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Guest Checkouts: Definition, Benefits, And Best Practices (2023)


Guest checkouts solve two of main issues that can lead to cart abandonment: mistrust in the shopping site and the need to create an account. That’s because guest checkouts drop the long sign-up process and allow customers to quickly enter only essential personal information to make a purchase.

Because a breezy checkout process can result in higher conversion rates, offering guest checkout is a no-brainer for many online businesses. Here’s what you need to know about using it successfully. 


What is a guest checkout?

Guest checkout—also known as anonymous checkout—is an ecommerce checkout process where shoppers aren’t required to create a customer account to complete a purchase online. Instead, the guest shopper enters the required information—their name, shipping address, and billing information—to finish the transaction. 

No information entered through a guest checkout is stored in the business’s database. The information only applies to the single order and is used to complete the transaction. 

The process differs from account-based checkout, which requires shoppers to log in with a username and password. The purpose of account-based checkouts is to expedite future purchases from the store. It also allows the business to offer personalized promotions and product recommendations based on the shopper’s behavior. 

Benefits and drawbacks of guest checkout

The decision to implement a guest checkout comes down to a delicate push and pull between what your customers want and what your business needs. 

Benefits of guest checkout

Nearly half of online consumers prefer to check out as a guest for two key reasons: they believe it’s faster than creating an account, and they don’t have to input as much personal information. As a result, guest checkout conversion rates for first-time shoppers are often higher because there are fewer barriers to completion. 

The advantages of guest checkout include:

  • Reduced friction. Twenty-four percent of cart abandonment happens because the site requires the shopper to create an account to complete a purchase. By making account creation—or login—optional, you can eliminate a leading cause of customer drop-off. 
  • Speed. Two-thirds of consumers expect to checkout in four minutes or less. Guest checkout helps you meet this expectation by allowing shoppers to skip account creation. 
  • Trust. Guest checkouts can help create trust with first-time buyers wary about sharing their data. They only provide the information necessary to complete and ship the purchase—no need to provide a username or password, and their personal info won’t be stored. If they have a positive experience, they may be more likely to create an account next time.

Drawbacks of guest checkout 

While the disadvantages of guest checkout are real, they mainly apply to sellers. It’s up to you to determine if the pros of guest checkout outweigh the cons: 

  • No data. For ecommerce merchants, the inability to collect valuable data is the leading drawback of guest checkouts. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify only collect and store user information when shoppers create an account. No information besides the customer’s email address and a record of their order is stored in your database. This can create issues for businesses that use customer data—like buyer demographics and order history—to engage with customers.
  • No follow-up marketing. Unless they’ve opted for email communications, ecommerce stores only contact guest purchasers to confirm the order and provide shipping updates—no promotional emails, testimonial requests, or other communication to encourage future transactions and repeat purchases. 
  • No abandoned cart reminders. When a customer without an account abandons their cart, you don’t have the option to contact them with reminders. Abandoned cart email programs automatically contact customers with additional product offers or promotions—but this option isn’t available if the customer began the checkout process as a guest. 
  • No order history tracking. Since guest purchase data is so limited, it can be difficult to track a customer’s order history, understand buyer activity before purchase, and refine sales and marketing tactics to attract more first-time buyers. 

4 best practices for guest checkout 

  1. Offer guest checkout as an option
  2. Communicate the benefits of each checkout option
  3. Make guest checkout as seamless as possible
  4. Implement security measures to prevent fraud

Here are four ways to get the most out of guest checkout for your customers and your business:

1. Offer guest checkout as an option

The first way to ensure the effectiveness of your guest checkout is to prominently display the option at the forefront of the checkout process. You can give users two clear options: checkout as a guest or log in as a returning customer. 

2. Communicate the benefits of each checkout option

Make it apparent to buyers why or when they should check out as a guest or create an account. There are benefits to both—speed now versus future speed and tailored customer experiences—that you can explain at checkout. To encourage customers to create an account, explain the time saved by using tools like accelerated or express checkouts, and include information about how you use customer data in your site’s FAQ section. 

3. Make guest checkout as seamless as possible

The same rules that apply to optimizing all checkout experiences apply to guest checkouts. Specifically: 

  • Reduce friction by only asking for the information needed to complete the transaction.
  • Use clear and concise language to describe what’s needed at each point in the checkout process and what comes next.
  • Summarize all critical information about the order in a single view, including subtotal, items selected, shipping costs, payment details, estimated taxes, and total cost.
  • Offer express checkout and various payment options. 

4. Implement security measures to prevent fraud

Trust and security are critical considerations for new customers. Implementing security measures includes: 

  • Establishing secure gateways between the payment platform and the bank.
  • Using SSL/TLS certification to encrypt information at the input point.
  • Reducing potential points of failure in the checkout process by reducing the number of pages that need to be loaded and filled out to complete a transaction.
  • Ensuring software, plug-ins, and third-party applications remain up to date.

Ecommerce stores hosted on platforms like Shopify are fully PCI compliant, meaning they benefit from top-tier data security already. Regardless, it’s a good idea to demonstrate your commitment to customer safety at checkout and in your store’s policies and FAQ pages. 

How to implement guest checkout in 3 steps

  1. Assess the impact on your business
  2. Choose the right technology solution
  3. Design a user-friendly checkout process

Here are three key steps to take when enabling guest checkout on your store:

1. Assess the impact on your business

Any time checkout functionality changes or a new option is added to checkout, there will likely be a positive or negative impact on conversion rates and sales. 

Before adding guest checkout, note your average conversion rate over a period—for example, three months. Once you launch guest checkout, see if this metric increases or decreases based on your benchmark. Use these insights to refine and A/B test different checkout strategies. 

2. Choose the right technology solution

Many ecommerce platforms offer guest checkout functionality as an add-on application or a built-in component. Choosing the right solution depends on your underlying ecommerce tech stack. For Shopify users, guest checkout is a built-in feature you can turn on or off as needed. 

Your checkout technology must also integrate with your existing cart, payment gateways, and back end logistics applications to ensure a seamless pre- and post-purchase customer experience. A fully integrated platform is often the ideal solution to ensure all pieces of the purchase and delivery process run smoothly. You can also achieve this by connecting standalone ecommerce modules through APIs and custom-built integrations. 

3. Design a user-friendly checkout process

User experience (UX) and design are critical to building a solid guest checkout experience. Make checkout fast and efficient, be clear about what’s required at each stage and what comes next, and offer multiple payment forms. With a great user journey at guest checkout, you increase the likelihood of securing those prized first-time buyers and the chance they’ll become returning customers.

Guest checkout FAQ

Will I lose customer data if I offer guest checkout?

You’ll lose the ability to save certain customer data in your store’s database and potentially lose the ability to contact the user via email with promotional material. You will, however, have a record of the purchaser’s email address that you can use to send order updates. 

Are there any risks associated with guest checkout?

There are both risks and rewards associated with guest checkout. The risks include losing the ability to collect and store valuable customer data that businesses often use for marketing and cart abandonment campaigns. The rewards include removing the friction that may cause first-time purchasers to abandon their cart before the checkout stage. 

Should I still encourage customers to create an account even if I offer guest checkout?

Yes. It’s still a good idea to encourage customers to create an account and explain its benefits. You can do that either on your company’s FAQ or policy pages, or as text or callout boxes where you show the option for guest or account-based checkout.

This originally appeared on Shopify Plus and is available here for wider discovery.
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