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Blog > Shopping Cart Abandonment – What it is and how to avoid it

Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Shopping Cart Abandonment – What it is and how to avoid it

April 23rd, 2008

Shopping cart abandonment is a visitor behavior and a metric that every online store owner should be aware of and actively tracking. It happens when a potential customer puts an item in their shopping cart, but fails to complete the purchase process. Studies I’ve listed in this article quote shopping cart abandonment rates of 60% – 80%. Knowing what your rate is, and what you can do to improve it is vital to the well-being and success of your online store.

Since part of my profession is installalling, customizing and configuring online stores for my small business clients, I did some research into what causes shopping cart abandonment and what can be done to prevent it from reoccurring – even what you should do when it happens. Wherever possible, I tracked down the original research article, so you can read the data for yourself.

Global Millennia Marketing did a survey in 2002 that is widely cited in shopping cart abandonment articles. In their survey they asked their clients why they abandoned shopping carts. They state that:

Market researchers say the rate at which Web consumers abandon their online shopping carts before making purchases online runs between 25 percent (Andersen Consulting) on the low end and 78 percent ( on the high end.

Here’s what they reported were the reason for shopping cart abandonment:

1. Cost of Shipping too high and not shown until checkout (69%)
2. Changed mind and discarded cart contents (61%)
3. Comparison shopping or browsing (57%)
4. Total cost of items is too high (49%)
5. Saving items for later purchase (47%)
6. Checkout process is too long (44%)
7. Out of stock products at checkout time (39%)
8. Checkout requires too much personal information (35%)
9. Poor site navigation and long download times (31%)
10. Lack of sufficient product or contact information (31%)
11. Checkout process is confusing (27%)
12. Site requires registration before purchase (23%)
13. Site unclear on delivery times (17%)
14. No order tracking options (16%)
15. No gift certificates (11%)

Remember, this data is from 2002, but it’s probably still fairly relevant.

The Software Usability Research Laboratory of the Department of Psychology Wichita State University published a study in 2007 entitled “Top Ten Mistakes of Shopping Cart Design Revisited: A Survey of 500 Top E-Commerce Websites“. They studied the top 500 internet retailers (which accounted for 61% of internet sales). Here’s a summary of what they found:

1. Calling a shopping cart anything but a “shopping cart”: They found that 62% of the stores used “shopping cart” as term used to denote, well, the online store’s shopping cart. Don’t call yours anything else – it will only confuse shoppers. And confusion leads to shopping cart abandonment.

2. Requiring users to click a “BUY” button to add an item to the shopping cart: Since “buy” indicates a big commitment and some folks are shopping, they recommend using “Add To Cart” or something less commital and scary. They like “Add To Wish List” as well.

3. Giving little to no visual feedback that an item has been added to the cart: They found 65% of the online stores take people right into the shopping cart where they can see their newly added item.

4. Forcing the user to view the shopping cart every time an item is placed there: While they liked stores that gave you feedback as to what’s in the cart, they really liked stores that continuously showed you what was inside the cart, without having to directly view the cart. The liked it best when the store had a constant display of what was in your cart at all times.

5. Asking the user to buy other related items before adding an item to the cart: They didn’t like it when stores asked them whether they wanted to purchase a recommended additional item before they got to add their original item to the cart. Suggest other products AFTER the customer’s product is in the cart.

6. Requiring a user to REGISTER before adding an item to the cart: My personal most hated part of an online store – don’t force me to register if I don’t want to.

7. Requiring a user to change the quantity to zero to remove an item from the cart: They prefer it if a cart simply has a “remove” or “delete” button next to the items. “Remove” is the more commonly used term (68%).

8. Including written instructions to update the items in the cart: People ignore instructions, so if you have to have written instructions in order for folks to understand how to update the cart, it’s probably not intuitive enough in the first place.

9. Requiring a user to scroll to find an Update cart button: If people have many items in their cart, don’t make them scroll down to be able to get to your “update” button – they might miss it. Note that 68% of shopping cart had it at the very bottom.

10. Requiring a user to enter shipping, billing, and all personal information before knowing the final costs including shipping and tax: They believe today’s online shoppers are looking for free shipping and that shipping costs are still one of the major reasons customers-to-be abandon their shopping carts. A large percentage of online stores still require this (44%).

In addition to the top ten above, they also noted two other areas worthy of mention:

11. Security, security, security: People are concerned about theft, both of their credit card information and their identities. Make sure the online store is secure (uses an SSL certificate and properly uses “https”). Display your security certificates/logos prominently. Make sure your privacy policy is easy to find. Don’t use CAPTCHA to detect humans (errors may scare away customers).

12. Out of Stock Items: Tell folks you don’t have stock BEFORE they reach the checkout stage.

Marketing Sherpa did a study of shopping cart abandonment in 2006 and wrote an article entitled “1,120 Online Shoppers Say Why They Abandon Ecommerce Sites“. Here are their findings:

We asked shoppers: “Which factors keep you from doing more online shopping?”

Site/cart too complicated: 14%
Return/exchange policy: 41%
Fraud/Identity theft: 49% (heavy online shoppers: 21%)
Sharing personal info: 53% (heavy online shoppers: 39%)

…We have plenty of anecdotal evidence from multiple Case Studies that adding various security icons to your site, even if you’re a very famous brand name, makes a significant difference in conversion rates.

So be sure to think about the trust factor of your online store – keep privacy policies very visible and make sure your store appears and is secure – show off those security icons/logos! These themes are also stressed in this Marketing Sherpa article “Absolutely Pitiful Ecommerce Shopping Cart Abandonment Stats — 4 Ways to Improve Yours. They found typical shopping cart abandonment rates of 60%.

So you’ve optimized your online store, followed all the wonderful advice, and someone still abandons your cart – what should you do?

Run after them and ask them why they left!

Seriously. I’m totally serious.

Here’s a wonderful article from Marketing Experiments Journal entitled “Shopping Cart Recovery Tested“. They created an automated email process that went after folks who had abandoned their carts – remember, customers typically enter their email addresses as part of the check out process – so they emailed them. This article is really worth reading because at the end, they list the best practices for recovering abandoned shopping carts including: collecting email addresses, focusing on what went wrong with your store’s service, respond immediately to abandoned carts, automate it if you can and test different messages, considering offering an incentive to return, and adding a link to take them right back to their cart.

One of my clients faithfully does this, and very quickly learned there was an issue with her payment provider settings, which she fixed. Once that was fixed, the abandonments dropped to a trickle, and she is pretty much able to recover a high percented of them as well by simply sending one email to the customer. (Some shopping cart programs even come with shopping cart abandonment prevention features – ask your web designer about it.)

If you’ve made it this far, you’re learned a whole lot about shopping cart abandonment, what causes it, and what you can do to prevent it, and what you can do when it happens to you. I’ve tried to pull together the most current and relevant sources of info to help folks who are running online stores.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

One Response to “Shopping Cart Abandonment – What it is and how to avoid it”

  1. Andy Says:

    Really interesting tips and advice, very helpful, particularly to me at the moment. I’m a site designer using my own shopping cart software as a base for most of my sites, and I find the most difficult part is making your shopping cart ‘abandonment proof’. Particularly interesting point about not naming your shopping cart anything other than that, when I think about I, myself have abandoned checkouts for exactly this reason, pure confusion over where the checkout actually is, and not having the time or patience to figure it out. Thanks a lot for sharing, I’ll be sure to bookmarking this page for some future help.

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