Why is One-step checkout NOT best practice?

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There is an ongoing debate as to which checkout flow is superior: “multi step” vs “one step” checkout.

To be clear on the definition of each, the one-step checkout is essentially the entire checkout process on a single page (see screenshot below). All the information a retailer requires from a consumer to complete a sale, is presented on a single page.

The multi-step checkout is characterised by taking all the information (seen above) and breaks it down into multiple pages. To assist with this is a progress bar to set expectation and delivery transparency as to the number of pages and the effort required to complete. See an article written on the best practice progress bar.

To answer which checkout flow is superior first requires the right question...

What is the best checkout approach for a consumer to easily complete a transaction across all screen types?

With this in mind, the proper scrutiny on each checkout approach can now be applied.

Consumer Journey Context:

To answer the above question first requires clarity on what the checkout experience means to the consumer.

Before the consumer starts the checkout experience, he/she will have had full control of every aspect of seeking out and engaging with product and content.

This sense of control is a key part of creating amazing experiences. However, once the checkout process begins, the consumer loses all sense of control and is at the mercy of set processes dictated by the retailer and the requirements needed to confirm a transaction.

And because the checkout process demands certain steps to be followed, the way consumers can feel in some form of control requires the checkout process to be easy to use/effortless.

So how does this expectation translate to these two different checkout flows?

To break the suspense, it's the one-step checkout that is failing.

Below is a list of reasons as to why...

Not designed for smartphone:

The one-step checkout was designed for large desktop screens where the entire checkout could be seen in view (see the example above). The ability to see the entire process completely in view on a single page on desktop screens can be appealing and simplify the process.

However, the dominance of the smartphone has changed this dynamic considerably.

Click and Collect wasn’t a “thing”:

The one-step checkout was a popular choice when there was only one delivery option: delivery to home. This made the delivery section of the one-step simple and uncomplicated.

Today, customers expect many options and retailers work hard to offer multiple delivery to home options (slow or fast) and multiple pick up options (click and collect, lockers, pick up at other retail sites).

To apply these choices in a one-step checkout system and have it display elegantly on smartphone is difficult.

The extension to this issue of multiple options in a single step also applies to the payment step. This critical step in the checkout is now burdened with multiple options and if not presented in a simple and elegant manner will confuse and prompt bailouts.

Visually Intimidating:

Long pages of forms intimidate consumers, resulting in higher incidence of abandonments. Imagine the above one step checkout in a stacked from top to bottom.

The multi-step checkout creates digestible mini steps allowing the consumer to tackle information entry one step at a time.

Error Notification:

Imagine a consumer entering all his/her information on a one-step checkout (on a smartphone screen), enters the credit card information, selects the final “Buy Now” button and receives an error message. The consumer must then scroll back through all fields to try and find what went wrong.

This process of searching for the error becomes cumbersome and frustrating.

The multi-step checkout flow delivers “micro validation points” to verify the information entered during a specific step has been captured and is correct.

The ability to show the consumer the system (eCommerce technology) has captured information at certain step, provides comfort.


Forcing a high volume of functional elements to display on a single page increases the pageload time of the checkout. This issue is exacerbated on smartphone screens along with the need to often apply multiple database and freight table checks while the cart is loading.

One step checkout has a long standing reputation of being slow.

Behavioural Monitoring:

What cannot be monitored cannot be fixed. Because the one-page checkout is literally on one page, there is little insight that can be gained from monitoring engagement with this checkout type.

Retailers struggle to construct behavioural sales funnel data to identify issues, because there isn't any. And with the introduction of multiple options within each step, this becomes an important part of enhancing checkout experiences in the future.

“Interaction Cost” is high:

The single most important method in creating intuitive and seamless online experiences is through the reduction of “interaction cost”: this is the level of effort the consumer must exert when engaging with a retailer. And in this case, the checkout.

A retailer will never entirely eliminate “interaction cost” but it can be reduced. “Interaction Cost” is made up of two forms of effort: physical and mental.

  • “Physical” comprise all the actions a consumer take to drive engagement: tapping, clicking, scrolling, swiping, pinching etc..
  • “Mental” is the thinking or cognitive exertion a consumer needs to take to complete a task

Some examples of mental effort in the checkout:

  1. Making consumers remember a coupon code to apply a discount
  2. Once the coupon code is applied no visual validation is displayed to show the coupon has been activated
  3. Having consumers search for input errors on a one step checkout

Retailers think they are reducing interaction cost with one-step checkouts because its one step. The reduction of steps from four down to one is, in theory, a dramatic reduction in physical effort.

When creating the checkout experience design, no one considers the mental effort involved. This is one of the most common misconceptions of experience design globally.

However, as seen above with the issues of the one-step, there is a heightened level of “mental effort” which in turn elevates interaction cost.

To reduce interaction cost requires a combination of physical and mental effort to be simultaneously reduced.

When designing the ideal checkout for your customer, look at your customers and visualise how they need to transact with you on smartphones and take into consideration the mental effort (or cognitive load) required to complete a transaction.

Once you take on this perspective, the multi-step checkout flow becomes the clear winner.

This article was as tagged as Customer Experience Design

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