Baymard Institute is a leading research site on e-commerce usability.

They’ve spent the last six years extensively studying the various aspects of the online shopping experience, including the checkout process, conducting a large-scale checkout usability study of 15 of the largest e-commerce sites and a benchmark study of 100 top US e-commerce sites.

We sat down with Baymard Institute co-founder Jamie Appleseed for six checkout optimization questions.

Q-1: What is the ideal number of steps in the checkout process?

A-1: In our study of the top 100 US e-commerce sites, we found that the average number of steps from the shopping cart to the order review page was five.

What’s important to keep in mind, however is that it’s not about the number of checkout steps. It’s about what you ask your users to do at each step and how you ask them to do it.

number of checkout steps baymard research

Q-2: Should discount codes be displayed prominently?

A-2: Though about ⅓ of online shoppers abandon their carts because they think the products are too expensive, we have found that coupon codes are not the antidote. The problem is that all users without a coupon will feel they are overpaying when they see a coupon code field.

As a result, they will go “coupon hunting”, venturing off site and searching in Google, and of course at that point the chances of them never returning to complete their purchase increases significantly – they might get picked up by a competitor, may not find a coupon, or simply get distracted.

To prevent cart abandonment due to coupon hunting, sites should avoid “promoting” their coupon code option too aggressively – yet it must of course remain sufficiently visible so that users with a coupon can find it.

This is where another of our research insights come into play: users pay a disproportionate amount of attention to empty form fields, especially during checkout.

This is because they know an empty field might be something they need to fill out in order to proceed with their order, and they will therefore naturally inspect all form fields on the page.

Our eye-tracking studies reveal that users pretty much always look at form fields on the page but happily ignore graphics and text blocks.

So in order to avoid encouraging users to go “coupon hunting”, it is a good idea to hide coupon code fields behind a link, which when clicked then reveals the form fields inline on the page.

This way, users without a coupon are much less likely to go coupon hunting, and our eye-tracking and usability studies show that users with a coupon are still able to find it because they’re actively scouting the page for a way to apply it.

Surprisingly, only 26% of all sites we benchmarked do this.

Q-3: What’s the best approach to collecting personal info from shoppers?

A-3: Online shoppers are hesitant to provide personal information such as gender, date of birth or phone number, when the requests for this info seems unnecessary.

However, we also found that they were very forgiving of the requests if the site explained why the information was required.

For many sites there’s a disconnect there. For example, we found that 61% of sites require a phone number without explaining why it’s a requirement.

We recommend that sites either make personal information such as phone number optional or explain why it’s a required field. For example, for a phone number, explicitly state that it’s “for delivery questions only” – assuming that’s the case of course.

explain phone number requirement during checkout

Q-4: How should checkout processes deal with requiring the same information inputs multiple times?

A-4: Asking for the same information multiple times is not uncommon. We discovered that 50% of all sites ask for the same information multiple times during checkout. Of course this very rarely happens on the same page.

The solution to redundant information requests is pre-filling fields such as name and address.

Also, nearly all B2C sites will be able to default the user’s billing address to their shipping address – vastly reducing the number of repetitive fields in the checkout, while of course still offering users with different shipping and billing addresses to reveal an extra set of address fields.

But hiding the fields by default will make the experience for the average user much more simple and much less repetitive.

This is critical for reducing friction. And on mobile devices, where inputs are even more cumbersome for users to fill out, it’s even more important.

Q-5: Any tips related to guest checkout?

A-5: In our usability studies, more than half of the test subjects had serious trouble seeing and selecting the guest checkout option at the account selection step of checkout.

60% of users in our eye-tracking studies looked at the “email” and “password” fields required for checkout-with-an-account rather than the button for the guest checkout option.

We recommend collapsing all of the content and instead just displaying the clickable headers (for example, “Checkout as Guest,” “Sign Into Existing Account,” and “Create an Account”).

Also consider the placement of checkout options on the mobile page, always displaying the guest checkout option at the top.

guest checkout

Q-6: What can we do to make our users feel safe and confident during checkout?

A-6: It’s important to realize that the vast majority of users don’t know anything about the technical security of a page, so all they have to go by is their “gut feeling”.

Interestingly, many of the test subjects during our usability studies refer to certain parts of the page as “secure” or “insecure” – even if this technically doesn’t make sense, since all fields in the form are equally encrypted, or unencrypted.

However, once again, it’s all about the perceived level of security, that’s what users have to go by.

It turns out that more “robust-looking” fields and page elements are perceived as more secure. Therefore, visual clues such as background colors and borders can help increase the user’s perceived level of security.

Of course placing security icons and “Verified by XYZ” badges in close proximity to “sensitive” fields like the credit card information is a great idea as well.

We even conducted a study of US online shoppers to identify the most trusted security badges, and found Norton and McAfee to be the best. So go for one of those two, or both.