Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Good Checkouts...

(or I must be going soft...)

As something of an antidote to my last grumpy post about terrible checkouts (PCWorld.co.uk being such a classic example), I thought I might make a list of my favourite checkouts. Personal and partial, but giving examples of how to do it right.

I started with the idea of collecting a 'top ten' list from among the biggest online retailers, mixed with a personal group of perhaps less well-known sites that I happen to use regularly.

Ten? Some hope. (Bit ambitious aren't we?) Struggling to four, more like.

It seems that all the really big online retailers are prepared to sacrifice following the Ecommerce-guide and Jakob Nielsen's advice and are forcing customers to register before they make their first purchase. Exactly as Nielsen said. I can only think that they have weighed up the pros and cons and have cynically decided that if they stick with the pre-sale compulsory registration method they will eventually groom potential customers into accepting this as the norm. To a very great extent this has already happened of course. And everybody is agreed that there are advantages in registering for regular customers. And those regular customers will forget that they had to "create an account" before their first purchase. (I have been shopping at Amazon for so long I had to visit the site anonymously to remind myself that, yes, you must pre-purchase register there too.)

Before I start the list proper I would like to give honourable mention to Deutsche Bahn's (German Railways) English language site. I just can't get them onto my full list because of other failures - it's tough stuff selling travel tickets online - but they do try. Look at this:

Isn't that a good set of options to give potential customers? I think so.

So, my list will have to include sites that make you pre-register, or I will have virtually no list at all. And yes, good old Amazon is the first on the list. World leader: their website is to online retailing as the BBC is to online news. An industry standard.

Second onto my list is Cafepress.com. They have a good looking site and clean, clear checkout. And look at this:



No stupid 'title' field! (Or 'salutation' as some fools call it: presumably imagining it to be 'PC') Hurrah! Just ask for the name as it appears on the card!

Cafepress do mess things up a little by making you register at the end of the billing process, but all in all they have a nice, easy to use site and checkout.

Third onto my list is one of the giants: Play.com. Yes, they make you register first:



but the site is fresh and easy to use and I like the address and credit card form page:



Single name field again gets a big 'tick', plus a straightfoward postcode checker and recognition that that doesn't always work and only covers the UK. No stress there.

Fourth, and quite simply my favourite checkout anywhere, is that used by the Documents Online service of the UK National Archives. Below are captures of the three simple stages you go through. OK, I concede that they have a much simpler brief than most online checkouts: customers are only buying PDF downloads - there is no messing around with delivery addresses or 'special extras' in the equation. But they don't make you register, though you can if you wish, and as long as your plastic is in order and you have a valid email address, they'll sell to you. The people who designed it clearly have real adeptitude. If only every checkout designer would use this basic example as their starting point!







Finally I can't resist mentioning some comedians - Staples.co.uk. I mean that in the nicest possible way. Staples are one of the very biggest online retailers on the planet. Their UK-based checkout appears fairly unexceptional: yes you must register first, blah blah, and the whole thing works pretty well without being what you might call attractive. But the laugh comes when you get to enter your name. They have a title field, but it's not compulsory (phew!), but wait a minute - it does have a drop-down of choices. See left. Great! Ho ho ho. I want to be a voluntary 'other' please...

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