Ecommerce Checkout Flow: How To Optimize Checkout Flow

neon light grocery store shopping cart on a black background

We’ve all been there: You find a product you love online, but when you go to buy it? You start asking yourself: Do I really need this now? Is it worth filling in all this information? What if it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? You decide to think about it and come back later.

As a business owner, this is the last experience you want for your customers. An ecommerce checkout flow should be quick and painless, ensuring a positive shopping experience and increasing the likelihood of completion. Understanding the entire checkout process and how to improve it is a key part of ecommerce success.

What is an ecommerce checkout flow?

The ecommerce checkout flow is the set of steps a customer takes when making a purchase on an ecommerce website. In other words, it’s their experience from when they’re done adding products to their cart to when they receive confirmation of their purchase.

An ecommerce checkout process typically includes a series of steps that guide the customer through the transaction. They vary from store to store, but the general flow includes the following:

  1. Shopping cart. Where customers add items for purchase and can review what they have added.
  2. Checkout button. Initiates the checkout process.
  3. Shipping information. Where customers add their address and contact info.
  4. Payment information. Where customers enter their credit card or other payment info.
  5. Order review. A final summary of all items being purchased and the related shipping and payment information.
  6. Order confirmation/thank you. The page customers land on once the purchase is complete, which typically includes an order number.

These stages might sound like normal, inconsequential parts of an online store—and Shopify indeed provides a standardized checkout option. But the point when visitors are about to make a purchase is critical, as it can also be the most demanding stage of the process. Each step in the flow is a crucial opportunity to secure or lose a sale.

Baymard Institute reports that nearly 70% of all shopping carts are abandoned during the checkout flow. Reducing your store’s rate from 70% to 60%, for example, can make a considerable difference to your revenue over time. As such, optimizing checkout flow pages is a critical lever for any ecommerce site.

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Best practices for designing a great ecommerce checkout flow

A solid ecommerce checkout flow achieves two goals. The first is to make the checkout process as smooth as possible for the user. This means reducing avoidable friction—that I’m-not-so-sure-about-this feeling—either because something is unclear or unfamiliar or there’s something they don’t like.

The second goal of the checkout flow is to increase revenue for your business. This isn’t a new practice—grocery stores have been putting candy bars and magazines at checkout to increase revenue for decades. Ecommerce allows you to do this more effectively with smart recommendations based on the customer’s behavior on your website.

How to reduce friction in ecommerce checkout flows

The best way to reduce friction is to ensure visitors have as few obstacles to purchasing as possible. Obstacles can be practical, such as how long orders usually take to deliver or if they ship internationally. Or, they can be perceptual, such as hesitations about the quality of a company’s products.

Here are three tried-and-true ways to reduce checkout friction:

  1. Offer multiple clear shipping options. Some customers care more about shipping costs; others are more concerned about shipping times. Strategic ecommerce companies offer multiple shipping options, and at least one affordable option for price-sensitive customers and an expedient one for time-sensitive customers. If your company offers local ground delivery or pickup, apps like Zapier that show your delivery and pickup area can also reduce shipping friction.
  2. Indicate that you’re trustworthy. Many customers are wary of buying from a new store for the first time. They might have concerns about product quality, shipping reliability, or description accuracy. These uncertainties often come up at the ecommerce checkout page—the point of no return. Establish trust by adding key trust signals to your payment method page, like five-star reviews, money-back guarantees, or relevant security and product certifications.
  3. Minimize form fields. Most of us don’t like filling out forms. This is especially true on today’s internet, where more and more shopping happens on mobile devices, which are harder to type on. Sometimes, the very idea of having to fill out multiple fields is enough to make a customer reconsider their decision. Address these doubts by accepting every preferred payment method, including Apple Pay and Shop Pay, by adding billing address autofill, and by adding a guest checkout (no forced account creation).

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How to increase revenue in ecommerce checkout flows

For many ecommerce stores, larger orders are often the most profitable. Use your checkout flow to help drive sizeable orders with the following five strategies:

  1. Incentivize larger carts. When customers go to checkout, encourage them to add more to their cart by incentivizing them with discounts (such as 10% off orders over $100), free shipping, or gifts (receive a free tote bag with orders over $150). Encourage this even further with a purchase total progress bar on your site.
  2. Cross-sell on cart and thank you pages. If your store has multiple products, there’s a good chance they go well together. For example, if you sell bedding, customers buying a mattress may also be interested in your pillows. Serve these recommendations on your shopping cart page or post-purchase thank you page with a checkout app.
  3. Accept tips. If your business is local, founder-owned, or has a social impact mission, your customers may appreciate a tipping option—increasingly common in online shopping. Shopify has a built-in option for accepting tips.
  4. Suggest a subscription. If your business sells items that a consumer might use on a frequent basis, like bath goods or cleaning supplies, you might consider offering a subscription option that comes with a slight discount, where refills are sent at a cadence that makes sense.
  5. Frequently bought with. Once your customer chooses an item and places it in their cart, you can embed a suggestion engine that finds other complementary products that are frequently purchased together.

Whether you want to reduce friction or increase revenue, it’s essential to continually test and optimize your checkout flow. As you add products and delivery areas, your experience changes. And as your brand becomes better known, your focus might also change. There are always opportunities to leverage the core principles of friction reduction and revenue growth to improve your checkout flow.

Ecommerce checkout flow FAQ

Why is optimizing the checkout flow important?

The checkout flow is the final set of steps before a customer makes a purchase on your site. Since it’s so close to the point of purchase, any issues that arise during the process can confuse, discourage, and lose customers, while any upsells or cross-sells can increase revenue, making checkout flow optimization crucial.

What are some common causes of cart abandonment during the checkout process?

The most common causes of cart abandonment are shipping issues (too expensive or too long), the trustworthiness of the company or product, or clarity issues (such as not understanding what’s included in the purchase).

What are some ways to streamline the checkout flow?

The best ways to streamline the checkout flow are to ensure the experience is mobile-friendly and allows alternative payment methods and form auto-fills (including for returning customers). Shopify checkout includes these as standard features.

How can I optimize the checkout flow for mobile devices?

With mobile checkout, the customer has less screen space and a lower tolerance for filling out forms. The best way to optimize checkout flow for this case is to make the order summary extremely clear on a small screen and to allow quick-pay options (like Apple Pay) and auto-form filling.