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The Checkout Debate: Multi-Step, One Step or Accordion

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Design & User Experience

In the conversion driven field of eCommerce, you may have noticed a new trend.  Businesses are changing their checkout design and standing behind their choices.  Some are preaching one step, others are staying multi-step and everyone else, including Apple, is going accordion. What they have in common is the ultimate goal: To decrease cart abandonment and increase conversion.  But… what’s the difference?  What does it all mean?  Where do you fit in?  Should you take the leap and in what direction?

Sadly there isn’t a “one-cart-fits-all” type of solution.  Like all business decisions, you have to chose the one that best suits your unique product offering and customers.  Allow us to arm you with the facts so that you can make a confident and informed choice.

Related: 10 Ways to Improve Your eCommerce Checkout

Multi-Step, One Step or Accordion?

To better explain the differences between these cart functionalities, we will use fictional characters to explain.

Meet Will & Alison

Picture this, Will is a 25 year old front end developer who lives downtown Toronto, calls himself a computer wizard, and loves shopping on his brand new iPhone6.  Alison is a 40-year old writer, who lives in Forest Hill, wouldn’t call herself particularly tech savvy and prefers to purchase on desktop.

1. The Multi-Step Checkout

What is it?

A multi-step check out is one in which the steps are broken up over multiple pages, with an indicator letting consumers know what step in the checkout process they are on and how many are left.  This is meant to simplify the overwhelming checkout experience and allows customers to focus on one step at a time.

The In-Store Equivalent

Holt’s – a lush checkout experience at a luxury retailer; gift wrapped, garment bagged, walked around the cash and handed to you.

The Debate

Alison says: “I like that everything is so easy and clear, the guided checkout makes me feel safe and secure and leaves less room for error and confusion. I hate feeling rushed at the checkout, especially when I am buying a big-ticket item that I am passionate about. I find it comforting to know where I am in the process, how many steps are left and feel satisfied each time I complete a step. I also like that I am able to double check my info and ensure that I have everything filled out properly and that my package ends up at the right house!  Sometimes there are so many shipping options that I need time to read and figure out what is best for me.”

Will says: “Ugh, what are all these steps? What are you going to ask for next? Why are there so many shipping options? I obviously use autofill to complete forms and waiting for the next page to load is just straight up painful for me. When I am checking out on mobile, I like the process to be quick and painless, especially with the smaller screen. I would question whether it’s worth it, and likely abandon the cart.”

Who uses it?

You can see these checkout options prevalent at some of the top online merchants but I like how Brooks Brothers, Net-a-porter and West Elm have set theirs up.

 Who it’s good for

Higher price points, desktop shoppers, consumers who are less tech savvy, older demographics


2. The One Page Checkout

What is it?

A fast and easy method to purchase. The idea is to get the customer through the checkout quickly and painlessly and avoid them having to load multiple pages or be overwhelmed by many steps.

The In-Store Equivalent

Starbucks – a quick, how easy was that to spend $5 experience- you’re in and out, you’ve done it 100 times, no need to even pull out your wallet.

The Debate

Will says: Amazing!  One step, autofill, done, I’m happy.  Goods ship tomorrow.

Alison says:  I felt a bit overwhelmed by having everything presented on one page and was not entirely sure what to do first.  When buying low priced items I don’t mind this experience because it definitely was quicker, but with higher ticket items, it feels a bit rushed and to me, not reflective of the experience I’ve had until then.  I did feel more secure on one page.  Sometimes I wonder how they could ensure a safe and secure check out with so many pages.

Who uses it?

Be sure to check out Macy’s, Nixon and SSense. These are some great examples of the one page check out.

Who it’s good for

Lower price points, flash sales, tech savvy customers, frequent repeat purchases, mobile shoppers

nixon-onestep 2

3. The Accordion Checkout

What is it?

Accordion is the hybrid between one step and multi-step, the checkout steps are broken up and live under headings all on one page. Only one section is shown at a time, while the others remain hidden. When step one is completed, step two is revealed, presenting the info in bite sized amounts without having to wait for a new page to load.

 The In-Store Equivalent

Apple – ok it’s obvious, but it combines a great online/offline experience whether you are buying a pair of headphones or a brand new Mac book, it’s new and innovative and generally makes everyone happy, you can even get a printed receipt if you want it.

 The Debate

Alison says: I love how each section opened up for me and I could see the number of steps from the beginning.  I was able to focus on one section at a time and was happy to save a little time compared to reloading a new page for each section.  I wasn’t sure if I needed to click the next heading like a button or submit my info in each section though… so then I tried to hit the back button to go to the previous section and ended up back at the cart.

Will says:  Nice user experience!  On first landing, the info is more digestible, and I still got through it pretty quickly.

Who uses it?

Sephora and Apple offer a great hybrid approach at the checkout.

Frank & Oak

Who it’s good for

Mid-high price points, multi-screen consumers, suitable for older and younger demographic with a range of tech skills

* make sure data auto-saves and browser back button goes to the previous section not the cart to avoid frustration

frank-oak-accordion 2

All 3 options are valid checkout options and serve different needs for different types of customers. What you need to ask yourself rather than, One Step, Multi Step or Accordion is: “is my customer a Will or an Alison or a bit of both?” It won’t be long until the customer has the option to choose the checkout style they prefer!

In the meantime, before you rush into your boss’ office and pitch the new checkout, make sure your current checkout is running at it’s best. Any one of these options will outperform a poorly optimized old checkout, no matter how many steps you have. Like all things eCommerce, make the best decision by ensuring all the basics are covered, then choosing the checkout you think will work better and doing A/B testing to find out which one is really the winner for you.

Related: Webinar Recap: A/B Testing

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