Fast, Easy Checkout Turns Visitors into Students

Fast, Easy Checkout Turns Visitors into Students


Many digital shoppers abandon their cart. Chalk it up to lower attention spans, window-shoppers or “just browsing”, but most customers don’t wind up following through with their purchase. Instead, they leave their “carts” forsaken beside the proverbial discount VHS tapes in aisle four.

It’s an ugly scene facing any eCommerce retailer. For higher ed leaders, this tendency leaves significant numbers of registrants to flutter quietly out the door without leaving a trace.

The Students You Didn’t Know You Lost

Nearly 70% of online shopping experiences end with an abandoned cart, according to a recent study from the Baymard Institute. Of those, the collected responses from such shoppers paints a more detailed picture.

Excluding those who were “just browsing”, 35% of customers said the site wanted them to create an account prior to completing their purchase. Over a quarter said the checkout process was too arduous. Another quarter said they were unable to see their orders and total costs up front. 22% said the site crashed or had errors. 18% didn’t trust the site with their personal information and 16% said that access to the product was too slow.

Shopping cart abandonment is devastating to the bottom line in any digital sale. It’s essential for any higher ed institution to bring down the number of enrollments abandoned, and to reclaim the ones that have wandered off. To address the issues flagged by Baymard, colleges and universities need to craft checkout processes designed around the student.

Here are five ways to make the checkout process easier and more appealing to potential students.

1. Online Shopping Requires a Visual Digital Shopping Cart

Higher education is one of the most significant purchases a person will make in their life. It’d be ridiculous to hide the contents of your grocery cart with a blanket after every new item, and it’s equally unhelpful to force students to keep track of everything in their cart using memory alone. It also increases the likelihood of being flabbergasted at checkout, where additional fees inflate the final charge further.

The solution is to adopt a checkout system that includes a visual shopping cart that’s visible at every stage of the process. This makes it easy for students to understand what they’ve selected and know what their selections are going to cost them. Setting featured images for each course is also a boost to the customer experience, eliminating the grind of having to reference course codes.

According to Belinda Elliott-Bielecki, Director of Marketing and Communications at University of New Brunswick College of Extended Learning, the ease of a school’s registration process is a tipping point for many would-be students.

“If universities fail at the enrollment and registration experience, they could lose the customer altogether,” she said in an interview with the EvoLLLution. “It needs to be easy to use and intuitive, otherwise people might decide it’s not worth the hassle.”

When everything is clearly communicated and easy to understand, customers tend to stay with the organization. For higher education, it means students will stick around.

2. Sell Safe, Sell Secure

It doesn’t take a historic, scandalous breach to activate a potential student’s skepticism. They won’t offer their birthday, credit card and social security number to every site, so it's all the more important for them to feel safe as they interact with your institution’s website.

As threats to online security are always evolving, institutions need to commit to cyber security and evolve with those methodologies; preferably ones developed and backed by teams who expend every effort to shield customers’ personal information from cybercrime.

Teju Herath, Associate Professor of Information Systems in the Goodman School of Business at Brock University, told the EvoLLLution that hosting such a large amount of data paints a target on a school’s back.

“As the saying goes, ‘Big Data–Big Security’. Or perhaps ‘Big Data—Big Target’. The bigger the data, the bigger the target it presents to criminals trying to steal and sell it,” Herath said.

She said that institutions need to prioritize the same preventative measures that you’d use to fortify your home. “A simple anecdotal example is how we secure our homes using preventative measures (such as locks and gates), detective measures (such as alarms and monitoring), and response measures (such as insurance or police).”

Students surf a little safer, and feel more comfortable making purchases through your site.

3. Get In, Get Out

The purchasing trend that’s categorized most of the 21st century has been a slide towards convenience. The modern student is an experienced consumer, and they expect the same ease of use from their academic administration that they enjoy with the Amazons and Ubers of the world.

Many students still have nightmares about their registration process. Though the days of campus-stretching lines are finally coming to an end, far too many institutions have replaced in-person registrations with repetitive, confusing online registration processes that enforce multiple steps to complete one task. It’s tiresome, and hardly the “progress” most imagined digitization would bring.

Elliott-Bielecki said the registration process should be as effortless as the experience customers get with Amazon.

“Amazon makes it easy to purchase whatever you are looking to buy. The best part is that with just one click, your item is on its way to your door,” she said. “It would be wonderful if university registration and application processes worked similarly, so students can know exactly where they are in the process.”

Rapid registration is a necessity for learners. They need to register for courses with the same simplicity with which they hail an Uber, summoning the product with the push of a button. And if signup is a dealbreaker, that signup should need no more than a name and email address.

Rapid registration is a necessity for learners. They need to register for courses with the same simplicity with which they hail an Uber, summoning the product with the push of a button. And if signup is a dealbreaker, that signup should need no more than a name and email address.

4. Instant Access

The window between registering for an online course and having access to its content could be as quick as receiving a slice of pizza after pointing at “that one”. And yet, it almost never is.

Shoppers want to cut the time between making a purchase and receiving a product as much as possible. Students want access to online course materials and institutional resources as quickly as possible. To accommodate this, schools need to automate online course processes to provide instant access to those materials as soon as the card’s gone through. Your school’s learning management system and all relevant student information should be at their fingertips.

President and CEO of the American Distance Education Consortium, Ian Tebbett said choosing and paying for courses needs to be as simple as it is with other eCommerce services.

“Students then need immediate access to their purchase (courses) and 24/7 support if there are any issues that need resolving,” Tebbett said in an interview. “This is what we expect when making an online purchase and online education should be no different.”

The point of the student-registrar collaboration is to learn. The quicker you can promise to fulfill that request, the more enticing you become.

5. Automated, Easy Shopping

The nature of high-value purchases means students won’t always have time to complete their registration on the spot. Most institutions don’t prioritize a means of saving their learner’s offerings for when they stray. They have to refill their carts and re-enter information upon re-entry, which leads to needless stress.

Allowing students to save offerings for later mirrors the wish list functions offered by many eCommerce retailers, where customers can keep certain products saved in their browser so they can decide whether to purchase later.

Processes can also be automated to send an email to wandering prospects, prompting many of them to complete the purchase they left behind.

Heather Chakiris, Chief Student Experience Officer at UCLA Extension, told the EvoLLLution it’s important to grab a learner’s attention as they head out. “If students abandon their carts without making a purchase, ensure your design requirements include automated reminders with calls to action.”

An Amazon-Like Experience

Higher education does itself a disservice by building checkout processes around administrators. In the self-service age, this puts both schools and staff at a disadvantage by cutting the bottom line for the former and requiring constant input from the latter.

Today’s student has plenty of options to choose from as they chart the course of their academic and professional life. The checkout experience is a point of conversion for a staggering number of learners, where a few missed expectations can be the difference between hitting “register” and hitting the “back” button to find another school.

Designing checkout processes specifically around customer preferences is essential. Colleges and universities need to do more to value their customer’s time if they expect to keep up.

Learn more about Destiny One


Student Experience Enrollment Growth

Last updated: February 1, 2021


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