Why the “last click” in ecommerce matters—and how to get it right

Bolt Team

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Maju Kuruvilla

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Why the “last click” in ecommerce matters—and how to get it right

This article first appeared on TechCrunch. It is reprinted here with permission.

Question: What is the biggest and most obvious problem facing ecommerce retailers? 

Answer: Checkout. By which I mean customers who find their way to a retailer’s digital home, decide to buy an item, add the item to cart, and press checkout—only to quit the last part of the transaction. 

This seems like a small issue, but in fact, it is an enormous cost for retailers—to the tune of several hundred billion dollars by some industry estimates. And yet, despite the size of the checkout problem, fixing the issue also ends up as the last item on many to-do lists. 

In part, that’s because checkout is at the bottom of the funnel. At the top of the funnel are the big-ticket, splashy items: Ad campaigns, paid traffic, product-market fit, media relations, and everything that feels weighty and important. Companies spend time, money, and energy getting people in the door, building meaningful products and services, and keeping those people in their ecommerce ecosystem. Generally, marketing teams control many of those aforementioned levers: They do paid social, SEO and SEM marketing, billboards, and all the other campaigns that bring customers in.

At the bottom of the funnel are technical and product teams, and usually someone responsible for payment infrastructure. Those people tend to be graded on whether things work—not necessarily how well they work.

Thus checkout becomes an orphan: Neither the explicit focus of the marketing team, nor a key area of interest for product and technical leads. And all the while, customers shop without buying—they exhibit high “purchase intent” but neglect to make actual purchases.

Or to put it more simply: You may have perfected the top of the funnel, but missed the gaps in the bottom. But in a world of scarce time and resources, how can you get senior leadership to rally around lost conversion and broken checkout as a key area of strategic focus? The following five steps might help on the path to fixing the “last click” problem:

1) Reframing checkout as a marketing opportunity, not a product problem

Think of checkout like this: The top of the funnel is low-performing marketing spend, and the bottom of the funnel is high-performing marketing spend. Every dollar of marketing at the top of the funnel can be boosted by a focus on checkout, because checkout increases the ROI of every other marketing campaign, simply by making sure that prospective customers turn into sales. 

In other words, this is something that the CTO, CMO, and CFO can rally behind. For technical leaders, this allows them to simplify, optimize, A/B test, and refine the core product. For the CMO, the win is in making sure potential customers drive revenue and that a better checkout process drives return customers. And for the CFO, the numbers are self-evident: A percentage point improvement in conversion is more powerful a percentage point improvement in total web traffic.

2) Assign a clear, high-level owner

Even though every leader can rally behind it, checkout needs an owner—and it needs one with the authority to make changes, track progress, and make this a priority. Too often, checkout doesn’t have one person in a position to repair it. Frequently, it gets lumped in with whoever is responsible for payments architecture, and checkout becomes one of many priority items, competing against more-urgent-seeming issues like chargebacks, fraud, and credit card authorizations.

Assigning an owner to checkout will ensure that the experience itself gets managed and improved. In our experience, it’s best if someone like the Chief Digital Officer or Head of Ecommerce (or an equivalent) owns checkout. Why? Because that person both pays attention to and has the ability to change the digital experience on the site. They’re also invested in the end-to-end experience, and their success depends on a strong customer experience from start to finish.

3) Gather the facts

Because checkout is such a specific pain point, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, or to focus on the wrong data. 

Consider one important distinction: Do you have a cart abandonment problem, or a checkout problem? The two are different, and they require different fixes. Cart abandonment isn’t the same as checkout. Someone can add items to a cart and neglect it, but someone who leaves their cart is probably doing so for different reasons than a customer who clicks checkout but doesn’t take the final step.

Thankfully, in our era of surplus data, we can identify the pain points. Reviewing the right numbers is essential. You have to go a level deeper than overall site numbers, and acutely understand if checkout is broken and where the issues lie. 

One of the things that happens when you study checkout is you also get a view into who shops most frequently, return buying behavior, and opportunities to further personalize the shopping journey for your customers. 

4) Make checkout easy. Then make it easier.

Every single second saved at checkout is a boost in potential conversion. Not minutes—seconds. Every moment that you make a customer wait to finish their transaction is a potential for them to leave a browser tab out of frustration, get distracted, or change their mind. 

What we’ve learned at the highest level is that every single step of checkout has to be scrutinized and optimized. Once you have your data gathered and crunched, you can begin tweaking and retooling. Here are a few priorities to examine and improve: 

  • Reduce the forms that get someone through checkout. Too many forms are just as worrisome as a slow site. 
  • Cut buttons if you can. This is a cousin to the first point, but the more things a user has to click through the checkout flow, the worse the experience.
  • Embrace as many payment providers as you can. Customers want you to cater to their payment needs, not the other way around. Make sure you consider buy-now-pay-later options, digital payments, and even crypto in your stack. 
  • Build yourself to be platform-agnostic. Merchants shouldn’t be held hostage to one platform, and you ought to have the flexibility to grow, upgrade, change, and improve as your needs change. 
  • Your site should work just as well on a phone as on someone’s computer—that’s just table stakes. 

These are just some refinements, but their effects are underappreciated. Once you start to pay attention, you’ll notice dead weight and unnecessary requests of customers on your checkout. Once you see it, it’s difficult to un-see—and that’s when you need to act.

5) Beware big migrations.

Just as important as what to do is what not to do. Don’t invest in a multi-year, multi-stage migration for your checkout process. 

Here’s the truth: When “fixing checkout” gets lumped in with “epic, amazing, breakthrough site redesign,” it won’t get done. Or by the time it gets done, digital shopping would have evolved, and you’re behind the curve. 

Worst of all, if you embark on such a process right now, you’ll be spending big resources at a precarious time. The digital buying boom of the last few years has markedly slowed down. It’s tougher than ever to justify a massive gut renovation to your site. That’s why you need to focus on checkout as a discrete, small change, and work with partners and tools that afford maximum flexibility.

Best of all, fixing checkout doesn’t need to be a grinding, brutal process that occupies all your engineering bandwidth. That used to be the case, but the products and services on offer today make it easier than ever to improve your checkout without taking up years or breaking your budget.

Higher standards than ever

Seamless checkout has become the industry norm. Big ecommerce players like Amazon trimmed and tuned their checkout process down to a single button. All fields are pre-populated, and the entire process feels light and simple. What’s more, the systems work just as well on mobile as on desktop, which matters because many sites have evenly divided traffic between phones and computers.

That simplicity and crisp functionality has raised the stakes across the web. In other words, customers expect the same from you. They won’t necessarily tell you that checkout is broken, because they’ve become accustomed to elegant checkout experiences elsewhere. You need to achieve that elegance now, and doing so is an area of real opportunity that can lift every other investment you make.

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