Stripe's new 'building blocks' aim to rein in complex checkouts

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No matter how good a company's e-commerce strategy is, the customer experience can still fall apart on the checkout page — especially when introducing new features.

Online payments processor Stripe wants to take the complex task of upgrading a checkout page out of the hands of the business owner through Stripe Elements, a new service with user interface components that address the common stumbling blocks of online payments.

"Elements can be dropped into the website like building blocks, customized and combined, or like a software development kit that allows you to simplify code in payment forms, while also removing a lot of code," said Lachy Groom, head of payments products for Stripe.

In reviewing the top 100 e-commerce sites globally, San Francisco-based Stripe said it found that 72 had three or more errors in their checkout flows, while almost half did not have the auto-fill correctly set up to draw consumer payment information from the browser. In addition, one fifth of them made mobile checkout significantly harder by not providing a numerical keypad for entering credit card numbers.

But the mistakes that Elements addresses go even deeper, Groom said.

"So many businesses think that just having the customer enter the credit card number, and doing a few other things takes care of the process," Groom said. "But over time, they introduce new features and new payment options, and that process becomes more complicated."

Changes to a checkout page often can be implemented through different product managers or different departments — and errors start to accumulate.

"Things like automatically recognizing if it is a Visa card and if it is one issued in the U.K., then changing the format to postal code, rather than zip code, may not occur," Groom said. "Until you experience that, you don't realize what a bad payment form can be like."

Stripe Elements also provides real-time validation during the checkout process, catching customer errors as they type to correct them before, rather than after, the "purchase" button is clicked.

A business using Stripe Elements to address problems on its site or to improve mobile responsiveness is essentially making a decision to let Stripe deploy its library for payments sources all over the world rather than attempting to do it in-house. The service, free to Stripe clients, also provides a UI building block for each type of payment method through a process that doesn't get much more complex than adding a line of code.

The goal of Elements is to thwart website or app abandonment because completing a purchase becomes such a tedious process. Stripe claims nearly three-quarters of mobile shopping carts are abandoned before completing a purchase.

Stripe Elements comes at a time when Stripe is also spreading its wings internationally, bringing its Stripe Connect payments platforms to businesses and marketplaces throughout Europe.

"For anyone with constrained development resources, which is most tech companies, anything that can reduce the strain on those resources is a big benefit," Richard Oglesby, president of AZ Payments Group and a senior analyst at Double Diamond Payments Research, said of a company's option to use Stripe Elements.

"Many tech companies consider their development resources to be their most precious asset, and Stripe knows that better than anyone," Oglesby said.

With Elements in place, the core payments fields are serviced through Stripe, which means sensitive payment data never touches the client's own servers. That data is stored and tokenized through Stripe, allowing the business owner to qualify for Payment Card Industry security standards compliance under the easiest security assessment forms.

"I see this as one of the major products we have released," Groom said. "We built a lot of expertise in creating great payment experiences, and we realized there is such a gap in really perfecting these experiences."

Stripe, which serves startups as well as Fortune 500 companies, brought Stripe Elements into play after realizing far too many businesses were each "trying to reinvent the wheel for what is already a complex wheel" when dealing with site issues, Groom added.

"We can build this wheel for them, then everyone has the best wheel to start with," he said. "It got to a point with us that Elements would be a dramatic leverage tool for these businesses."

Stripe's reputation will go a long way toward making Elements an attractive value-add for its clients in a crowded payments processing and technology landscape.

"I wouldn't consider Stripe to be the poster child on how to deliver payment services for the simple reason that there are several poster children," AZ Payments' Oglesby said. "But Stripe excels at delivering solutions for tech companies, particularly those that value speed and simplicity above all."

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