Yesterday, I walked into my improv troupe rehearsal and asked,
“When was the last time you bought something online, went through the checkout, and said, ‘Hey, this is easy and fun’?”
Every single person looked at me like I had just suggested kitten shish kebabs for dinner.
One guy said,
“Easy and fun? While I’m spending money?”
Soooo, while this might be a wildly unpopular opinion, I’m here to show you how to go through your ecommerce checkout flow copy step by step so it has a better chance of converting your customers and making them feel like they’re having a great time.
Because, at a very basic level, feeling good can increase conversions.
Don’t you want that? Yes. You want that. Keep reading.
Effective checkout flows are intuitive, quick, & low-friction
Obviously, Obviously, ecommerce checkout should be as easy and intuitive as possible. Here’s what to look out for (Amazon’s one-click checkout is the gold standard here.)
Assuming your ecommerce store isn’t a taped-together, virus-riddled piece of garbage, improving your checkout flow copy can be one of the simplest ways to assuage fears, overcome buyer barriers, and boost your conversions.
That high-converting copy can also be fun.
Now, I’m not telling you to obscure your checkout and tank your conversions with clever, jokey copy all over the place.
You’ll know if you’re doing that from your test results.
I AM telling you to take a closer look at the words you’re using to persuade strangers to throw dollars at you.
Nota bene: Obviously the design of your website and funnel matter a whole heckuva lot to your conversion rate, too. But this isn’t an article about design, so I’m going to assume you’ve ironed out all the conversion kinks that poor design can cause.
First, map out your checkout flow & identify missed copy opportunities
The first step of improving your checkout flow copy is to map that shiz out. (Got a bunch of entry points tagged in Google Analytics? Here’s what to look out for.)
List out all the steps your buyers take to purchase once you’ve succeeded in imbuing them with intent to buy.
Your checkout flow probably looks something like this:
- Starts with “add to cart” or “purchase” button
- Then into cart to review items
- Then to “check out” button
- Register for account OR log in
- Then to billing and address info
- Then to payment info + promo code
- Submit/Make purchase Button
- Then to Thanks/confirmation page
- Then an emailed receipt
Every single one of these spots contains copy. I’m willing to bet you’ve thought about some of it… but have you taken a close look at ALL of it?
Some of the copy here might be “microcopy,” ex. an error message, a single word or line below a button, a form field’s explanation text, you know the drill.
Some checkout copy might be longer or more elaborate, like your purchase confirmation page or emailed receipt.
IT’S ALL IMPORTANT.
Now, depending on whether you’re using an out-of-the-box merchant checkout that allows limited customization, or you’ve built your own crazy-customized checkout flow, you may or may not be able to change or add copy in certain places.
Here are a few spots in the checkout process where you should consider examining, adding, or improving your copy, if you can:
Click triggers and objection-reducers
Below I’ve screenshotted one step of modern office furniture retailer Poppin’s checkout flow. Notice the tiny “?” round buttons.
When you click them, they offer objection-reducing copy. For example, lots of folks might say,
“Hey, why do you need my phone number if I’m buying from you over the Internet? Roar! Me annoyed!”
Poppin assuages that objection, should it arise, by cooing,
“Your digits are safe with us: we’ll only use your phone number for delivery purposes.”
Honestly, you could probably say anything here. I’d love to see the test results of using a totally illogical or fake reason, like subjects in that famous “May I go first? I have to make a copy for [TOTALLY NONSENSICAL REASON] study” did.
Another example: T-shirt retailer Threadless points to its “Threadless Happiness Guarantee” as a way to encourage purchasers to add items to the cart.
Point out how you’re making checkout quicker
If your product needs extra customer-provided info, you might decide to cut down on the friction added by all that additional time and effort by allowing customers to customize after they buy.
Here’s Indochino, a high-end shirt company, shepherding their customers through a quicker checkout.
If your store allows customers to easily add products directly to their cart without leaving the product category page, try making that process not just easy, but… FUN!
Clicking that red button puts these tats in my cart without taking me off the page.
And then this sprightly confirmation message appears! YAY!
Show customers they’re ALMOST done
Lots and lots of ecommerce stores include checkout progress bars.
Why? People hate leaving things unfinished. And in fact, we tend to remember the things we *didn’t* finish more vividly than the ones we did (it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, and it’s why you still pine for your college boyfriend who moved away after graduation).
Use copy to upsell other items
Here’s furniture and home good companies Loaf doing not one, but TWO awesome things in their checkout flow:
- Reaffirming that I have excellent taste in sheepskin rugs
- Upselling me on a complementary product
Lots of ecommerce retailers upsell with the suggestion of “Related items,” “Accessories,” “Other people also bought,” and “Get free shipping by adding $X more to your cart”.
But I love Loaf’s elegant one-two punch of flattery and pre-selected item upsell.
This is by no means a complete list of copy opportunities that various retailers do and don’t take advantage of. Why? Because we’re trying to get to the nuts and bolts of actually writing the copy. Calm down.
If you want more ideas, just pay attention to the copy in the next awesome checkout you go through, and ask yourself, “Why is this working well?”
Next, match your copy to what your customer is thinking or feeling
Once you’ve identified all the places your checkout flow includes copy, it’s time to match the steps of that flow to what your customer is probably feeling or thinking.
Don’t *know* what they’re thinking or feeling, and don’t want to guess? Good. Don’t.
Instead of guessing, mine your customer live chat logs or Hotjar poll results:
Quantitative data analysis suggests that sentiments or moods conveyed in online conversation are the most predictive factor of perceived satisfaction (Park et al., 2015)
Check out your customer research. You’ll learn what’s on prospects’ and customers’ minds.
Then, plug that data into this handy table I made you!
I’ve even pre-filled it with some common sentiments and objections that are good bets to address at each stage:
|Step of Checkout Flow||Customer’s Thought/Feeling||What Do They Need to Hear Right Now?|
|Add to Cart||Yes! I need this!||EXCITEMENT/URGENCY: “Your items will be in your hot little hands in just a few short days!”|
|Review Purchase/Cart||Does this look safe and secure?||REASSURANCE: “What a good-looking cart you’ve got.”
TRUST: “Checkout secured with SSL. Your payment info is safe with us.”
URGENCY, if it’s true: “Looks like you’ve grabbed some of our most popular pieces. Snag these items now before they sell out!”
|“Check Out” button||Should I…?||HOW EASY IT IS TO BUY AND/OR RETURN:
“Simple, secure 3-step checkout” and/or “Free returns/exchanges, so you always have the size or color you love!”
|Shipping Info||I wonder how long it will take to get here…||CAREFULLY WEIGH WHETHER YOU NEED EXTRA COPY HERE. Don’t add distraction!|
|Payment Info||Is this worth it? Will I regret this?||Same as above|
|Submit/Complete Purchase Button||Here we go…||Same as above|
Does your copy meet your customer where they are, in every stage of the process?
Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to address fears and objections and trigger excitement and urgency?
And… DO YOU NEED COPY in those final, crucial stages (shipping info, payment info, and complete purchase)?
Definitely *test* copy in these last few stages. For example, you could acknowledge in the shipping info section that no one likes waiting for their stuff, which is why you ship within two days, or something similar.
But carefully weigh — nay, test — the benefits of your late-stage checkout copy against its potential to distract customers from your ultimate goal of sweet, sweet revenue.
Other things to consider when you’re testing checkout copy
Ah, yes, branding. That nebulous thing that everyone loves to talk about, and very few are actually doing right.
The simple fact? You can examine and improve your checkout copy using these practices no matter your brand’s “tone” or “voice”.
But, if you want to add a little more fun (you know, the thing I live for) to your checkout copy, you should take care to match your tone to your brand.
Threadless does a great job matching its entire checkout flow, from design and copy, to its playful, irreverent brand:
But I can’t really imagine, like, Saks Fifth Avenue being playful in its checkout copy. So, grain of salt here.
It goes the other way, too. I’m always disappointed when I browse a store with dynamite product copy, decide to buy, and then all of a sudden, the checkout copy is Boring Default Sad Robot.
EQUALLY sadly, most giant stores (think Target, Best Buy, Walmart, and other soul-sucking corporations WOOHOO CAPITALISM) generally play it safe and standard in their checkout copy.
This might be for a bunch of different reasons, but I like to think it’s because big-box brands are bent on destroying us (and also because every good idea has to have the life sucked out of it by a series of marketing committees).
On the flip side, possibly because they have fewer committees, less to lose by testing, and more to gain from a building standout brand, smaller stores have more leeway to play around in their copy.
If you’re reading this, and you run a multiple-million-dollar MRR ecommerce store, and you’re thinking to yourself,
“Hey, maybe we should run a copy test to see if personable, warm copy could increase conversions,” PLEASE CALL ME. *
* Actually, email me. I hate phone calls.
If you only sell one product, you might just decide to mash your checkout flow into the rest of your site. This makes it even easier to play around with your checkout copy.
OK Cookie is a great example. (In case you haven’t heard of OK Cookie, it’s Cards Against Humanity’s fortune cookie company. The fortunes are, naturally, horrific.)
Let’s look at a few pieces of OK Cookie’s checkout flow:
They gather shipping info in stages, one per screen:
Notice how casual this checkout is, especially in the copy’s use of “we”.
The “we” word is generally something copywriters avoid at all costs, but it works here because this is a transaction where I want to feel like I’m buying from other real people.
Let’s fast-forward to payment info:
Charming. Utterly charming. At least, if you have a thick skin.
OK Cookie continues to balance clarity with familiarity throughout the end of checkout, including a button that says “Close This Thing” once you’ve completed your order.
They also send a confirmation email that 100% fails on the “cohesive branding front,” * but is otherwise written in the same casually confrontational style:
* Please enjoy this free branding advice, OK Cookie!
Consider the average dollar value of what you’re selling. Based on my purely anecdotal research, higher-end stores rarely have funny/personable checkout copy.
Now, this could be because pricey brands are aiming for sophistication, which means they don’t want to joke about what you’re buying.
Or it could be because they don’t want ANY potential distractions for people who are about to drop $300 on an orange chair.
Whatever you do with your checkout copy, be intentional
Even if you read this whole thing and you decide not to change your product copy, PLEASE JUST SPEND 30 SECONDS THINKING ABOUT IT.
If you don’t think about your copy, you’re almost certainly missing an opportunity to test and improve. Even a tiny lift during checkout can have massive ROI implications.
And losing that opportunity to boost your ecommerce conversions — by simply failing to consider your copy — would be so un-fun.