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What is cart abandonment and how do you stop it?

Your online store has been open for some time now. Maybe months, perhaps years. You've got traffic. You've got some sales. But you wonder why so many people add items to the shopping cart and never actually buy these products before leaving your website. You realize you're leaving money on the table and are frustrated to have that money in-hand and watch it disappear before your eyes. The fact is that approximately 75% of all shopping carts are abandoned. Some even as high as 90%!

What makes your visitors abandon their cart?
There's usually no single reason for this. According to recent studies, the top reasons consumers abandon shopping carts are:

  • High Shipping Rates (72%)
  • Comparison shopping or browsing (61%)
  • Changed mind (56%)
  • Saving items for later purchase (51%)
  • Checkout process is too long or confusing (41%)
  • Checkout requires too much personal information (35%)
  • Site requires registration before purchase (34%)
  • Site is unstable or unreliable (31%)

Let's address each of the above reasons.

High Shipping Costs (72% of consumers)
All online retailers struggle with finding a balance between fair shipping costs and profitability. Although these costs are usually out of your control you must be sensitive to how this effects consumers. You can find a nice balance with things like free shipping on minimum purchases which both helps the consumer and increases your revenue. Consider free shipping around the holidays. 8 out of 10 online retailers offer free shipping at these times of year as competition intensifies.

Most online retailers are finding it necessary to develop shipping promotions to compete in today's hyper-competitive online market. Know what your competitors are doing. What are they offering? What are their shipping rates and promotions? Do your best to meet or beat your competitor's offers to stay competitive when consumers comparison shop. If sales drop off could it be because your competitor jumped on the free shipping bandwagon?

Realize that shipping costs do not exist when buying a product in an actual store. But this mindset is changing. Over 60% of consumers say that free shipping is a "very important" factor for shopping online as consumers turn to online retailers to save on rising fuel costs. Consumers are seeing what it costs to drive around town to find a product and quickly see the benefit of shopping online. When contemplating raising shipping costs realize that you may be offsetting the money consumers save by shopping online.

There also seems to be a magic number in the minds of consumers. Shoppers rarely question a $4.00 - $8.00 shipping charge but if they see something over that, you begin to see cart abandonments spike. Especially when the shopper is trying to buy something that doubles in cost when shipping is added.

Comparison shopping or browsing (61% of consumers)
Retailers from around the world are now your competitors. How do you compete? Offer a superior online shopping experience that includes competitive pricing, reasonable shipping costs, informative product descriptions, etc.

Consumers tend to buy (and even pay more) from online retailers that make their searches easy. Conversely, shoppers quickly leave online stores that offer poor shopping experiences and instead buy at sites that do the best job answering their questions, offering detailed product images and features that confirm that the product has what they need.

Try to facilitate comparison shopping without forcing shoppers to leave your site. Provide a comparison feature so shoppers can compare product features, costs, etc. You may even want to show competitor pricing in some circumstances so the shopper knows they're getting the best deal from your website and they don't need to look further. The more reasons you give a consumer not to leave your site seeking comparison, the better off you are.

Changed mind (56% of consumers)
You can't easily account for what's in a person's mind when they decide against a purchase. Sometimes shoppers do their research and realize a product isn't for them. Sometimes the cost of a product makes a shopper pause and ask "Do I really need this?" or "What am I willing to give up in exchange?"

Let's face facts, we're living in tough economic times. Online retailers are seeing less "impulse" buys. Consumers are contemplating their purchases more now than in the past. That doesn't mean you can't find creative ways to combat the sagging economy. You can setup actions that trigger special offers to be shown to visitors who navigate away from your shopping cart. This has been proven to save sales that would have otherwise been lost.

Saving items for later purchase (51% of consumers)
Many shoppers will add products to their cart, then open another tab in their browser and repeat the search at another retailer's site, repeating the process until they find the right product at the best price. Once they decide where to buy they simply close the windows for the stores they didn't choose causing cart abandonment on more than one site.

To prevent this, create a wishlist function on your website where comparison shoppers can add products and come back to them later. This will deter shoppers from using your cart for comparison shopping. A well integrated wishlist will address the needs of shoppers that aren't yet ready to buy and helps them when they are. Enable visitors to easily create a wishlist without a lengthy signup process. You can even provide ways for family members or friends to come back and purchase products for their loved ones. Many people use wishlists for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. Make sure the "add to wishlist" button is less prominent than your "add to cart" button so you don't interfere with sales.

Checkout process is too long or confusing (41% of consumers)
Are your customers getting lost during checkout? It happens more often than we'd like to say. Many online retailers force their customers to complete lengthy and intimidating forms or ask for irrelevant information. Long, confusing checkouts cause shoppers to change their minds. When consumers encounter these things they begin questioning how much they really need this product and often decide against the purchase.

To prevent this, keep your checkout process to as few steps as possible. Provide visual cues like a status bar that show customers where they are in the checkout process (ie: step 2 of 4). Don't force customers to enter their info twice. You usually see this when it comes to billing and shipping. If these two bits of info are the same, allow them to check a box saying they're the same. Don't make them re-type everything. Make sure you don't have links that take people out of the checkout. If you include things like shipping or privacy policy links in your cart do so using a pop-up or similar that doesn't direct the shopper away from checkout.

How can you remove these barriers to conversion? Streamline. Streamline. Streamline. If something in your cart doesn't help the shopper complete their purchase, remove it. Make sure you're presenting form information in a clear, logical manner that doesn't confuse shoppers. If you need help pointing out unnecessary steps, user testing can be a very effective means of finding problems when you're too familiar with your site to identify and remedy issues that you may be blind to.

Checkout requires too much personal information (35% of consumers)
Imagine this scenario. You've just added a product to your cart. You click the "checkout" button. You're then prompted to create an account since this is the first time you've bought something here. This seems reasonable but why are they asking for my birthday? If I'm a male or female? Fax? Plus other info not relevant to the purchase? Never ask for more customer info than you need to complete the transaction. Sure it would be great to get more info to use for future marketing, but at what cost? In this case, the cost is the lost revenue from the purchase.

Site requires registration before purchase (34% of consumers)
We've all seen this. You've found the items you want and you click the "checkout" button. But first, the site wants you to register as a user and wait for a confirmation email signifying that you've been deemed worthy to make a purchase. Sometimes that email arrives hours later or worse, not at all. Chances are this was the step at which your cart was abandoned and your customer was left wondering why they couldn't complete a transaction without being a member.

Research shows that requiring registration before a purchase causes 23% of consumers to abandon their shopping cart. Some consumers weren't even sure if they'd already setup an account causing them to attempt login with numerous password and username combinations in vain as most people have trouble remembering logins. Even when consumers click the "forgot password" link only 25% of them actually continue with their purchase. This also contributes to multiple user accounts for the same person with numerous email addresses frustrating customers who then receive multiple copies of the same email marketing and presents a nightmare for the online store.

So it's always a good idea to make it possible to make a purchase without having to create an account. Doing so has increased conversion rates on some sites by as much as 45%. You will still need to ask the shopper for info relevant to their purchase but you can greatly reduce apprehension on the shoppers part by removing one more barrier to a sale and retaining otherwise lost revenue.

Site is unstable or unreliable (31% of consumers)
We've all experienced error pages after submitting info in during checkout. Sometimes it's user error but many times it's a technical issue that effects one specific browser or a specific platform that can go unnoticed. When shoppers experience cart errors they begin asking themselves if their personal and credit card info is going to be safe with your site. Most shoppers won't chance it, opting to instead buy from a different online retailer. Consumers have become more mindful when it comes to credit card fraud and privacy concerns than in previous years.

An unstable or unreliable checkout process will greatly hamper your revenue so test it periodically on multiple computers and in all major browsers. Put indicators in place to detect problems with your checkout so they don't go unnoticed. When your site does have to show an error page make sure it offers guidance to the visitor as to what went wrong and how to remedy it. Whatever you do, DO NOT use a "catch-all" error page that only helps to confuse shoppers causing them to abandon their cart in frustration.

Remember, people buy when they're ready, not when you are.
Consumers buy when they have an immediate need. Until that time comes it's your job to inform, make sure they know where to find you when they need to and provide a trouble free checkout process that facilitates the transaction.

Need help with your website?
To talk to an experienced web professional you can call (909) 393-6363, email us or use our quote request form.

If you liked this blog post, you may also be interested in How Do Most Online Retailers Find Problems With Their Shopping Cart? and Just Saved My eCommerce Client Thousands of Dollars!

Heath Meyette
, Web and Graphic Designer at Think Tank Designs, Creative Director at Think Tank Designs

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