Preventing Shopping Cart Abandonment

Online merchants face the same difficulties as brick and mortar merchants when it comes to getting a consumer to commit to a product.  But they also experience difficulties unique to the online channel; 88% of internet purchasers state they have at one point or another abandoned an online shopping cart in mid-transaction.  Not only is this number the same as it was five years ago, but the average shopping cart abandonment rate as reported by retailers in 2009 was 51%, and a quarter of retailers said it had actually increased.

Why did these customers abandon their carts?  It wasn’t because they decided they no longer wanted the product.  Instead, these users cite reasons related to shipping prices, security, poorly designed user interfaces, and an interest in comparison shopping elsewhere to find the same product online somewhere else at a lower price.  Fortunately many of these problems have fairly simple solutions once eCommerce merchants recognize them.

Shopping cart abandoners aren’t all people who are distrustful of the internet.  Surveys show that most of them are technologically savvy, well educated, and affluent.  They aren’t necessarily users who are unfamiliar with the process of shopping online either.  Many of them have shopped online for six years or more and have purchased other goods online in the last 3-5 months.  Interestingly enough, they were found to have spent more money online and offline than many users who had never abandoned their online purchases in midstream.

The level of experience of modern shopping cart abandoners may account for some of their tendency to abandon purchases.  Many of them are so used to shopping online that they abandon their carts to shop around for less expensive products.  Some of them are also casual shoppers who are “window shopping” on the internet, without actually having any specific purpose in mind.

The most common reason that shoppers abandon their carts is high shipping prices.  Considering that many online retailers don’t display their shipping prices up front, this makes sense.  Customers are clicking through to see the shipping prices in order to make their decision.

Only 6% of shoppers said they abandoned their carts because of shipping times, but 44% did so because of the prices.  57% of purchasers consider shipping prices up to 10% of the price of the item as acceptable.  It’s also interesting to point out that 22% of the customers who ditched their carts did so not because of the prices or times, but because they were upset about how far they had to go to see the prices in the first place.

It was also discovered that online shoppers aren’t necessarily shopping so much as browsing.  Many of them fill their carts up and then don’t make a purchase, because they just don’t feel any rush compelling them to do so.  For many customers, a filled cart functions more as a wish list.

Customers who walked away from their carts and cited prices as the main reason were concerned about the economy and under the impression that shopping online would save them cash.  One innovative solution by a company called Runa involves tracking a shopper’s behavior as the shopper browses the site and then offering promotions based on the patterns of the shopper.

Privacy isn’t quite the concern it was years ago.  The modern cart abandoner is used to shopping online and knows it’s generally no different from shopping in person.  It’s still relevant though; 12% of cart abandoners didn’t want to provide as much information as the site asked for, and 11% found the checkout process complicated.

How can you fight shopping cart abandonment?  Lowering your prices might seem intuitive, but as an online merchant, you know that however much you’re saving on overhead, you still need to make enough to make a living.  That means you need to search for some other solution to your cart abandonment problems.  Here are some suggestions:

Make sure you really are offering the lowest shipping prices possible by checking whether the post office provides you with any cheaper options.  Post offices can be surprisingly opaque, so don’t be surprised if you aren’t using the best shipping option.  Likewise, offer multiple shipping options to customers with different delivery times and corresponding prices.  You may also want to simply embed the cost of shipping partially or completely into the item price.

Or you could offer free shipping on bulk orders (if acceptable to you), and provide a widget on the cart which shows how close the user is to free shipping.  OfficeMax has implemented this solution to try to induce customers to purchase more to qualify for the free shipping.  Also try not to hide the shipping prices for too long in the checkout process.  As merchants we like to think that shipping prices are an afterthought, but to many customers they are not.

If you don’t already provide guest checkout, consider implementing it.  While registration provides useful information about your customers, 1 in 10 would-be purchasers say they abandoned a cart because they didn’t want to register or because they thought the process was too lengthy.  Remember that regular customers will probably want to register with you eventually anyway.  Consider incentives to register, such as saving shipping addresses and other information to save time for repeat customers.  But don’t make the guest checkout process any longer than it has to be.

Implement alternative payment methods like PayPal and Google Checkout.  Three quarters of customers online have an alternative payment method, and half of customers say they find alternative methods easier than entering in credit card information.

No single shopping cart solution is going to be best for every retailer.  Your company is unique and so is your customer base, so you’re going to need to gather analytic data and run extensive testing on your checkout process until you optimize it.  Some customers prefer lots of confirmation buttons and screens, for instance, because it reassures them, while others find this to be tedious and annoying.  You can only find out what’s best for your site through experience and experimentation.

Spencer Belkofer is the co-founder of Condor Consulting ( Condor offers premium Google Places optimization, infographic design, and SEO.

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