Shopping Cart Abandonment Is Not the Issue

  |  October 24, 2003   |  Comments

Too many marketers are trying to fix the wrong problem. Instead, direct energy and resources toward the three site issues that can vastly improve conversion.

It may not be a representative sample, but many prospective e-tail clients of ours are too often focused on how many visitors abandon their shopping carts. I won't trivialize this issue, but it's relatively unimportant.

On a site converting at three percent, improving the abandonment rate may boost it up to 3.3 percent. Not bad, so what's more important?

The more time a visitor spends on your site, the more likely she is to buy. Most e-tail sites experience their greatest visitor drop-off in the first two or three pages visitors see. From then on, drop-off is relatively minor. If you focus on providing relevant and persuasive content based on understanding visitor intent, easily inferred from Keywords (or ad copy, or the email they arrived from), you'll have a much higher overall conversion rate. Visitors who are thoroughly persuaded are uncannily motivated to navigate even the worst check-out process.

E-tailers are better served doing these three things:

  1. Improve home and landing pages.

  2. Improve persuasion scenarios.

  3. Ensure persuasion scenarios aren't interrupted.

I've written many columns about how to present relevance; how to qualify visitors; how to use the Pareto principle; how to define micro-actions in persuasion scenarios; and how to use persuasion architecture to help improve home and landing pages. So let's examine the next two issues.

Persuasion Occurs One Step at a Time

The goal of each Web site page is to persuade. All pages should link together, in a step-by step-fashion, to guide visitors through the process of buying from you. Lead them though, one page at a time, and constantly anticipate their every move. Make them feel comfortable and in control.

We've said for years that site visitors often compensate for a lack of information. User Interface Engineering's recent study of product lists confirms it:

"...shoppers could not ascertain enough information from the product list, so they clicked back and forth between the list and multiple individual product pages... Pogo-sticking is the name we gave to this comparison-shopping technique... It's an indication that you are losing sales."

Is a visitor searching for a product, or for information? If she wants information, she's not yet persuaded to buy. It's important to give her enough information to make a decision, and supply it in the right place. At the point where she wants more content, supply it. Make sure it answers all possible questions.

Aside from not allowing the visitor to enter the persuasion process, pogo-sticking leads to a generally unpleasant shopping experience. If a visitor must navigate back and forth, she can become frustrated. Remember, she's always one click away from goodbye. Harness everything in your power to make the shopping experience enjoyable.

Plan for this; don't hope it will happen. Create a decision tree for each page. This helps you understand the possible decisions she may go through, allowing you to create pages based on what the visitor wants. She feels in control, and you are also able to influence and persuade her. When a Web site speaks her language and anticipates what she's about to ask, it reinforces confidence in her own decision making ability.

Nobody wants to feel out of control. That's why people feel awkward in face-to-face sales situations. A Web site is the introvert's favorite salesperson. It answers questions without her having to speak with someone she doesn't know. We all have both extroverted and introverted qualities. Online shopping appeals most to the introverted right brain.

Navigation Must Just Feel Right

Persuasion works most effectively if all pages on a site have the same look & feel. Design affects how visitors relate to a Web site on both a conscious and unconscious level. Visitors expect things to look a certain way and be located in certain site areas. They expect to find familiar navigation at all times.

Many navigation schemes exist. Yours should apply to the entire site; otherwise visitors can become disoriented and lose confidence. The goal of good navigation is to orient and direct customers to and through a purchase, subscription, phone call or whatever action you want them to take as part of the persuasion process.

Think holistically. Each page should contain all the information a visitor needs at that point in the persuasion process, or at least link to it. Answer visitors' concerns and questions rather than allow trivialities to act against them. Scenarios should be designed so visitors spend time only in the persuasion process, not on anything extraneous. That's the only way to build confidence in the product or service to which the self-service persuasion path leads.

Metrics are wonderful management tools, but they sometimes allow managers to myopically focus on the wrong issues. Forget your shopping cart problems. Focus on the bigger picture. Many more people leave your Web site from the first and second page. It's the nature of the medium that shopping carts will be abandoned. The final steps in the persuasion process are the hardest to implement and produce the smallest return on investment (ROI).

If people come to your Web site voluntarily, why do so many leave within the first three pages? Is it that you don't have what they want? Perhaps you haven't persuaded them it's worth the effort to find out.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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