Shopping Cart Abandonment and What to Do About It

E-tailers have just finished up a very busy holiday shopping season. Now’s the time to think about what can be done better in 2007. One natural area is figuring out how to reduce shopping cart abandonment. Shopping cart abandonment averages 59 percent, according to MarketingSherpa’s “Ecommerce Benchmark Guide 2006.” Less shopping cart and checkout abandonment should lead to more sales, right?

It’s not that simple.

Among the most common reasons shoppers leave product in shopping carts without completing a purchase are:

    • Using the shopping cart as a holding bin or wish list. Shopping pages encourage customers to put products in the shopping cart with the ubiquitous “add to cart” button. Although wish lists help mitigate this issue, they’re neither well promoted nor frequently used. Wish lists tend to be associated in customers’ minds with gifts and special purchases.
    • Determining total cost.
      Shoppers aren’t dumb; they’re looking for an all-inclusive cost. They’ll often go to your check-out section to determine:

      • Shipping and handling costs. From an e-tailer’s perspective, it’s difficult to populate a total price for shoppers who aren’t registered users or who don’t accept cookies. A difference in bill-to and ship-to addresses can cause discrepancies. ClickTracks CEO John Marshall notes, “Adding transparent pricing earlier in the process can reduce shopping cart abandonment but not necessarily increase sales.”
      • Coupons. Danskin e-commerce marketing director Jessica Koster says, “Coupon and/or promotion code requests can have a negative impact on purchasing, causing customers to search to ensure that they’ve found any coupons they ‘deserve.'”
      • Scholastic VP of consumers online Larry Wasserman agrees coupons are a double-edged sword. He suggests, “One way around this is to automatically pass a coupon code directly to the cart only for those customers eligible for the promotion, avoiding the coupon code box entirely.” It’s ultimately a question of how extensively you use coupons and what your test results indicate (e.g., coupon code vs. no coupon code box in the shopping cart).


  • Comparing prices with other retailers’. Consumers may place items in their carts to calculate the all-in price, then compare it with other e-tailers’ prices. Tracking where customers go when they leave can offer insight into this event.
  • Completing via the phone. To aid conversion, many online merchants offer consumers a toll-free number. Though this converts the transaction and may even up-sell it, these transactions often appear as abandoned carts on analytics reports.

Ways to Improve the Shopping Process

Since the shopping process can have an major effect on bottom-line results, most online merchants work to continually improve and streamline it. Here are some popular options to try:

  • Extend timing of cookies. Extend them so they persist for more than one session. This prepopulates carts for consumers who return.
  • Simplify the shopping process. Reduce the number of steps and visually show customers where they are in the checkout process.
  • Permit an anonymous shopping experience. Don’t force purchasers to register before they can buy. In the JupiterResearch Consumer Survey (August 2005), 19.3 percent of respondents didn’t want to register and 14.1 percent of respondents thought too much information was requested for registration. Scholastic uses the purchase thank-you page to ask buyers to register.
  • Keep customers focused when purchasing. Streamline checkout pages and reduce navigation options.
  • Overcome consumer security concerns. Since some consumers still have issues about online purchasing, address safety with third-party products like Hacker Safe and VeriSign. Also, offer a toll-free number to allow order completion by phone.
  • Provide help. Offer information options to help shoppers through the purchase process. Offer contextually relevant online help, live chat, the option to request an agent to call, and a toll-free number.
  • Carefully place purchase related information. Optimost CEO Mark Wachen cautions, “Care should be taken when adding seemingly helpful information within the sales process, since it can make customers stop purchasing. It’s often a matter of where and how the information is presented.” To determine the effect of additional information requires testing and tracking.
  • Create a sense of purchase urgency. This works best for a product with limited inventory or for special limited-time offers.
  • Utilize customer feedback. Determine where there are issues and respond to them quickly, advises Danskin’s Koster.
  • E-mail customers who leave products in cart. Though not strictly a way to reduce shopping cart abandonment, sending a reminder to shoppers 3-7 days after they leave product in a shopping cart often results in incremental sales.

Shopping Cart Metrics

To assess shopping cart abandonment’s effect on your business, the following metrics are the most important to track:

  • Conversions. At a minimum, track purchases per visitor. More sophisticated marketers track conversion at each step of the process or on each page of the process.
  • Monitor purchase funnel. Study how customers work their way through your purchase process. ClickTracks’ Marshall notes customers often click on “Contact Us” or similar company information. He postulates this is because they want to verify the e-tailer is legitimate before they buy. He sees this not as a shopping cart abandonment issue but as a result of how the purchase funnel is defined. It’s a reminder that the purchase funnel isn’t necessarily linear.
  • Path analysis. This is used to determine how shoppers move through your site and where they go from the shopping cart.
  • Abandonment analysis. This tracks the point at which customers abandoned shopping. It’s used to identify barriers to sales process completion.

As you improve your site’s shopping process, it’s important to manage customer expectations and simplify the process. By now, many customers have clear expectations about how the online purchase experience should work. Your success is likely to come from a series of small improvements designed meet or beat customers’ ever-rising expectations.

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