How do US retailers compare with the UK for address lookup and validation in ecommerce checkouts?

This month I’ve been looking at the contrasting ways in which major US retailers handle address management in ecommerce checkouts, when compared to the standard automation in the UK. It’s accepted good practice in the UK to let customers lookup their postcodes and then select a matching address from a pre-validated list, using 3rd party software like PCA Predict’s Capture+. This is achieved typically using one of three methods:

  1. User starts typing their address and matching addresses are shown using predictive search (also known as type ahead search)
  2. Users enter a house number/name and postcode and an exact match address is returned
  3. Users enter a postal code and a list of all matching addresses is returned for the user to select from.

However, this isn’t standard practice in the US for retail ecommerce. The majority of major US retailers don’t provide any form of automated address lookup in the checkout for customers, relying instead of manual data entry and post form submission validation. While the final address is verified, this puts the onus on the user to manually type each field of the address, adding unnecessary time to the checkout, an issue amplified on mobile devices.

It’s interesting because every UK ecommerce site I’ve worked on has seen a reduction in checkout exit rates and increase in address accuracy by introducing postcode lookup. An IMRG retail survey revealed that 70% respondents agreed that automation reduced checkout abandonment and increased conversion rates by 9%, with 67% stating it delivered a measurable ROI. So the benefit of automation has been proven with data, it’s not just an informed opinion.

Major US retailers

Let’s start with Amazon as they’re generally very good at optimising the checkout and are a data-driven organisation. It has always frustrated me that I have to enter my addresses manually via a rather ugly form, which slows down mobile form completion considerably:

USvUK01

 

This appears even stranger given that Amazon is validating the address in the background, presenting me with a suggested improved address:

USvUK02

So this begs the question; if you are validating and cleaning addresses prior to order submission, why don’t you give customers the lookup tool to reduce manual data entry and speed up the process? The data is there to achieve this.

I next tried Rakuten, a global retailer. I faced a similar challenge; there was no postcode lookup tool to help me fill out the address quickly:

USvUK03

Yet Rakuten also does address validation in the background, so has the capability to look up and verify the address.

USvUK04

The pattern continues with other ecommerce stores including Tiffany and Vistacost, who both provide on-screen prompts when the manually entered address has potential errors or missing data:

 

USvUK05

The method of verifiying and validating the address after the user has manually entered their address data appears quite standard in the US. It’s an interesting pattern for major US retail sites and raises the question about user expectations. I’ve asked a few US friends about this but haven’t been able to validate whether or not this is a local/cultural influence rather than the retailers being behind the curve on address management.

The examples provide further insight; the retailers are running checks against USPS (United States Postal Service) records and then providing a recommendation for a verified address to help the user:

 

USvUK06

However, the method of verifying the address after the user has manually typed and submitted all fields isn’t uniform across all US retailers. There are examples of retail sites using automated address lookup tools to help users complete address forms quickly and accurately. Many of these use PCA Predict’s Capture+ solution, with ThinkGeek being a good example. You’ll notice that the ZIP code includes the new ZIP+4 detail.

USvUK07

In summary

Most retailers in the US don’t let customers use address lookup and verification tools in the checkout. There is a pattern of running checks against USPS records after the form has been submitted, then displaying any errors to the user with suggestions for an improved, verified address. The end result is the same but it increases user effort, which is a proven way to increase the risk of checkout abandonment.

As a UK customer, my expectation is that I can quickly lookup my address without having to manually key the data for every field and be shown a list of matching addresses that are already verified and in a valid format. This feels intuitive and the path of least friction for a quick checkout. I’ve also seen client data proving that automation reduces checkout exit rates and improves form completion/data accuracy, and experienced this directly when I introduced Capture+ at CrowdShed, a startup I helped launch in 2014.

I’m surprised this isn’t also the case in the US. I expect to see an upward trend for the adoption of user-driven postcode lookup and verification, so it will be interesting to see the rate of change amongst major retailers. I’d at least expect ecommerce sites with international shipping to embrace automation for UK address lookup given the rate of usage in this market.

Comments and questions

What do you think? Can you help provide additional local context for the US market? Why do you think retailers in these territories are slower to adopt the technology that is standard in the UK?

I did search for online data on this topic but found nothing conclusive for the US. If you do know of any research in this area, please do share.

Please drop by and share your comments, questions and experience. Please also share any relevant links you think readers would be interested in.

 


  • Kristaps Romanovskis

    Your capture+ predictive solution has potential, but it has too many usability flaws to be implemented on large traffic sites. Hope you will look into it. It would be a game changer.

  • Natalie Green

    Thanks for your feedback Kristaps. We are in the process of releasing some exciting new improvements. Would be great to have you as one of our beta testers if this would be of interest to you?

  • Richard Borrie

    We sell in both UK and US. I think your article slightly misses the point. It is not the case that US retailers are slower to catch up, rather that addresses in the US all have a very simple and regular format, so there is less need for address lookup. Also, most customers have autofill in their browsers, so the address gets populated automatically.

    • Hi Richard thanks for reading and commenting.
      Yes I understand that autofill exists in browsers but not every user lets browsers store their personal data and this data can become inaccurate over time as people change addresses and don’t always update all browsers across devices (plus people can click the popup ‘do you want to save’ messages to get it out the way and sometimes override their main address with an alternative e.g. when sending a gift). Some still have security concerns, so relying on browser auto-fill isn’t advisable, though it’s clearly useful. I personally never use browser autofill, mainly because i find it inaccurate and i have to go back and manually amend on some checkouts.
      I also understand your point about address complexity. However, the majority of retailers i’ve looked at ship internationally and to countries like the UK where postcode lookup is default good practice. None of them discern this and cater even for local country preference. Given the data i’ve seen, not just from Capture+, on checkout completion with address automation, it surprises me that more don’t use it. Unless they’ve tested it and proven it doesn’t work but i can’t validate if they have or not.
      Some US retailers are embracing postcode lookup, indicating that there is an appreciation that postcode lookup could improve the UX and site performance, It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that other major retailers would test this too.
      thanks
      james