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Giving Multi-Step Checkout a Fighting Chance

Christian Sharrow-Blaum • August 24, 2017

One of the hottest topics in digital customer engagement is the checkout process.

Online retailers have tested, tweaked, and talked endlessly about the virtues of single-page checkout. Conversion is up. Carts aren’t abandoned. Business is booming. It seems that single-page checkout is the Holy Grail for every online retailer utilizing it, so we decided to look deeper to see if multi-step checkout has a fighting chance.

Multi-Step Checkout
Touching stuff. If only more online shoppers felt this way!

Before we get into that, though, let’s have a quick recap of the two styles:

Multi-Step Checkout

Multi-step checkout breaks the process up into multiple pages. Indicators let consumers know what step they are on and how many are left.  This information simplifies potentially overwhelming checkout experiences, allowing customers to focus on one step at a time.

Multi-step checkout drives results at higher price points with desktop shoppers and older consumers.

Single-Page Checkout

The idea behind single-page checkout is to move shoppers through checkout as quickly and painlessly as possible. Without pages or steps, single-page checkout works very well at lower price points with tech savvy customers shopping frequently and from their mobile devices.

Who Wins?

Across many tests, single-page seems to outperform multi-step; however, most tests compare older, less intuitive multi-step checkouts against new, sleek single-page designs.

This makes a big difference. Multi-step checkout has value (we’ve seen it!), so in order to truly compare the two systems, we need to optimize the existing multi-step flow before conceding defeat.

Optimizing Multi-Step Checkout

Checkout is the most often overlooked part of any web store, and this oversight is hurting businesses. Today’s modern consumers will give you one chance to meet their expectations. If you can’t, they’ll find a different retailer who will while telling their friends all about it on social media. Not good.

So, how can we optimize existing checkout flows to delight customers without changing the entire system?

1. Don’t Force Registration

Shoppers have one need: quick, easy, and secure buying.

For retailers, it’s a bit more complex. You need the sale, but you REALLY need that juicy customer data. Hence the pre-purchase required registration seen all over digital commerce. Wrong move.

Gathering customer data before checkout forces users to unfocus on the products they want, and refocus on giving away their information (yet again). They need to buy, and registration gets in the way of fulfilling that need.

Solution: Drive registration once the checkout process is complete. Simple functionality can be implemented to ask buyers if they want to save the information they have just entered. All they need to do is check a box. They have their products, and you have their data (and hopefully repeat business). Simple.

2. Give Them A Map

UPS did a great study recently: 20% of people abandoned baskets due to a long and confusing checkout process.

Solution: Progress indicators. By simply informing shoppers where they are in the process and what’s left to do, you build comfort, trust, and conversion.

3. Easy and Intuitive Forms

Checking out quickly is a huge expectation of digital customers. Informing them what information is needed – and what is not – speeds up the process.

Here are some simple optimizations to make forms easy:

  • Use asterisks for mandatory fields
  • Always use drop-downs over fill-in-the-blank fields
  • Simple buttons and icons when options are limited
Multi-Step Checkout
Simple drop-down menus can speed up checkout flows and reduce errors at the same time

Today’s shoppers treat data as a commodity: how much do you need for me to get my order? They know their data is useful – and expect retailers to respect it.

  • Ask for each piece of information only once
  • Auto-fill state and city data after a user enters their ZIP code
  • Make shipping/billing information the same by default
  • Tailor fields to the size of the data being entered (e.g. ZIP fields only need a few characters)
  • Use inline validation for high-error fields

These are some simple, quick, and effective time-savers that can delight shoppers without the need to completely rebuild your checkout flow.

4. Calculate Shipping Up-Front

Customers want to know ASAP what their actual shipping cost is going to be. Nobody likes surprises and there is nothing worse completing a multi-step checkout only to be greeted by additional fees.

Solution: Prior to checkout, provide data on shipping costs – even if it is a broad range – and show every order’s calculation as soon as possible. The more information customers have, the more comfortable they are with their purchase.

Also, shipping costs aren’t just money, they are also time. People shop online to save time, so the very least they expect is to be quickly informed as to how long they have to wait before receiving their package. Combining this quick-information concept with new shipping methods (ship-from-store, in-store pickup, drop shipping, etc.) can be a game changer for retailers with multi-step checkouts.

5. Isolate the Checkout

Once the customer is checking out, you need to keep them there.

Solution: Eliminate distracting and unnecessary content in the checkout. If it doesn’t make the process faster, inform customers, or add incremental sales – eliminate it.

Don’t make it easy to exit the checkout, but do make relevant information and help easy to access from within the checkout.

6. Security is Your First Priority

Nobody likes having their card compromised. When taking payment details, flaunt all your security credentials. Consumers shop with brands they trust, so build that trust with https, padlocks, and full compliance.


Digital retail is won at the experience level: seamless, easy, and simple are what shoppers look for in a web store. While single-page checkout delivers on these points, multi-step checkout, with some smart optimizations, can be just as competitive.

What matters most is finding the right checkout flow for you and your customers. Listen to them, optimize it accordingly, and watch the results roll in.

Christian Sharrow-Blaum

About the author

Christian Sharrow-Blaum

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