Is simpler always better when redesigning site flows?

It’s never easy to know exactly how website visitors will feel about a redesigned checkout flow. For online businesses, the aim of a new flow is to improve the user experience. And since it is clear to site owners that a better user experience is, well, better, they assume that visitors will welcome the change. In truth, however, nothing is obvious when it comes to a redesign.

For any change, no matter how much of a no-brainer it seems, analyzing how customers interact with redesigned and reconceived pages is essential for understanding their experiences and responses, so you can fine-tune to improve results.

A good rule of thumb is to keep designs simple. Yet unless you can actually see how customers behave on your site, you’d never know that sometimes even simplicity can scare users away.

Here’s an example. A major US retailer redesigned their online checkout by merging a 2-stage purchasing process into one stage, combining the shipping/delivery and payment steps in one single page. They assumed that customers would appreciate a single, smooth experience that allowed them to place orders quicker, with less hassle.

A close look at visitors who interacted with the checkout form but did not place an order revealed interesting – and puzzling – behavior. An unusually high number of customers who showed high purchase intent abandoned the process at the very last stage. In fact, 30% had already entered their credit card information – a clear indication of their intent to purchase.

What made these customers, who were on the fast track to conversion, suddenly balk at completing their purchase? Why would users with such high purchase intent abandon checkout at the very last moment?

What makes customers hesitate?

Drilling down into the experience of those visitors clearly showed how they moved away from the checkout right after filling in the last fields of the form. These customers seemed startled by the sudden appearance of a ‘Place order’ button instead of the ‘Proceed to next step’, which they were accustomed to. The redesigned, abbreviated process made these users feel rushed, like they weren’t given enough of a chance to review or consider their decision to purchase.

They seemed to miss the separate payment step, which in the previous version served as buffer between their purchase decision and placing the order.

What makes users pull back when confronted with an order button? Should this deter online retailers from streamlining their checkout process?

Amazon, which has long touted its streamlined purchase process, has been successfully addressing user apprehension for a while now. The company found that some customers backed away from clicking the ‘Continue’ button on payment pages because they were anxious about the results of the click. They wanted assurances that they’d have an opportunity to review their order and make changes, if needed. To reassure these customers, Amazon added, in small type under the ‘Continue’ button, a small reminder that customers will still have a chance to review their order, even after they click.

For online retailers, there’s a fine line between giving customers time to feel comfortable with their orders, and preventing reviewing to such an extent that visitors start doubting and comparing, and end up abandoning purchases altogether.

Businesses must carefully observe the digital body language of their customers to understand not only how they’re behaving, but why. If apprehension leads customers who have shown strong intention to buy to abandon purchases right at the end, consider how you can reassure them. For instance, highlighting an on-page order summary on the checkout page where adjustments can be made, can help apprehensive users feel more secure about their purchase and increase their inclination to click the order button.

What can we learn from redesign-triggered apprehension?

Many variables are in play when it comes to a flow redesign. Will repeat customers react differently than new customers? Will user apprehension toward a redesigned flow last, or is it just a temporary state? Will they get used to the new flow? Online retailers must keep their fingers on the pulse of customer behavior and understand what’s behind it.

One-page checkouts can certainly be convenient and meet with success when properly designed. Users do get used to new flows and processes that aim to improve the online customer experience. But as with any change to your digital touchpoints, successful businesses never rely solely on assumptions that visitors will think and behave as expected. They watch customer behavior, understand their experiences and intent, and translate them into insights they can act on.

Read here about how to redesign smart to save time and cut costs or read more about how to examine your conversion funnel with laser focus.

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