Checkout best practice 101: guest checkout

Welcome to part two of a series in which I’ll look at some checkout optimisation basics, features or practices which are likely to reduce abandonment rates.

The first post looked at why enclosing the checkout process is a good idea, now we’ll look at the use of guest checkout.

What is guest checkout?

It’s providing an option for (mainly new) customers to enter the checkout without first having to login or register.

Five years ago, it was common practice for retailers to ask customers to register and create an account before going on to pay for items.

Now, registration is much rarer. Indeed, very few major retailers still insist that customers register first (Boots is one exception).

Why? It’s a potential barrier to purchase, so retailers take to choose the guest checkout approach, as Macy’s does:

Guest checkout macys

Why provide a guest checkout option?

In a nutshell, it’s all about customer experience. Having spent time selecting products, many customers just want to complete the transaction quickly, and asking customers to register just seems like more hard work.

  • It can reduce checkout abandonment. Data from SaleCycle (and plenty of reports elsewhere) shows that 23% of customers cite having to create an account as a reason for abandoning purchases.
  • It speeds up the checkout process. Without registration, customers can get straight into entering address and payment details.
  • Registration seems like too much commitment. Some customers just want to buy, they don’t necessarily want to make the commitment of creating an account.
  • It’s a great way to increase conversions on mobile. Checking out on mobile, with a smaller screen and sometimes variable connection speeds, can be much harder. Reducing the amount of work for users (real and perceived) by avoiding registration is a must.
  • Registration seems like a barrier. Having to create an account is frequently cited as a cause of cart abandonment.To some users, it seems like unnecessary form-filling.


Reasons for cart abandonment. 

What if you want to encourage customers to register?

So, a guest checkout option can avoid many of the negative effects of forced registration, and should increase conversions as a result.

However, there are advantage to registration, for retailers and customers.

  • The ability to market to buyers more effectively. If you can get customers to register, and to subsequently flesh out profile details retailers have more information for marketing emails.
  • Customer retention / repeat business. Registration allows businesses to develop a relationship with customers. It also makes subsequent purchases easier, as address and payment details can be saved.
  • Special offers / rewards. For registered customers, registration can allow them to access special offers or rewards.

So, the ideal solution would be one which avoids making registration a barrier but which also keeps open the possibility that customers can still register if they want to.

Here’s one such example from John Lewis:

jl guest

After all, creating an account only requires customers to enter an email address and set a password. The email is often taken during the first step, so it require very little extra effort on the customer’s part.

The key is to offer it once the purchase is complete, or almost complete, thus avoiding making it into a barrier.

Here’s an example of how it should be done (from Lowe’s):

lowes checkout

Guest checkout examples and one possible problem


Here, Sears works to sell the benefits of registration (membership) and push shoppers in that direction, pointing out that members can accumulate points and access special deals.

However, it still leaves the guest checkout option, and reassures customers that they can always join later on.

sears guest checkout


The labelling is different here from Crate&Barrel, which distinguishes between new and returning customers.

For repeat customers, this pushes them towards signing in. Fine if they remember their passwords, but potentially a problem if they don’t.

C&B doesn’t even ask new customers to register, instead pushing them towards guest checkout, but reassuring them that an account can be created later.

Crate & Barrel checkout


Good simple guest checkout from Lowe’s. It doesn’t bother to sell registration, but is instead more concerned about sending customers through to checkout without any friction.

lowes guest checkout


Guest checkout can be especially important for mobile shoppers as any extra date entry can be much harder on a small screen.

Lululemon provides three options for mobile users: signing in to an existing account, creating an account and…

lulu 1  lulu2

…guest checkout:


The problem?

Passwords. How many passwords have you set up for ecommerce sites and, more importantly, how many can you remember?

Chances are you may remember one or two from the sites you use the most, or you may use the same password for several (though this is not a good idea), but there’ll be many sites where you have no idea of the password.

Many will opt for guest checkout as a way to circumvent this problem. However, when sites spot that this email has already been used, some will make you go through the password reset process, thus negating the benefits of guest checkout.

Here’s an example from Sears. Using an email in guest checkout which I had already used on the site triggers this password reset option.

However, Sears clearly understands the risk that shoppers may abandon at this point, and so it has added a ‘no thanks, continue as guest’ option.

guest password sears

An alternative to guest checkout

One alternative is just to remove the sign in / checkout as guest step altogether, and send people straight into the checkout process.

Threadless is one such example. Once users have selected their product(s), they go straight from this shopping cart page

thread 1

…to the checkout, where they can begin to enter address details and complete the purchase.

Note that there is an option to login or create an account, but Threadless has chosen not to make this especially prominent.

It seems that the retailer has decided to prioritise the removal of any barriers to purchase over the need to promote account creation.

threadless 2

In summary

Whether retailers choose a guest checkout option like those shown above, or take the bolder step of removing the login page altogether as Threadless has, making customers register should be avoided at all costs. 

I’d advise retailers still making customers register (on mobile and desktop) to test a different approach to see the effects.

If you need further evidence, take a look at this article from UX expert Jared Spool. Yes, it’s seven years old now, but the advice still stands.

For more information, see our Checkout Best Practice Guide, as well guides on mobile commerce, customer experience, and social customer service, all on the ClickZ Intelligence site. 


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