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How to combat shopping cart abandonment

The common reasons online shoppers abandon their carts and how to overcome them.

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Editor’s Note: This guide was written in partnership with Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO, founder of Experience Investigators™ 

Our idea of a shopping cart has evolved over the years. Most of us have wheeled around a store with a cart, filling it up as we shop and emptying it out onto the conveyor belt at checkout.

In the early days of online shopping, designers realized customers needed a place to virtually hold their items. The digital shopping cart, complete with its own icon, was born.

The new age of shopping brought on a fresh challenge: shopping cart abandonment.  

By the time customers approached the checkout in traditional, brick-and-mortar stores, they had made their decisions. But, online things were different.

Shopping carts were left by the side of the digital road, abandoned by the very shoppers who filled them. Online retailers and others began seeing a disturbing trend. Inventory was skewed because customers filled carts with items they ultimately didn’t purchase. 

With online shopping, customers became savvier and more demanding, too. They expected the items to cost what retailers presented on the product page and were averse to paying for shipping costs or other mysterious “service fees” they encountered.

Some customers filled shopping carts online just to then go to the store and buy there to avoid shipping fees. While some were happy to window shop in this way. They’d stack their wish list items in the cart just to walk away.

Now, the global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is inflating this online shopping abandonment phenomenon. Changes in global consumer behavior have evolved as people realize their old shopping habits might not suit their current situation. 

Jordan Elkind, VP of retail insights for customer data and identity platform Amperity, told Today Style, “Data from the onset of COVID this year show a 94.4% abandonment rate (i.e., the percent of carts that are filled but not checked out) compared to 85.1% in the comparable period last year.” 

More than ever before, brands are left with products sitting stale in abandoned online shopping carts. This gray area creates unknowns around inventory leading to issues for other customers determining whether or not items are sold out.

Luckily, there are proven ways to recover cart abandoners and improve conversion rates. In this guide, we’ll walk through common reasons for shopping cart abandonment and examine ways to create a more streamlined experience for customers so they follow through with their purchases.

Chapter 1

What is shopping cart abandonment? 

The term shopping cart abandonment refers to when a prospective customer starts the checkout process for an online order but drops out before completing the purchase. In other words, when there is an item in an online shopping cart that never makes it through the transaction, it’s considered to be “abandoned” by the shopper. 

There are many reasons shoppers might be abandoning their cart on your website or application. But before you delve into the possible issues, you should measure your Cart Abandonment Rate (CAR) to gauge your current situation.

Chapter 2

How to calculate your Cart Abandonment Rate

Knowing your Cart Abandonment Rate (CAR) can help identify if there are hidden challenges to the path to purchase. If the CAR increases, that can be an indication something is going wrong. 

To calculate your CAR, divide the total number of completed purchases by the total number of created shopping carts. Subtract the result from 1 and then multiply by 100 to get to the percentage.

For example, if there are 70 complete purchases and 400 shopping carts created total, the Cart Abandonment Rate would equal 82.5%.

1 – (70 ÷ 400) x 100 = 82.5%

A high cart abandonment rate is a sign that somewhere across the customer journey, there is at least one poor experience or broken funnel. Aim to decrease your Cart Abandonment Rate by addressing the following common challenges in the digital customer journey.

Chapter 3

Common challenges across the digital customer journey

The entire customer journey needs to be as effortless and delightful for the customer as possible. This is especially true for the path to purchase. If the customer feels hesitant about any part of the journey leading up to the purchase, they will exit early. Customer feedback is a key ingredient to building better experiences, and the digital purchasing experience is no different.

The digital experience includes customer journeys on desktop computers, mobile devices, tablets, and apps. Shopping carts are abandoned across all of these channels. Mobile devices, specifically, continue to become more familiar and user-friendly and in turn, shoppers are becoming more likely to browse, save, and abandon items on their cellphones. 

It’s important to note that the user, however, might be more likely to purchase items in an emotional way via their mobile device as opposed to a more analytical way on their desktop. Emotional purchases might include items that are more visual, like clothing, jewelry, or home décor. Analytical purchases require more detailed review, like evaluating measurements or technical specs for furniture or larger digital devices. User experience design should consider these buying behaviors to avoid last-minute shopping car abandonment.

With all of this mind, let’s dive into the seven most common reasons that shoppers abandon their carts and how to overcome them.  

1. Unexpected shipping or other fees

Customers report their top reason for abandoning digital orders is because of unforeseen costs for shipping or other fees, according to a Baymard Institute study

Surprising customers at the end of the process with additional expenses is poor practice in any customer journey. Why treat this part differently in digital environments?

Imagine if you were checking out at the grocery store when the cashier announced an additional 10% fee if you wanted to take the items out of the store. It wouldn’t make sense and there’d be no question it was an unfair practice. Customers online feel the same way. They don’t want surprises and they are willing to walk away from the cart completely.

The remedy to this is upfront pricing. Instead of waiting to inform customers of shipping fees or other hidden costs, include that information in the product description. Free shipping is music to the customer’s ears. 

And while these shipping fees might be “extra” to the brand, the customer would rather know the total cost upfront. Absorbing the shipping fees into the overall cost of a product is one way to reduce the element of unpleasant surprise at checkout.

Amazon was among the first retailers to promise 2-day shipping on certain items. This move helped them dominate the ecommerce landscape.

This isn’t to say free shipping is the only way to please customers regarding delivery fees. In some cases, customers are willing to pay more for faster or more convenient options. Schuh, a British shoe retailer, has seen excellent business results by providing premium delivery options. Customers who are willing to pay for next-day delivery, for example, had higher conversion rates with larger basket sizes, Sean McKee, director of ecommerce and customer experience at Schuh, shared in an interview

Shipping and delivery options have become increasingly important to customers. Do you know what your customers might prefer? Do you know what they are willing to pay a premium for? 

There’s no need to guess the answer. Ask customers for feedback on these questions. The insights could help you determine what the best ways are to address shipping costs. 

2. No guest checkout

Customers also walk away from purchases online when they are forced to create a customer account. 

They might be “kicking the tires” with a first-time purchase and don’t want to provide information that feels unnecessary or excessive. Customers are aware of how their data can be used and want control in how they share their data with brands.

Customers who are ready to buy should be respected for where they are in their journey. They aren’t there to build a profile for your marketing team. 

By enabling guest checkout, you can begin to build trust with the customer. If there are customer benefits to building a profile, share those with them as an incentive to do so. But don’t require the profile before the purchase, because many customers will abandon the process.

Customers today will weigh privacy concerns against the value of personalized experiences. Share what the experience could be for those who complete a profile. 

Nike details the incentives for joining as a member as the top option for guest checkout.

Screen Shot 2020-10-02 at 3.52.26 pm

There is a happy medium between requiring customers to create an account and losing the chance to maintain a relationship with a one-time customer. Educate your customers on the benefits of signing up in a non-invasive way. The goal is to make the digital check-out process as quick and easy as possible for the customer.

3. Checkout process is too long or complicated

Customers don’t want to take any longer than necessary to complete their purchase. Think of every form field or step in the purchase process as an actual obstacle to sales.

Baymard’s Checkout Usability research revealed some interesting benchmarks for the checkout user experience. 

The number of steps in the purchase process should be kept to a minimum, but even more important than that is the number of form fields the user is expected to complete. 

The Baymard study reported the average checkout flow contains 23.48 form elements and 14.88 form fields. These forms often include optional fields many users can skip. But customers need to first take in the information and determine what’s optional and what’s not. That cognitive load can create the perception of a longer, more arduous checkout process than they expected. That anticipation is what leads to abandonment.

Simpler designs for checkout include reducing the number of form fields and noise for the customer, especially for mobile and in-app designs. Optional fields can add effort and friction to the checkout flow. 

Instead of asking for “First Name” and “Last Name” in separate fields, asking customers for their “Full Name” in one field is one example of how to reduce the form fields. 

Where applicable, enable customers to use various payment options such as Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, PayPal, etc. It’s also important to track load times on the checkout page. A slow-loading page will force customers to abandon their cart and likely not return. 

Help the customer stay aware of where they are in the checkout process with a progress bar or update of “Step 1 of 3” wording along the way. Customers want to know what’s expected of them and checkout is no different. Share the approximate amount of time it will take to complete the process to set realistic expectations.

4. The checkout process isn’t customer-centric 

If a customer struggles with basic tasks like adding or subtracting items from the cart, this can also lead to frustration and abandonment. 

Chat support can be an effective solution to assist customers who are unable to complete their task. And if the customer is about to leave, a slide-out exit survey helps them report what’s not working for them. Ideally, there is also a way to request a reply to the feedback, like a slide-out exit survey triggered after the shopper motions to abandon cart.

5. Security concerns

Customers also hesitate and second-guess their original buying intentions when they have concerns about security. 

Due to the stories of scams and online fraud, customers have become cautious about where to enter their credit card numbers, and rightfully so. Customers look for sites that have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which now is reflected in the “lock” icon on most browsers. Some sites go even further, showing the customer secure status in the URL during the checkout process.

Gap’s website reflects this throughout the checkout experience. 

Gap's check out safe url

Customers want the reassurance of the secure nature of their information, especially around payment methods and processing. Brands should reflect security in several places throughout the checkout process. 

6. Unclear return and exchange policies

Customers also need to feel good about purchasing items not seen in person. Overall, customers are accustomed to online shopping and feel comfortable with reviewing items through photos and descriptions. But they still want to know the product they are ordering will be what’s expected.

And what about returns or exchanges? Is that information clear and accessible during the checkout process? 

UPS’s 2019 Pulse of the Online Shopper study found that 68% of respondents state the returns experience shapes their overall perceptions of the retailer. That “returns experience” starts during the path to purchase. 

Marine Layer, a California clothing retailer,  includes a link to their return policy page in the confirmation email sent immediately after purchase.

marine layer returns policy

If a customer clicks on the return link, it takes them to a concise webpage that clearly outlines the returns policy and process. They let their customers know to expect returns delays and thank them for their patience. If a customer does come across an issue, they offer the “NEED HELP” button which takes them to a more in-depth explanation of how exactly to return or exchange items.

marine layer returns and exchanges

How is your brand describing the returns process? In that same study from UPS, 42% said free return shipping contributes most to a positive experience. Customers want to feel confident in the ease of returns before making the original purchase.

7. Lack of social proof

Customers trust peer networks more than brands. In a recent study by Trustpulse, 72% of customers say they won’t take action until they read reviews. And online product reviews can increase a product’s conversion rate by more than 270%. 

Customers may fill up a cart with items as sort of a “dressing room.” And as they narrow down their choices, they seek out customer reviews. Brands that do this well have the reviews incorporated into the product page. 

Nordstrom features the star rating on the product description page, along with the individual reviews further down the page.

Nordstorm shopping experience

Review the journey to purchase from your customer’s perspective. If you were purchasing a high-ticket formal dress or suit before a big event, you’d be interested to see how it fits on customers who previously purchased. The most innovative companies, such as Amazon and Rent the Runway, include customer photos on each product page so that shoppers can see how the items fit on others like them. 

You might be willing to pay a high shipping cost to get the item on time for your event, but you wouldn’t purchase the item if the return process wasn’t free. Brands need to take customer preferences into account when designing the checkout process.

There are many innovative ways to reduce shopping cart abandonment. However, each brand has its own unique customer base to serve. It’s imperative not to guess at what the customer might want and instead ask them directly. This way, you create a seamless journey to purchase that works for your customer’s needs.

Chapter 4

Collect feedback to build trust throughout the journey

Customers want brands to build trust with them at every stage of their journey, not just during purchase. This means creating a personalized, meaningful experience. These types of experiences can only be created by understanding who your customers are. 

Create many opportunities to ask and receive proactive feedback from customers. Shoppers on your site and app have great ideas and are willing to share them–if it’s convenient. In-app surveys, slide-out exit requests and on-demand feedback forms help customers share what’s most important to them.

Consider running a survey campaign on your website or app to capture insight on satisfaction with product pages. You might ask a simple Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) question, “How satisfied are you with this product page?” followed by an open-text field asking, “What improvements could be made to the product page to make it more informative?”

CSAT Slide-Out Survey 2

(Slide-out survey asking Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and open-text field) 

Ecco shopping cart abandonment image

(Slide-out survey to capture customer insight during the checkout process)

If a customer adds an item to their cart, and then motions to abandon the page, trigger a slide-out exit survey to capture insight on why customers are abandoning their cart. When a customer is abandoning their cart, a full-size survey like the example below allows your brand to get one last interaction with the customer before they leave.

(Full-page exit survey to capture insight on why a customer abandoned their cart)

(Full-page exit survey to capture insight on why a customer abandoned their cart) 

Trust is also built with transparency. Shopping sites should have accurate product counts and easy search functionality for customers. Customer reviews and how-to videos also help shoppers understand the products and the experience they will have with them.

And since customers are using shopping carts as dressing rooms and wishlists, it behooves more brands to create special places for these needs. 

Amazon created Wish Lists long ago, and users leverage them for everything from birthday gift ideas to classroom supply requests. By allowing users to create these lists, they avoid products going directly into the shopping cart and leverage the community to share ideas, reviews, and more.

Some users create wish lists on Pinterest or others similar that link directly to the products on Amazon or other sites. Their desired items are well catalogued, and when the customer is ready to make the purchase, the link is right there.

pinterest wishlist

(Source: Pinterest)

Customers want these types of wish list collections, so brands should do more to provide them.

Chapter 5

Shopping cart abandonment and A/B testing

How do you know exactly what’s working and what’s not on your checkout page? A great way to determine the best digital shopping cart experience is through A/B testing. 

A/B testing is the go-to optimization process for most companies when they know they have an improvement to make on their website. For example, you find that your Cart Abandonment Rate (CAR) has gone down in the last month. You hypothesize that there are simply too many form fields in the checkout process. So, you create a new payment page with fewer form fields and run an A/B test. 

The tests work by showing users different versions of the page randomly to determine which is more successful. The original is usually the control in the test with the altered version being the variation.

By capturing analytics data and feedback from customers during the A/B test, you can effectively determine what’s impacting the CAR. This is a great way to identify problem areas and can help to inform future design and checkout process decisions. 

The inevitable shopping cart abandonment

Even with all the best practices and thoughtful designs, customers will still abandon their carts. Getting to a zero percent Cart Abandonment Rate is simply not possible.

Shoppers get distracted and simply forget! Or they want to measure that wall for the piece of art before they buy.

Reaching out to shoppers in personal ways is a good strategy to getting them back to their carts. Brands do this with email, text, or in-app notifications. 

Recovery emails have remarkably successful results. Personalized emails regarding the abandoned cart items show high open rates at an average of 43%, according to Barilliance. Average conversion rates for cart abandonment emails are just over 8%, which could lead to big revenue gains for many brands. 

Investing in an email campaign strategy and personalized cart recovery approach could be well worth the investment.

Abandoned carts have a story to tell

Customers want to buy on your site, their mobile device, or in your app in the easiest, most straightforward way possible. Create effortless, personalized experiences to move them through the journey in a way that builds trust provides reassurance, and helps them achieve more along the way. Then, address their potential concerns in the path to purchase before they become challenges that lead to shopping cart abandonment.

And don’t forget to ask for feedback and provide them with ways to tell you exactly what they think. That will fuel the ideas for the future to serve them and other customers. Don’t leave that shopping cart by the side of the digital road.

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