brand, and this shouldn’t be forced upon them. This is why the two above examples allow customers to checkout as guests.

However, all pathway pages could be improved by two things: simplification; and carefully choosing the right wording to get the customer to do what you want them to do – to progress through the checkout process and ultimately purchase from the site.

In the example below from the Disney Store’s pathway page, no mention is made of either registration or checking-out as a guest. Instead, customers are asked outright whether they are a new guest or an existing member:

checkout optimisation pathway page

The “New Guests” section is annotated with the words “Use our quick checkout process”. This is exactly what customers want to hear. Later on in the checkout process they will be presented with the option to create an account with Disney, but upfront they are offered one simple choice – to make their purchase.

Office provides another good example of how simplifying the pathway page can create a better user experience:

checkout optimisation pathway page

They even use the word “Simply” to describe the process. This is a far more inviting proposition than the options we were presented with in the first two examples, as what could be easier than just typing your email address into a box to get started?

So what happens next? Well, if the site recognises your email address you are invited to log in:

checkout optimisation pathway page

If not, you are taken straight to a delivery options page:

checkout optimisation pathway page

What this pathway page does very effectively is break down the initial checkout stage into smaller bite size chunks that are more inviting to the customer.

Customers are not asked until the billing details stage whether they would like to create an account – and there the benefits of creating an account are highlighted:

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House of Fraser adopts a very similar approach – capturing the customer email address first of all:

checkout optimisation pathway page

…before asking for a password, confirming that the user can create an account later should they so wish:

checkout optimisation pathway page

These online stores have clearly tested their approach, and have found that some clever wording and simplification at the initial stage of the checkout can improve the user experience while reducing basket abandonment.

In all of these examples, the companies have chosen to leave their customers with the option of not creating an account at all – although they obviously try to steer them in the direction of registering.

Amazon uses the simplification/clever wording approach. But at the same time, they essentially force all of their users to make an account (“You’ll create a password later…”):

checkout optimisation pathway page

This wording ensures that the user isn’t put off by those dreaded terms “register”, “sign up”, or “create an account” – which they may equate with being spammed by marketing material.

However, some of the biggest retailers still only offer two options at the initial checkout stage – to sign in or to sign up. As you’ll see below, such big names as Topshop, Tesco, ASOS, and H&M require the user to create an account before they make their purchase.

Topshop:

checkout optimisation pathway page

H & M:

checkout optimisation pathway page

Tesco:

checkout optimisation pathway page

On each site, we see references to registering, creating an account, and no option whatsoever to checkout as a guest.

So what’s going on here? Why have some of these retailers chosen not to offer a guest checkout option? Why are they being so explicit about the fact that they are forcing their customers to register?

ASOS: A Pathway Page Case Study

ASOS is a particularly interesting example in that the first page of their checkout has changed a number of times in recent years. Initially, customers were forced to login or create an account in order to proceed:

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ASOS then revised their design so that it mentioned absolutely nothing about account creation. Instead, new customers were simply asked to click the “continue” button:

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Through simply re-ordering the process, ASOS essentially tricked their customers into thinking they weren’t registering. Afterwards, customers still had to enter details as before, but because the psychological barriers had been removed, basket abandonment rates dropped, and more customers began to create accounts.

ASOS ecommerce Director James Hart said:

“We didn’t fundamentally change any functionality or page flows at this point. One thing we did change was the login screen after lengthy split testing; the changes resulted in a 50% decrease in abandonment of the site at this page.

“As you will see on the next section ASOS still forces new customers to create an account, yet it simply asks you to provide a password as part of the standard checkout requirements such as contact name and email address.

“What is for many retailers a major usability barrier for new customers is turned on its head and simply made to be a ‘no-brainer’ part of the information entry process.”

Recently, though, ASOS has changed tack. Any notion of guest checkout is gone. Instead, customers need to either register or sign in with their social media profiles:

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So why have major retailers such as ASOS taken the route of forced registration?

One explanation could be that the guest checkout approach limits the amount of email data collected. This reduces the quantity of customers to whom they can market directly, thereby reducing the potential revenue the channel might otherwise have generated.

For these retailers, the loss of potential marketing revenue may be a bigger issue than the potential loss of transactional revenue that might be incurred through not offering a guest checkout.

Furthermore, ASOS clearly sees some added benefits in encouraging social sign in. It could be that’s it’s less about ease of login for the customer, and more about what ASOS can learn about customers from their social profiles.

On the other hand, smaller retailers, or those who might suffer from the loss of revenue that forcing their customers to register could lead to, have chosen to maintain a guest checkout option. They’ve chosen to keep this process as simple as possible, using clever wording to draw customers through the checkout.

Ultimately all ecommerce sites need to remove as many barriers to conversion as possible. Each site will have different priorities regarding sales and data collection, and different priorities will affect design decisions. But, as we have seen, simplicity is always key when it comes to pathway pages.

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