How one button cost a website $300 million

30 January 2009

If we had a penny for every ill-conceived website design that wasted photons on our retinas, we'd have exactly £937. That's a lot of rubbish websites and a highly improbable amount of penny pieces, but we're sticklers for accuracy at Bitterwallet, as well you know*.

If we had $300 million for every website that had us scratching our collective heads, we'd glance once and gladly denounce technology as we lolloped about naked on a panda-stuffed mattress, having gold-encrusted pizza fed to us by Nigella Lawson and Kate Winslet. Unfortunately for one such website, that's exactly how much money they probably missed out on a year - all because of a badly designed button.

Fast Company reports the incredible story of a major retailer's website that underwent rigorous usability studies. The site (which remains anonymous) was designed just like many other online stores; you add items to your shopping cart, after which you pressed "checkout". You were then prompted to either log-in or register to complete your purchase.

Nothing too remarkable about such a set-up, except the usability studies showed that plenty of new users couldn't be bothered to register, and even registered users were put off from completing the purchase, because they couldn't always remember their registration details. Again, so what? It's something we've all experienced ourselves; if there are any obstacles in our way to buying an item, we sometimes feel the additional effort required to overcome them simply isn't worth it.

You'd even argue that the suggested remedy wasn't even worth implementing...

[The consultants] redesigned the site, replacing the "register" button with "continue". They also added a message, saying that registering wasn't required to checkout, but was optional and might be helpful if you returned.

...until you see the results. A teeny, tiny change to the wording and procedure made a staggering difference to the retailer; sales went up 45 per cent, or $15 million in the first month, and $300 million in the first year. Crikey. The people who build websites aren't always their most savvy users.

* no, really

[Fast Company]


  • Anna
    Wow that's quite a story. And quite a difference to the bottom line.
  • James
    Dominos pizza did that exact same thing in the UK a while back, wonder if it's anything to do with them...,
  • silps
    I hate registering my details as well to make a purchase, even more so if the site stores your credit card details in your account.
  • Andy v.
    i hate registering too unless i know I will deffo go back, so it makes sense.
  • The B.
    It's not BMI Baby, I booked 8 tickets and it cached the inital details but displayed the new one's after I changed the date. Funnily enough when I sent them a shitty letter they didn't accept responsibility but immediatly after they they changed the site warning that it might happen and bodging it so you couldn't amend pre-existing details.
  • Fred C.
    Who ever thought of that registration process, well it is virtually no old world equivalent. Imagine that in the old world of cash in a shop or a market stall. No one will buy if you drop into a local baker for a sandwich and you are asked to register! Also what about when you go on holiday, I mean no one ever bothers to buy. I have to say that I have dropped out of transactions if I think that I would not be buying again from that web site especially if there is an alternative.
  • Mike
    Might just be your trademark snarky tone, but the title and opener of this story suggests that the website *lost* 300million as a result of making the change.
  • Jamie
    I expected the report to be about the company making a loss as well Mike. As it turned out the story had a twist in the tale akin to The Sixth Sense.* *He's a ghost.
  • Bobs
    From only reading the title and seeing the image, i thought they bought the rights for those checkout buttons on their site for $300 million. lol
  • mark
    Its a story about a button design that when changed made the company an extra $300million. So its fair to say the old button cost the company $300 million the previous year. Whats confusing you?
  • Pokey
    It's got nothing to do with a badly designed button. It has everything to do with the online culture of wanting to hold on to customers' information for purposes other than letting individual customers make purchases easily and efficiently, whether that be for sending out the regular emails with so-called special offers and news or selling information on to other companies when customers overlook the need to tick or untick the relevant box. This just shows how fed up the customers are of being used in this way and of the boring registration ritual of every online store. Granted it can be useful to have records of accounts and saved delivery addresses when it's a site you use more than a few times, but if stores would take notice of this and stop trying to make money by selling customers' details on, they might just end up with many more.
  • a47
    And I wonder if this is really true? No name for the company I notice. The start of an urban myth?
  • Merkin
    It's bad when they even want you to register just to get the postage price! I have cancelled so many purchases because of that.
  • Ed B.
    This article is assuming that everything else has stayed the same which is a bit far fetched. For example Amazon's revenue went up 268% from 1998 to 1999. This surely couldn't be down to adding 1 single button...(and you have to register btw to buy something off Amazon)
  • mark
    I've changed my mind. It is a misleading heading. Should have been: "How one button increased website sales by $300 million" And anyone who says different is wrong.
  • Kevin G.
    Usability and friendliness is paramount to the success of any website and it's the most important area of web design at the moment. Design is not about making things look nice, it's about making the product or service attractive to it's user, being easy to use is just as important as making it look pretty. I've always found using World Pay an awful system (some vendors redirect there to authorise credit cards), I think it's an RBS ran site but it's horrific. When you finally get to put your details the advance/continue button is virtually invisible amongst all the other text. It's not differently coloured or larger in size, let alone an isolated "button" type graphic. It might sound a bit "Fisher-Price" but if your stuck use a big green button that says "CONFIRM PAYMENT" or "I WANT THIS STUFF NOW", a red button that says "CANCEL" or "I'VE CHANGED MY MIND" and an amber one that says "CONTINUE SHOPPING" or "I'M NOT FINISHED ADDING STUFF". There is a reason we have colour coding rules (red = stop/danger etc) it's because they are universal and people get them quickly. Using simple language helps too, either concise and too the point or honest and straight forward. All too often designers get poncy and don't want to use these rules as they don't fit their colours or styles. Ar$eholes!
  • Starsi has probably the best system in place. It remembers you - and you can make a purchase in just 2 or 3 clicks - I often buy from Play purely due to the ease and convinience... just a shame that their listings are really naff - you can't order by price high/low etc....
  • MIKE C.
    Poorly written.
  • bitter
    what do you expect from paul smith who wrote jokes about cancer, referring to steve jobs in another one of his news articles, to which no one seemed too bothered about. He wrote "steve jobs wont be the only one requiring medical attention" hilarious that was, im sure if cancer ever affects you you wont be making stupid arse jokes like that.
  • Martin D.
    How is that a joke about cancer? Jobs was given a clean bill of health in 2004. He currently has health issues that are unspecified and he requires medical attention, hence the joke in the piece you refer to. Can't see a cancer joke anywhere and yes, I have been affected by the disease in case you're wondering. Calm down dear, it's only a website.
  • Codfiy
    Even worse are the sites which won't tell you the p+p until you have registered, logged in and given over all your details. I refuse to buy from those sites
  • Craig
    I often keep away from security systems with too much wiring
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  • PhD.Mozonaki
    the stupid heading is wrong its sounds like the company lost $300m not gained
  • PhD.Mozonaki
    let me elberate the word COST means negative to a person for example "the cost was to great" so the title misleads the reader i advise you to change it
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  • Kari E.
    That is there technique. $300 million for only one website, it has much thing to do with the online culture nowadays, it is a power of convincing the customer to purchase one or not. Still the decision relies on every customer.
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  • Shandra S.
    its not the cost that matters; its the ability to do or to provide the decision; it might be the answer of their installation problem or whatever reason, still there is such a thing that money follows whatever quality/ quantity it may have.
  • Jonathan P.
    How one button cost a website $300 million? guess it is still unanswered up to this moment. Each reader has its own thought..
  • Jason l.
    Are there any option to retrieve the registration details? Bad thing I wasn't able to save it. :(
  • Ralphe
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