New Study: Checkout Frictions Rise as Some Merchants Pull Back on Value-Adds

The many faces of friction in the checkout experience cover a range from time spent to value-adds like free shipping and other variables that add up to good — or less good— checkouts.

PYMNTS developed the proprietary Checkout Conversion Index scoring system in 2016 to gauge checkout frictions among non-Amazon online merchants. Top performers are those that have removed the most barriers to consumers’ online shopping flow and purchase completion.

In Removing Friction at the Checkout: How Payment Experiences Influence Consumer Choice, produced in collaboration with, PYMNTS performed an anonymous shopping simulation of 510 top merchants with sales between $50 million to over $1 billion in Q2 and a survey of nearly 2,140 U.S. consumers, analyzing the current state of checkout friction.

What jumps out is that finding that checkout frictions have increased this year, if only slightly.

Per the study, an “overall Index score decrease of 1.1 percent — from 59.5 in Q1 2021 to 58.9 in Q2 2021 — reflects a minor increase in the friction consumers experienced when checking out, it represents a meaningful change in how retailers are prioritizing customer experience.”

A small reduction in free shipping by merchants is part of the cause. “PYMNTS research found that 63 percent of merchants offered free shipping in Q2 2021, compared to 74 percent in Q1.”

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Room for Checkout Improvement

While the frictions experienced during online checkout are improving, it’s not uniform.

For example, “research found that 86 percent of surveyed merchants offered guarantees and refunds in Q2, almost 10 percentage points more than in Q1 and 18 percentage points more than in Q4 2020. PYMNTS research found that some features designed to limit friction were adopted by more merchants, despite an overall increase in checkout friction per our index.”

That is offset somewhat by the finding that consumers are taking longer to shop, which is an indicator of friction downstream in the checkout process.

Per the study, “total shopping time spent per consumer has risen from 145 seconds in 2020 to 179 seconds in Q2, an increase of 24 percent. More time shopping may suggest that consumers have less patience for friction at checkout in the future, as they are spending more time before reaching the payment process. This, in turn, could make limiting friction even more important for customer loyalty as well as for higher conversion rates at checkout in the future.”

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Payments Choice Tips the Scales

Of note in Removing Friction at the Checkout: How Payment Experiences Influence Consumer Choice is the fact that middle- and bottom-performers beat top performers in payments choice.

According to the latest findings, middle- and bottom-performing merchants are increasing the number of payment methods accepted, “outperforming top-ranked merchants in this area on our index’s assessment of payment friction. Optional marketing opt-in was the most common feature in Q2 among bottom-performing merchants (67 percent). Overall, the average number of payments supported increased for middle-performing merchants (13 percent) and bottom-performing merchants (18 percent) in Q2.”

Not surprisingly, enterprise merchants tend to offer the least friction-filled experiences.

“PYMNTS research found that larger merchants are more likely to offer features such as inventory status, free shipping, product rating and reviews, than their smallest peers,” the study states.

Additionally, “37 percent of consumers who abandon shopping carts said the most important reason for doing so was not being ready to make the purchase. PYMNTS also found that affordable pricing and free shipping offers motivate customers to complete their purchases. Among online shoppers who abandoned their carts, 17 percent said they did so mainly because shipping costs were too high, and 17 percent cited high prices.”

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