Guest Checkouts and Opportunity Cost Analysis – Part 1 of 3


This article is about the optimization of, what I consider to be one of the lowest hanging fruits for ecommerce websites, the checkout process. It can also relate to other types of web site, i.e. sites that require customers to pass through an online checkout process to purchase products or services.


– a locked checkout (a term coined by the author) is an checkout process that requires visitors to create an account in order to complete a purchase. Usually they require users to provide a username and a password before the order can be processed and it’s the antonym of guest checkout

– a guest checkout is a checkout that leaves allows shoppers to buy products/services without asking them to create a username and a password.

This article is split in three parts: in the first part I will analyze  the psychological impact of the non-guest checkouts with the help of an analogy between a brick and mortar shopping experience and a Sign In pages for an online checkout. In the second and third parts I look at numbers (evaluate how much money you’re leaving on the table if you don’t offer a guest checkout option).

Part I: The psychological impact of locked checkouts

No matter how much efforts you put in paid advertising, SEO or other traffic acquisition tactics, there will not be much value in them if your website is not converting browsers into customers at an acceptable rate.

For the purpose of this article we’ll assume that you’ve spent the necessary resources to improve your landing pages. They should be top performers: no flaws between keywords, ads and landing pages, your ads are in alignment with your visitors’ goals, your landing pages are matching their expectations and persona.

Scenario: your visitors are ready to buy and they click on your highly desired call to action button, the Add to Cart, and they are sent to the next pages in the process. On the first page of the checkout process, (aka the Sign In page), can your visitors start the checkout process as guests or only if they register?

If not, here’s how how a  similar “welcome” could sound in a brick and mortar store:

You went to the store, put your stuff in the shopping cart and went to the cashier. The cashier: “If you like to buy something from us you first have to create an account – here’s a nice form for you to fill it out -, give us some private details such as your email address and your full name, tell us exactly where you live and share with us your credit card information. If you don’t want to do the aforementioned, sorry, you can’t buy from us”. You: “Huh?!”

Would you buy from a real store if they would ask you all of the above? I bet you wouldn’t, but then why are so many sites stuck on this?

When we fill in forms (online and offline) we are required to share bits of information such as name, addresse, phone number and even more sensitive data like credit card details. Automatically, the brain will enter the suspicious mode and will start triggering questions such as why do you need my shipping address or why do you need my full name. Some of these questions will have obvious mental answers and will be answered in the unconscious mode. But other questions will trigged F.U.D’s (fears, uncertainties and doubts) which will be affecting goal completion rates and the overall website conversion rate.

A lot of visitors will ask themselves why are you requiring them to fill certain data or why do you need them to complete some actions, i.e. why do I need to create an account to buy this product/service or Why do you need my email address to ship me a book?

And when they start asking themselves, they start to leave/abandon the checkout process. And when they start leaving the checkout process, you start loosing money. How many? Stay tuned and I’ll share two methods for calculating how much money you’re leaving on the table with locked checkouts.

Pitstop Media offers ROI based internet marketing services such as landing page testing services and conversion rate optimization services. Our A/B and multivariate tests have helped companies increase conversion rates by as much as 75%. Let us increase your conversion rates, too!

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Traian is Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+. He is also the author of the Ecommerce SEO book.


6 Responses to “Guest Checkouts and Opportunity Cost Analysis – Part 1 of 3”

  1. Lauralee Clemmer said:

    Apr 02, 10 at 6:50 am

    Hello, i read your web blog currently and then and that i own the same web blog and i was simply interested if you get a ton of spam comments? If you do how does one manage it, any plugin or one thing you can advise I get so a lot of it is driving me off the wall therefore any help is much appreciated.

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  2. TraiaN said:

    Apr 02, 10 at 10:16 am

    your comment looks like a well thought spam. Usually I delete such comments (nothing related to the post it has been published on) but I like yours and I will publish it.

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  3. Moot said:

    Apr 07, 10 at 3:31 pm

    I’m looking for any A/B split testing results that shows how much improvements can be done by taking out the registration process on online checkout. I remember seeing this somewhere before, but now I couldn’t find it again. Was wondering if you happen to have any. Thanks

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  4. TraiaN said:

    Apr 07, 10 at 4:52 pm

    moot: that will be nice to have. let me know if you find something related.

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  5. Guest Checkouts and Opportunity Cost Analysis – Part 3 of 3 said:

    Apr 09, 11 at 12:42 pm

    […] data on from your account. The only way to accurately derive the loss is to actually run a split test, with and without registration requirements. Enjoy testing!Rate this post!VN:F [1.9.8_1114]please wait…Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)VN:F […]

  6. Guest Checkouts and Opportunity Cost Analysis – Part 2 of 3 said:

    Jun 24, 11 at 4:11 pm

    […] is the second part on the monetary opportunity cost analysis for guest checkouts series (read the first part here).For the next two parts I will describe a couple of methods that can be used to derive the […]