The biggest UX mistake in e-commerce: discount code input on the checkout page

Increasing the conversion rate by removing the unnecessary friction from the purchase flow

It has been over 6 months now that I am working on GO2CINEMA – a cinema ticket booking engine for the UK. My venture into the startup world exposed me to a large number of startup founders. Whenever I am introduced to a new startup I try to offer useful feedback to my fellow entrepreneurs – after all, thorough, technical feedback is one of the most valuable assets when building a product.

Today I’d like to discuss an anti-pattern that I see many (most?) e-commerce startups do: discount code input on the checkout page.

tl;dr; Do not add discount code input to the checkout page. It will distract people from finishing the purchase and make them second-guess the decision. There are better ways to distribute promotions to new and existing customers, e.g. campaign URLs.

Discount code input on the checkout page.

By the time a user gets to the checkout page, the user has already made a relatively firm commitment to proceed with the purchase. Your task is simple: streamline the process. You need to remove any distractions that would make the user change his mind.

Lets think what happens when user sees “Enter discount code” just before proceeding to purchase:

Peter saw a tweet about a new service that is offering a virtual sales assistant that will engage customers on his e-commerce website and this way increase conversion rate.
Peter goes to the service website and he is instantly mesmerised by the beautiful illustrations demonstrating increased user conversion rates and overwhelmed by the thought of employing ML and AI to communicate with his customers.
The service costs a lot. However, Peter thinks the price is worth the service and proceeds to the purchase page. BUT WAIT! What is this?
[Peter sees “Enter discount code” input.]
Peter realises that he could save if he found a discount code. Peter goes to Google “discount code X 2017”. No discount code come up. However, while searching, Peter saw ads for the competitor service. Peter goes back to complete the purchase.
This time Peter is no longer sure whether this is such a good deal. Peter starts to ask questions: How much do the competitors charge? Where can I obtain a discount code? Does it really use ML and AI as the landing page implies?
Peter decides to postpone purchase until he can answer these questions.

The moral of the story is self explanatory – remove any distractions from the purchase flow. This includes,

  • Ensure that the page loads fast. If you are going to make me wait 5 seconds, thats enough time for me to re-think my decision to buy.
  • Hide navigation, support information, ads, etc. Navigation is just another component that can trigger fight-or-flight instinct before opening your wallet. Even including support contact number might prompt user to ask more questions before proceeding with the purchase.
Compare the header navigation of the main Fandango website VS Fandango purchase flow.

You want the customers to buy on instinct. It might sound evil, but thats what the big boys are doing (e.g. Amazon and 1-Click Ordering) and it works.

Amazon 1-Click Ordering in real life. Pressing the button adds Tide to your Amazon shopping basket.

A better way to distribute rewards

Discount codes remain an effective method to win new customers and establish loyalty of the existing customers. You should continue to use them, just ensure that it does not impact the main purchase flow. One way to do this is by creating campaign URLs.

You can include a discount code as part of the URL (e.g. https://go2cinema.com/vip-invitation/FJ3DDAB) or create a temporary landing page for a specific campaign (e.g. https://go2cinema.com/harry-potter-fans-half-price-weekend). The URL itself can be used to make the offer appear more exclusive (“vip-invitation”) and targeted to a specific group (“Harry Potter Fans”). After user hits the page, great him with a message explaining that a discount has been applied to their future purchase.

A side-benefit of the campaign URLs is that customers will be sharing the URL to your website with their friends, on coupon websites and discount hunter forums.

Designing GO2CINEMA purchase flow

I have started GO2CINEMA with 1 goal: create fast, simple and secure cinema ticket booking. It turned out to be a hell of a challenge. Every cinema has different ticket types, different ticket age policy, different ticket reservation fees, even different tickets for different seat types, etc.

I have managed to standardise the ticket purchase process across all of the UK cinemas. It takes 3-clicks (10–30 seconds) to complete the transaction. I have been testing the purchase and going to the cinema with my friends and family. However, I need more feedback!

Email me (gajus@applaudience.com) if you are planning going to the cinema and would like to participate in testing. If you are in London, we could even hit a movie together. 😄

Lets all go to the cinema

If you can give feedback, an SEO advice, a business advice, know an angel investor, know someone who can write an article about GO2CINEMA, make a tweet, invite me to a conference, a radio talk show, etc. or just want to express your support/ curiosity and say “Hi!”, email me at gajus@gajus.com or DM via Twitter, https://twitter.com/kuizinas.

You rock!

Bonus: How to use the coupon code input to your advantage as a consumer

Immediately when I started drafting this article, the first thought that came to my mind – I should create a browser extension that automatically finds the best coupon code for the website I am browsing. Turns out that someone has beat me to it.

Honey finds the best coupon code and applies it to your order with a single click of a button. No more going to search for a discount code!