Mobile checkout optimisation

By Andy Parker

In Q4 of 2011 Apple sold 37 million iPhones, that is more than the number of children born in the same period.

During 2011 mobile retail traffic increased by 85% throughout Europe. Italians bought more products from mobile devices than desktop. Even with this boom, in the first six months of 2011 cart abandonment rates reached 75%.

There are clear signs that tablet devices are overtaking smart phones and computers in terms of usage. In the UK during 2011 average click through rates were around 4.7% from tablets, 4.3% on smartphones and just 2.8% on computers.

In contrast, the portability and easily digested nature of the tablet is not reaching the end business objectives. When it comes down to actual conversions, desktop is still the leader with a 4.7% average over 2.1% on smartphones and 4% on tablets. This is matched throughout Asia with security being the main reason for purchasing via computers in the home or at the office.

This is the opposite of activity in the USA where purchasing through mobile is thriving rapidly overtaking all other forms of online transaction devices. In a report by IAB in May 2012, 24% of people surveyed said they purchased via mobile because “it’s the easiest way for me to do it.”

In just the first 6 months of 2012 these figures will have drastically changed. This year has seen a huge investment from retailers in mobile development. Although there are still many large online and high-street names such as,, WHSmith and Ocado still not having mobile optimised sites others have begun to heavily invest in constantly evolving mobile sites which are leveraging new technologies and phone features through the use of technologies such as HTML5. A great example of this is Odeon’s latest site release which utilises location based services in order to serve the consumer with relevant content straight away.

As raised in the reports, the other factor stopping people spending money via a mobile phone is trust. People are more cautious of making transactions on their phones because the very nature of the experience is potentially exposed. There is an implied opinion that people use their phones on the go, outside in public spaces. Once this was true, but those times are long, long gone.

In the USA 47% of mobile commerce activity is carried out in the home. The always-on mobile is far more accessible by design than the clunky desktop gathering dust on the cumbersome desk in the corner which takes several minutes to get to a web browser. 29% of people surveyed in the IAB report said they purchased digital and physical goods from their mobiles whilst outside. That’s quite a difference, and the figures across Europe are similar.

A survey conducted by the Federal Reserve highlighted that 42% of US citizens said they were “concerned about the security of mobile payments.”

There are lots of conflicting statistics and the usage seems to be split between those who have adopted mobile payments without question and those who remain sceptical. For both sides of the fence, how can we make these mobile transactional experiences better? How do we gain that trust in purchasing via smartphones over desktops?

Here are a few areas to consider before kicking off your mobile ecommerce projects and as you go through validating your ideas, layouts and user journeys.

Reduce Effort

How we design web forms is at the heart of mobile checkout optimisation and ease of use. By designing for mobile first, thoughts are focussed on what is absolutely essential in order to complete the task without any potential distraction. This follows the thoughts of Edward Tufte as detailed in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The concept of a data-to-ink ratio emphasises the less is more approach being more pleasing to the eye and easier to understand. By removing what is not vital in achieving your goal you increase focus on the primary task.

Breaking up one long form into multi-part forms doesn’t alter the success rate of the form. Whether you break your steps up into chunks or put all the inputs in one place, people’s natural behaviour is to start at the top of something and finish at the bottom regardless of length.

Leverage mobile phone technology

At present mobile browsers have the best compatibility with the current HTML5 schema than any of their desktop counter parts. The ability to use simple attributes such as placeholder on text inputs in order to reduce the volume of text labels along with accessing the relevant soft-keyboard with a handheld device increases data input speeds for forms. These are very small things but this attention to detail produces high gains in the user experience.

As with the example of Odeon, enhancing your ecommerce website with location based services could provide increased footfall in your bricks and mortar stores.

Say what you mean

Any type of form involves you asking the user a question and expecting an answer. If there isn’t an obvious answer, the question is wrong or it is being presented in the wrong way. This is something we have seen in user testing when observing the completion of contact details pages.

Post Code lookup tools were created with the good intention of speeding up data entry, one line instead of several for an address. However, it is very easy to create a delay and even at times a road block in the checkout. During a user test series we consecutively watched 20 people enter their postcode into a field and then continue to enter the rest of their address details even though there was a lookup service. Why did this happen? Because the action to search for the postal address was a text link which they had not noticed on the end of the field, the question wasn’t asked properly.

Changing the layout to use a button instead of a link and changing the descriptive label to a guide – ‘search for your address’ increased the usage of the service.

Validate before you submit

There is no justification today for not giving some kind of real time feedback when a user is completing a form. When the user hits the final button, check your form before sending it to the server, it saves the waiting time from the user. Online validation is another effective yet very simple method. Confirm to the user when they have completed a field correctly, but most importantly explain why something is wrong if it is. These simple techniques have proven to increase success rates and an equal reduction in errors submitted.

I don’t register at the supermarket

Truth of the matter is none of us want to register to be able to buy anything anywhere ever. The experience and terminology infers we are agreeing to a relationship which we may not want to be more than a one night stand.

The original purpose for asking people to register was to save them time for repeat visits. But that explanation has become absent making the experience a burden. This is brought about the recent appeal and trend of ‘guest checkout’ in actual fact, the guest checkout experience should be the default.

For those that have been before and already have a purchasing profile, there is very little effort required in the transaction as you should be storing all their relevant details for use, getting people to that permanent account profile status is a subtle art.

The tasks required to register for an account or buy as a guest are of course one and the same, but it is this psychological shift from buying into a contract and being able to walk away that encourages people to click the button.

Just by adding a buy as guest option into one of our client’s sites they increased sales buy 17% in the first month and experienced incremental jumps in the following quarter. This resulted in an increase in transactions and improved their marketing
segmentations by having fewer dormant or inaccurate accounts in their CRM.

About the author

Andy Parker is a User Experience Architect at Lightmaker UK, the leading full service digital agency. With over 10 years’ experience in software development, web design, marketing, PR and journalism, Andy has always been focused on User Centred Design approaches. Andy has brought his diverse work background, love of loud music and challenging processes to Lightmaker working on international projects with clients such as SiteTalk and Eurotunnel; evangelising the shift from business led development into responsive design concepts that allow for the creation of user centric solutions.

Outside his role at Lightmaker, Andy fully immerses himself in the world of digital and is well respected in the industry. A prominent figure in the blogosphere and with a journalistic background, Andy is well placed to comment on industry issues and provide articles with a focus on user experience. Andy is currently writing for .Net magazine.


Lightmaker, the independent full service digital agency, offers its clients a comprehensive range of digital services. Lightmaker works with an enviable client list including EA Games, Disney and Manchester United. Lightmaker is an international agency with offices in the UK, United States, Canada and the Netherlands. Lightmaker’s digital services include: Digital Strategy, User Experience Consulting, Design and Build, Mobile and Touchscreen Development, Content Management, Social Media Consulting, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, and Web Analytics Consulting.

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