Guest Checkouts – The Feature We Should Have Had 5 Years Ago

Today we launched guest checkouts on Detailed Image. A guest checkout just means that the customer isn’t required to create an account to make a purchase. Every single article or study we’ve ever seen has said something to the effect of “if you don’t have guest checkouts you’re basically burning money and pissing off potential customers”.

A few weeks ago I realized that I’d be able to launch the feature before the holiday shopping rush if I hustled. Presumably guest checkouts are most important during the holiday season when people that don’t normally shop with you are making one-off gift purchases. So that’s what I did.

Here’s what it looks like:

Detailed Image Guest Checkouts

The challenge is to still push signing up for an account while also making it very easy to proceed as a guest, and to do it without writing a long paragraph of text. I like what we did, although we’ll wait for the numbers and customer feedback before declaring it a success. I’m hoping to A/B test a variety of things throughout the checkout process soon, including this copy.

The real question is: why did it take so long? The answer is pretty crappy. Back in 2007 when I designed the infrastructure for this shopping cart, everything was predicated on having a user account to make a purchase, leave a review, sign up for the newsletter, and more, as well as for us to properly track purchases on the back end. Over time we just kept building upon that until recently in the past year or so when we started decoupling some functionality from having a user account, such as signing up for the newsletter (another duh feature).

It wasn’t an easy problem to re-work, but it wasn’t all that difficult either. One simple feature we had to build was an order status page so people without an account could check on their order. We had some back-end work to do too, but again it really wasn’t that bad given the potential payoff. I/we had been avoiding rework that wasn’t really that much work, in part because it’s not sexy work, and that was my fault as the lead developer. I should have made it a higher priority.

The good news is that it’s live and we’ll reap the benefits moving forward.

2 comments on Guest Checkouts – The Feature We Should Have Had 5 Years Ago

  1. Rob says:

    So is the only difference between someone checking out as a guest and someone checking out while making an account that they set a password? If that’s the case, would it be possible to suck people in to having an account by simply generating a password for them? ie. if they leave the password field blank you just generate one and send it to them, using the excuse that they will require that for checking order status etc? You could even do it silently, and as you do now send them the link to track their order, but if they click it they’re actually auto-logged in.

    I think the biggest problem I personally find with guest checkout vs. creating an account is the order in which things happen. If I put something in the cart, there should be few barriers put in the way of me giving you my money. If it requires me to create an account before proceeding then I’ll be put off, wheras if it just starts collecting the information I’d need to give anyway (payment address, delivery address etc.) and then on the “order complete page” just has a field that says “Want to create an account? Enter a password 2x here” then I’m a lot more receptive to creating an account.

    What’s best practice for this? What do all the industry blogs/leaders represent?

    As a tangent – do you ever regret building your own cart? Do you ever think that issues like this would have been simpler to solve if you’d just chosen to go with something like Magento or Shopify and created custom modules/plugins where required? Likewise with your warehouse – how do you think it would have affected you if you’d gone with a 3PL instead of warehousing yourself?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Good questions as always Rob 🙂

      So is the only difference between someone checking out as a guest and someone checking out while making an account that they set a password?

      Yes, for us (and most merchants I suspect) the only difference is you’re creating a password. I think the bigger thing is the perceived difference: I’m setting up something permanent, I have to remember another password, and being put off as you described by having to enter info that isn’t needed for the purchase.

      If that’s the case, would it be possible to suck people in to having an account by simply generating a password for them?

      That’s pretty much what we’re doing on the back-end. Right now they’d still have to register separately to “activate” the account, but in the future what you described may be better.

      On the “order complete page” just has a field that says “Want to create an account? Enter a password 2x here” then I’m a lot more receptive to creating an account.

      We definitely will consider doing what you described after checkout. Right now we just want to gather some data to see how many people use guest checkout. I have no idea if it will be 10 % or 90% of new customers. If it’s on the high side we’ll invest more into getting them to create accounts for sure.

      What’s best practice for this? What do all the industry blogs/leaders represent?

      Those stories I linked to above have some insight into best practices, this one in particular. I think the most important thing is having the guest checkout available. I’d like to test some improved checkout flows in the future. For this launch though it was mostly about the simplest way to work it into our current checkout flow, which may or may not be the best way.

      As a tangent – do you ever regret building your own cart?

      No, because it gives us the ability to customize even the tiniest of details to be exactly the way we want them, which is something I love BUT if I was starting over again tomorrow I would pick Shopify or Magento or something similar. They’re so good right out of the box, and like you mentioned with plug-ins you can accomplish stuff much quicker then I can program it, so from a business perspective it’s worth the tradeoff of not having customizability. I mean, you can have a great e-commerce site up in a few days! And then focus on revenue and not on development. I would still get as good as I could at customizing on those respective platforms. However our decision in 2007 was a great one for us, and now that we have this working e-commerce software it still feels like a huge advantage to having built it even if some features are slower to roll out. Some day though, that might change, and if it does I’d be open to switching.

      Likewise with your warehouse – how do you think it would have affected you if you’d gone with a 3PL instead of warehousing yourself?

      Kind of the same answer lol. I love the control we have at the warehouse, but man if I was starting over tomorrow you could go so much faster by having a 3rd party do it all.

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