The Deadzone: Why the online checkout is dead

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Imagine shopping online without ever seeing a checkout. Imagine arriving on a site for the first time and being able to make a purchase without needing to register an account or enter your card or address details. This is the future that Apple Pay intends to offer shoppers.

Online retailers are facing a significant challenge - more and more traffic is shifting to mobile devices, but this channel converts at a lower rate than desktop. A significant part of this problem is that, for most sites, the mobile experience is simply inferior to the desktop equivalent.

Mobile-first is gaining traction as a design philosophy, but in the interim revenue is falling through gaps created by the cumbersome nature of mobile interactions. Typing on a soft keyboard is known to take more concentration and produce more errors. Combine this with the difficulty of laying out the necessary forms and information on a smaller screen and you have a recipe for frustrated customers and lost sales.

Payment made easy

Into this breach steps Apple Pay. Its aim? Nothing less than the complete digitisation of your wallet, including cash, credit and debit cards, and even ID. We are not there yet, but already on any iPhone or iPad with Touch ID  and when using Safari on a Mac running Sierra, you can find stores that offer a slick and seamless purchasing experience.

So what does this mean for the customer experience? Most significantly, it completely changes the nature of the user flow, especially for new users. The ApplePay icon can be added anywhere on a website, including product details and listings pages. Once implemented (Apple estimates 2-4 weeks work, depending on the options required) it transforms the way users can pay. Personalisation based on device ensures that only eligible users ever see the icon, reducing clutter for those that are not yet registered.

When browsing on an iPhone or iPad, customers can buy products with a single tap, from any page that features the Apple Pay icon. They then authenticate the purchase directly on the same device using Touch ID. Buying on a Mac adds in an extra step - the authentication request is sent to a linked iPhone or Apple Watch for confirmation - but is otherwise identically seamless.

This is especially powerful for new customers as Apple Pay users only have to register their details once - with the app itself. All those visitors who saw something cool while browsing, but were put off by having to enter their address and card details again, are now making a purchase. Early adopters have reported conversion rates doubling, with mobile traffic particular benefiting.

This ability to work across multiple devices, without needing to engage with forms, or hop between multiple windows, transforms the online shopping process. Optimising the customer experience involves increasing the motivation to purchase, and simplifying the digital journey. By almost completely removing the barriers to completing payment, Apple Pay offers a huge leap forward for simplification, leaving vendors free to focus on increasing motivation through delivering great content and experiences.

The death of the checkout

Apple claims interest in Apple Pay is driving new iPhone sales, and the associated swell of interest is pushing vendors to implement the functionality on their sites. It is a virtuous circle that may well sweep aside the standard checkout, leaving it looking woefully outdated.

Apple are not the only ones bringing solutions to market. Android Pay and PayPal One Touch are hot on their heels. Whether or not these integrated wallets become the payment model of the future, it seems likely that something equivalent - a user experience that minimises the need to type in sensitive details accurately through a phone screen - will inevitably replace the checkouts we wrestle with now.

What would your site look like if resources and time did not have to be committed to designing, maintaining and troubleshooting a checkout process? What new content or fresh user flows could you put in place instead? And, crucially, how much better will it be for shoppers? The future may not be Apple, but it will certainly be interesting.

Adam Beautement is optimisation lead at Biglight.

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