The hidden function of the 'check your answers' pattern

Have you ever found yourself going through a digital service or e-commerce checkout, filling in all your personal details, only to second-guess yourself at the end?

We’ve all been there! This is why the 'check your answers page' is usually so important. It's a way to make sure people have not made any mistakes before they submit.

A friend of mine, Adam Silver (the UX Designer, not the commissioner of the NBA!), was pondering this out loud in a LinkedIn post recently.

He stated that usually when we add steps to a process, people get concerned that it will add friction and lead to fewer conversions. But, he argued that it is even more costly to the business to deal with mistakes, and therefore we should use the check your answers pattern.

If you want, you can read Adam's original LinkedIn post.

I agree with Adam. There is always a user need to make sure the information they have entered is correct, and a check your answers pattern is the easiest way to do that. That is its primary function.

But, what I want to cover in a bit more depth, is the secondary function which often gets overlooked: The pause!

The obvious cost

As Adam points out, it’s not just about getting that order in. It’s about getting the right order in.

Ever ordered something online only to realise later that you got the wrong size, colour, or even the wrong product? That’s not just bad for you, it’s a pain for the business too.

Processing returns is costly for both parties. The only person that really wins is the shipping company. Repackaging, fuel, delivery charges, the cost of the staff to process the return and send out a replacement. There is a lot of logistics involved, and none of it is free!

The extra packaging and fuel is also bad for the planet. But that's probably a whole other argument for another day.

So, just on this cost alone, we can probably agree that using a check your answers pattern is a good thing for everybody.

The drop-outs

Here's the bit that gets interesting. If you look at quantitive data for any check your answers page, there are drop outs.

So, it's easy to jump to the assumption that they introduce too much friction and the user taps out. And, of course, the only conclusion people usually draw from this is that this is now a 'lost sale'.

I've tested check your answers patterns in hundreds of research sessions, and I've never once seen a user get to a check your answers page and be like, 'Check my answers? Absolutely not! I'm out of here!'

So, it's difficult to just accept that introducing an extra page is the problem. We need to look at 'intent', and maybe draw the conclusion that perhaps this wasn't a lost sale, it was a returned item.

For people that are committed to what they're doing, a check your answers page is only ever a good thing. The drop-outs are people who were on the fence, just this time you didn't deliberately, or unintentionally, push them off!

The pause

I mentioned earlier the secondary function of the check your answers page is to create a pause. To give the user a breather. This was a surprise 'ah ha!' moment for me.

During this pause, we noticed the cognitive load drops, the task-orientated concentration subsides and the decision-making pressure eases up. It's like that moment when you’ve been running flat out and you finally get a chance to catch your breath.

It gives the user an opportunity to check their answers, but also check themself, and decide if they're truly committed or not.

As somebody with ADHD, the check your answers page is always the gap I need to ask myself if I need or want what I'm about to buy, or if it's simply an impulse purchase and I've got caught up in the moment.

Almost all of the items I return are those purchased on a whim, where the checkout process was just too easy.

A company with the resources of Amazon can easily absorb the cost of returns on one-click purchasing, but can you?

Some things are final

We can always return a product we don't want, at a cost. But there are some things you can't come back from, and again this is where the pause is so important.

In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), there is a digital service called Report Benefit Fraud. It's basically where people can go to inform DWP somebody they know is claiming benefits they don't believe they are entitled to.

I worked on it many years ago. But I doubt any of my designs are still in the present day iteration. However, it is where I first discovered the secondary function of the check your answers pattern.

In its first iterations, there was no check your answers page on Report Benefit Fraud. It just collected some information, then when you clicked the final continue button it was like: 'thanks for reporting benefit fraud!'

But, in research sessions, rather than being happy when they hit 'goal-state' in the application, users seemed alarmed when the completion screen popped up.

They weren't ready for it to submit. They weren't ready for it to be final.

They were sometimes filled with guilt, dread and uncertainty. They'd say things like:

  • 'Have I done the right thing?'
  • 'I've changed my mind, I feel awful!'
  • Can I cancel it?
  • 'Oh god, I'm a grass!'

The last one always stood out to me. The anxiety that their reputation, or even their life may now be at risk. Lets face it, there is a common belief in society that nobody likes a grass!

The catch with reporting benefit fraud, is that you actually need to know the person quite well in order to do it. You need to know details like their full name, date of birth and their full address. So there's a real risk that somebody might figure out who it was that reported them.

We tried several different designs to create that pause users needed. That breathing space to just think 'do I really want to grass up someone I know?' It just needed to add gravity to the situation and allow them to really consider their options.

The difficulty is that you need to create that space, but without coercing them in either direction. Here are two bad examples to highlight that:

  1. Are you sure you want to report John Smith for benefit fraud?
  2. You're doing the right thing, submit your report now.

Adding a check your answers page created that space without directly pointing out that this was a time to really think about what you were doing. It just happened organically.

Measuring the Right Thing

A lot of people don't know how to holistically measure success. It's usually narrowly scoped metrics on a very particular goal, for example: How many people successfully completed the checkout process. Or, how many sales were made.

People always count the sales they make, but not always how many of those sales are refunded or how much it actually cost you to refund them. I guess a chart showing savings on how many items 'didn't get returned' isn't usually what the board is looking for in your reports.

When we're measuring completions and drop-offs, we need to be looking at intent and failure demand. Somebody who is committed to checking out is unlikely to cost you money elsewhere in the business, and they're never going to quit on a check your answers page just because they were given an opportunity to look for mistakes.

Work out the cost of your failure demand, for example, how much does it cost you when somebody:

  • cancels their order before it's shipped
  • cancels their order after it's shipped
  • returns their order within 30 days
  • returns their order after 30 days
  • leaves bad feedback
  • raises a formal complaint
  • reports you to trading standards

These are all real scenarios that will cost you time and money.

So, do you remove friction to the point you get more sales, but potentially erode trust with your users and process more returns? Or, do you want to maybe make fewer sales, but fewer costly returns because people really are committed to their purchase?

You'll have to measure it for yourself and find out!

Final thoughts

We should be using check your answers patterns when the information needs to be accurate, and where the user needs to be certain they want to complete.

In case it's not obvious, morally, I'm against any kind of user experience which uses sleight of hand or trickery to get to goal-state.

Not having a check your answers page is unlikely to be considered a dark pattern, but for me, when it's a financial or high stakes transaction, it borders on negligence.

If we create products and experiences which really are as good as we say they are, adding a step in the process should not be an issue. People should be committed to checking out because they entered the process with intention.

If you need to resort to forced sales and bad returns policies, a check your answers page isn't the problem, you are.

Thanks, Craig

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