May 10th, 2009 | 4 MIN READ

Checkout Inspiration From Top Converting Sites

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Every month, Nielsen Online / Marketing Charts posts the top 10 converting ecommerce sites. If you follow the updates, you'll see usual suspects like Schwans, Proflowers, 1800flowers, Office Depot and QVC popping up month after month. Sure, a lot of these retailers enjoy high conversion rates for no-brainer, repeat purchases but that kind of loyalty is earned -- and requires a smooth checkout process to make it happen.

One of the worst culprits for friction in the checkout process is required registration. Forrester Research reports that 23% of customers abandoned the last online store that asked them to register.

In a usability test for a major online retailer, Jared Spool found new customers resisted registering, and some weren't sure if they had registered before or not, entering various email address and password combinations in hopes they wouldn't have to register. Others were suspicious the retailer would spam them with sales emails if they registered.

"Very few" repeat customers remembered their login information, and worse, many had multiple email addresses that had changed over the years. Guessing email/password combos gets frustrating, and of those who eventually clicked "Forgot password?" only 25% ever tried to finish the checkout! Further analysis of the customer database revealed 45% of registered customers registered multiple times, some as many as 10. If this happens on your site, it's a big problem - you have frustrated users and dirty data - you overstate your unique customers and understate your repeat purchase and lifetime customer value data.

Jared's recommendation was to replace the Register button with Continue, and adding "You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click Continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout." Conversions increased 45%, bumping annual online revenue by $300 Million.

Back to the top converting sites, I've checked them all out to see how they handle registration. Interestingly, some like QVC and Schwans (yeah, the one with the 50% conversion rate) still require registration. Exclusivity of product/service may afford them to get away with this, but makes you wonder how many millions are left on the table.

Of the top converting sites, I have a few favorites. I hope these designs inspire you as you consider your own checkout optimization:


  • Prominent 1-800-Number
  • Security is reinforced at the top with "Secure Checkout", in the "Sign in Using Our Secure Server" and at the bottom with security seal.
  • Order details are shown with thumbnail image
  • Shows the number of steps in checkout
  • Very clear that guest checkout is an option, even uses "Proceed as Guest" on call-to-action button
  • Links to privacy policy


Like Proflowers, 1-800-Flowers allows for easy guest checkout, shows number of steps in checkout process and provides a toll free number but does not use any security assurances (although I may be seeing a test version with them removed). Because people read English left to right, I prefer the guest checkout on the left. Why subject a customer to friction if you don't have to?

LL Bean

LL Bean provides 3 options but my suspicion is 2 is more effective. Whenever you offer more choice, you have higher risk of abandonment. Allowing the customer to create an account after checkout would satisfy both types of new customers - those who want to create an account and those who don't. Unless...


...I like J.Jill's approach to account creation. It lists the benefits of membership, shows all the fields required to sign up (so customer can decide whether they're comfortable with providing personal information and believe sign-up time is reasonable).

I would also like to see the guest checkout option on the left and a more prominent privacy / security assurance on both LL Bean and J.Jill.


I've seen the exact Amazon sign-in design also used by other major retailers and Amazon does many things well:

  • "Ordering from Amazon is quick and easy" <-- addresses the fears and uncertainties about the difficulty to check out
  • Captures an email address as the first step so Amazon can send a triggered email should something go wrong (You have items in your cart and didn't complete checkout, did something go wrong? How can we help?)
  • Asking for minimal information in the first step vs. asking for a lot of information may convert higher, customers perceiving it as simpler/easier (reinforces the promise "this will be a breeze")
  • You have to create an account, there is no guest checkout option but "you'll create a password later" makes it sound like that doesn't matter
  • "Sign in using our secure server" is a good call to action to proceed.

How do you motivate customers to register? Forrester's survey found 51% of respondents were somewhat or very willing to part with personal information in exchange for discounts, 40% to save time and 27% for a more personalized experience. Make sure you mention at least one key benefit for registration when asking for it.

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