How many fields are enough? Getting customer forms just right

Last updated on August 11, 2017

Put on a pot of coffee and settle in, it’s time to talk about customer forms.

Pesky and unavoidable, customer forms are crucial to successful e-commerce practices. But, even though they are widely accepted by customers as a necessary chore – as we’re going to see – it’s not simply a case of ‘anything will do’ when it comes to drawing them up.

You will know them by their forms…

Think about it: because the internet marketplace is so competitive, so full of different virtual merchants each with their own particular brand of customer form, the experience of filling out different forms becomes a meaningful way for customers to preference one company over another. For a large percentage of shoppers, the ease and accessibility of the customer form could be the difference between completing a transaction or abandoning it. E commerce companies who respect their customers’ valuable time will understand this and adapt their customer forms to show it.

Lengthy customer forms

Lengthy customer forms. Who’s got time for it?

For the skeptics in the room, a 2016 study by the Baynard Institute into Checkout Usability discovered that the second-most important reason for customers to commit the mortal sin of Checkout Abandonment was a “too long or too complicated checkout process”. More than a quarter (27%) of ‘not-quite transactions’ boiled down to customers getting frustrated by the checkout process, and when this happens, it is invariably the work of a shoddy customer form.

What Not To Do

The checkout process is the final, thrilling step in the entire sales dance… Come on, we’ve all been there before: this is the moment when you’ve found what you want, and you are excited to enter your details and complete the purchase.

And there is nothing to kill the mood, at this stage, quite like an overly-long, fussy, complicated customer form. By its nature, the form is already an annoying element of the transaction – but when forms seem to be actively blocking you from making your purchase, any warm-blooded customer is likely to pull the plug on the deal at the last hurdle.

As this article demonstrates, when a company gets it wrong, it is because the form is unnecessarily cluttered and complicated: full of too many steps (the amount of different sets of data you need to enter) and too many fields (the individual lines of data that need to be captured). As this sample image from the Baynard Institute study shows, the eye is easily distracted by the presence of text on the page – and particularly if this text seems pointless to customers, or needlessly complicated, the chance of frustration grows considerably.

Customer forms should make people feel like they’re trapped in a maze

Customer forms should make people feel like they’re trapped in a maze

Although too many steps and too many fields are the most common problems with bad e-commerce forms, other things to watch out for are unclear error messages (who can stand those?) and overly-strict data validation options, which can lead to problems with completing the form at all (one of the single most frustrating experiences you can have on the Internet).

When It Goes Right

This article provides a great rundown of the features that feed into a smooth customer form experience. A lot of it is commonsense: you’re looking to present clear form fields to the customer, in only as many steps as bring clarity and order to the checkout process. This requires designing and optimizing the form’s workflow in a way that makes sense to the customer.

For example, if the always-popular guest checkout is not a possibility, then e-commerce sites might try requiring customers to register right at the beginning of the process – not right at the end. Getting that part of the data exchange out of the way early will lead to much less frustration when it comes to checkout time.

In a similar vein, address look-up, other predictive entry tools, and the ability to copy shipping and billing information are all time-saving measures. Finally, a clear progress indicator for your customer form manages their expectations, and allows them to feel like they are getting closer and closer to finally making the purchase the more data they enter.

a clear progress indicator for your customer form manages their expectations

For stats junkies, the Baynard Institute study found that in 2016 the average customer form in the e-commerce marketplace contained 14.88 form fields, when – really – they only need to contain 6-8 fields. This shows that the average company can afford to streamline their customer form experience by as much as 50%, leading to much less frustration during checkout times, and less chance that the customer will jump off the hook at the last second.

Want to know more? Connect with us to know how you can understand the valuable time of your customers and adat their cusotmers forms more effective and attractive.

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