Tactic #200 - Test a multi-page checkout process against a single one

Tactic_Test a multi-page checkout process against a single one


To reduce bounce rate during the checkout process, test using a one-page solution: that is to say, display all the different steps - billing, shipping and payment - on one page rather than having a new page for each. This will give customers a quick and immediate sense of the steps they need to complete in order to make their purchase, which will give a comforting certainty as well as make the process appear shorter. By displaying the funnel clearly in this way, it will also encourage completion of the full task. It has been proven that once having begun a task, we tend to feel a strong desire to follow-through and complete it and so allowing customers to clearly and quickly see which parts they have finished and which are left to go will incite this reaction and lead to higher conversion.


  • Zeigarnik Effect (Zeigarnik, 1920)
  • Need for Certainty/Uncertainty (Kagan, 1972)

The Research

Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is based on the idea that it is human nature to finish what we start and, if we don’t finish something, we experience dissonance, resulting in an uncomfortable feeling. Not finishing something puts us in a state of tension that makes us pay more attention to the thing we want to finish. The consequence is that we remember uncompleted tasks more than the tasks already completed and are often driven by this effect to complete something. In other words, we have little motivation to recall things we've finished whereas we have a strong investment of interest in unfinished things and this keeps them in the forefront of our minds.

Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (after whom this effect is named) made note of this cognitive bias in a restaurant: she observed that waiters could remember complex food orders but once the table had received their food and paid their bill, all details would be forgotten. Orders of those tables that were still “incomplete” could be readily and easily called to mind (even if it had been some time since they’d taken their order or dealt with the table) whereas those of the “completed” tables were no longer in their memories. Once a table was completely taken care of then the details pertaining to that table would be “classed” as complete in the waiter’s mind and effectively erased from their memory in order to make way for new - or still relevant - information.

The Zeigarnik Effect has many possibilities for application in the commercial world. It is for example often used by TV shows or video games that engage the “cliffhanger effect” to keep watchers and users engaged with their product. It can also be utilised online to ensure customers don’t feel the sense of dissonance associated with this effect. Providing a clear and positive sense of progression and ultimate closure through displaying things such as progress bars can help to make your customer aware of how far along in the payment or sign-up process they have gotten and encourage them to continue on to completion.

Need for Certainty/Uncertainty

Kagan (1976) revealed that as part of our six basics human needs, there exists at the same time both a need for certainty and another need for variety and uncertainty. This need for certainty comes from the fact that our brain likes to know what is going on and feel in control of its interactions by recognising patterns. Indeed, feeling more certain about the world around us, as though we understand something correctly and can therefore predict what will happen, leads to positive feelings of control and security. Moreover, when the craving for certainty is met, there is a sensation of reward. The ability to predict something and then obtain data that meets those predictions results in a positive feeling. That’s why some people enjoy the accomplishments they feel by cleaning their house, organising their files, solving problems, and so on: it gives them a positive feeling of certainty. In contrast, the brain reacts negatively towards uncertainty leading us to feel alert, anxious and uncomfortable.

The paradox is that this tension we feel when we are uncertain can also have a positive effect. It is often uncertainty that drives creativity and results in the variety and the element of spontaneity and surprise that we also crave as humans. Because of this, both certainty and uncertainty are human needs that have to exist in balance.

This theory has many important applications in marketing. In some cases, bringing certainty to your customers, reassuring them and giving them information is vital to ensure positive feelings are induced. Indeed, there are even entire industries that exist to resolve larger uncertainties because people are willing to pay in order to receive an increased level of certainty (for example, for expert advice on stock market predictions). On the other hand, sometimes inducing a certain level of uncertainty in your customers helps to encourage them to interact in the way you would like, motivating them to complete the desired action in order to regain a comfortable level of certainty.

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