How does a company optimise its checkout flow? For publishers, it’s the moment of truth: A reader has decided she wants to subscribe, and now she just needs to complete the purchase. Most don’t get to the end of the process.

This was the subject in a Webinar meet-up held on Wednesday, covering strategies and tactics for growing digital news subscriptions. The meet-up also covered product innovation and monetising podcasts

Kunle Campbell of 2X eCommerce, a growth consultant and trainer at Facebook Local News Subscriptions Accelerators across the world, presented best practices to improve the user check-out experience.

There are two clear concepts when it comes to the customer checkout experience, Campbell said: “Every session is worth X amount of dollars to you, and you need to maximise that.”

What media companies need to think about is that they have two types of customers, he said.

“You may even have a third, but there are two major types: people who want to buy print (maybe bundled with digital), and there are digital-only subscribers. In that case you want to take two different flows.”

This is where the mistake comes in that he’s seen over and over: providing a single checkout flow for both digital and print, when they should be two separate flows. “The goal is to get people through the checkout process so quickly that they don’t even realise they’ve been in a checkout.”

Key steps in a desktop checkout experience

The three key steps for a print+digital checkout flow are:

  1. Customer data capture.
  2. Address data capture.
  3. Payment.
Print plus digital, and digital-only subscriptions, should have different payment checkout flow models.
Print plus digital, and digital-only subscriptions, should have different payment checkout flow models.

For a digital-only checkout experience, the only two items should be customer data capture, then payment and address data capture in one step. This is because getting a physical address separately is not important with digital only, and you want to make this first step as frictionless and fast as possible.

Only an email address field is needed for digital only subscription payment process.
Only an email address field is needed for digital only subscription payment process.

“If you’re selling print, obviously you need a destination to which your newspapers or magazine will be delivered to. If you’re selling digital only, the e-mail address serves as this [delivery destination],” Campbell said.

He then broke down the process for The Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

“At the top is a social log-in option. There have been several tests that have been run, and at the bare minimum is you should have Facebook log-in. This allows you to grab several key data points. The singular most important field that you want to get at customer data capture is their e-mail address.”

Looking at the Telegraph page, Campbell said the only field he would put on it would be the e-mail address. This is useful for abandoned carts — you can then follow up with them later, perhaps with a special offer.

The Telegraph's customer data capture process at the first subscription stage.
The Telegraph's customer data capture process at the first subscription stage.

“One weakness on this page which could cause a little bit of friction is the request of a password at the start of a checkout,” he advised. “You really don’t want to do this at the start of data capture. You also want to provide a means to contact you if the customer has any issues.

“Some people still want to speak with someone if they have questions, so you need to have at least a phone number or a link to an online chat facility. Then you want to reinforce exactly what they’re getting, the value you offer. Keep it to three to five bullet points, no more than five. You really want to reinforce your features and benefits here.”

Campbell stressed to think about that single action you want to get, which is the e-mail capture. You will get their first and last name at the payment capture stage, so you don’t really need that on the first page.

The next example was The New York Times, which does this better than The Telegraph, in Campbell’s opinion.

The New York Times customer subscription process was reviewed in the INMA Webinar.
The New York Times customer subscription process was reviewed in the INMA Webinar.

“One thing to notice on these pages is the lack of navigational links,” he pointed out. “You want to get them in and out as paid subscribers with no other distractions or avenues out before that happens. You really want to funnel them down to actual subscribers.”

The Economist does this without social log-ins. Users simply put in their e-mail address and then click next. Campbell shared that 86% of users do not want to create a new account on Web sites.

“Do not create an experience where they must create a password until after they’ve become a paid subscribers. You don’t need to ask them for passwords at the start of the checkout process.”

The issue of mobile came up, and Campbell mentioned this one-field template works perfectly with mobile because it’s clear and simple, resulting in an easy screen and a frictionless process.

“Nothing is that busy and there’s less clutter,” he said.

In fact, designing this checkout process as mobile-first — then transferring that process to desktop — is the preferred way to go.

Step two is the address collection stage. With the help of an address finder, there is only a single field needed to collect this. The address finder automatically discovers the user’s address as they start typing.

“If that does not work, you could have a link that says ‘manually enter your address,’” Campbell suggested. “This also reduces the problem of mistyped address and incorrect information.”

The last step is payment capture. There could be several fields involved or it could be one click.

News brands should give people three options to pay. A mandatory option is credit card. Other possibilities include PayPal (in the United States, this constitutes about 60% of all online payments). A third option could be an automatic mobile device payment process, such as Google and Apple Pay with fingerprint or facial ID. Again, always have your customer service contact details visible, and perhaps consider adding a gifting option.

“Notice a theme,” Campbell concluded. “If you can make things one field or one click, do it.”