Cart Abandonment Explained and 4 Tips to Prevent It

After you determine why customers abandon carts on your site you can adjust your cart page to maximize transactions. We get you started with four tips to lower cart abandonment rates.

For the online retailer, shopping cart abandonment is a big problem in the industry. Recent Forrester research indicates that 88 percent of consumers have abandoned an online shopping cart.  There are a number of ways that you can boost consumer trust and encourage shoppers to complete the transaction before leaving your website.  

Shopping cart abandonment explained

Cart abandonment (or shopping cart abandonment) is a familiar phrase for most ecommerce site owners. It’s the commonly used term to describe an online shopping cart that a consumer has added products to but then leaves the website without making the purchase and completing the transaction.

Another phrase you may have heard of is shopping cart abandonment rate. This the metric that you can use to see how your own cart abandonment rate stacks up compared to others in the online retail space. To determine the cart abandonment rate, you take the total number of website visitors who start the checkout process on your website and then divide by the total number of "add to cart" clicks to obtain your abandonment rate in percentage.

As you make changes to your cart page, your ecommerce website and add to your overall marketing efforts you should track your cart abandonment rate to see which incentives work for your ecommerce business – and which don’t.

Other types of Website abandonment

One thing to note is that abandonment (not cart abandonment) expands into other forms of transactions.  Website abandonment also refers to consumers who do not complete any desired transaction process on the website -- such as filling out and submitting an online quote, signing up for a membership or even downloading an incentive. 

In many cases, ecommerce site owners and marketers will use the same process to recover these customers as they would a shopping cart abandoner.

Shopping cart abandonment can happen for a number of reasons.  Knowing why your customers abandon shopping carts can increase your chances of recovering that potentially lost sale. Did the customer have trouble submitting the cart form or did they abandon for personal reasons?

 In many cases using website analytics can help you determine if there is a navigational problem with your cart and pages. If you see customers leave the site on a specific page you can test that page’s navigation to try and reduce the abandonment rate.

Once you determine why the customer has abandoned you can adjust cart age design or create soft-sale marketing messages that are personalized to that specific customer in order to increase the likelihood they will come back to your website and finish the checkout process.

Lower cart abandonment rates with better page design

The best way to recapture an abandoned cart is to prevent the action from taking place. While that may sound a bit ridiculous given the scope of reasons why consumers do not complete a checkout process – numerous studies have covered this specific topic. From this type of market research you can learn how to better design your pages to lower your cart abandonment rate. 

To show you how best practices for design can help improve shopping cart abandonment rates, let's look at some statistics from a recent Forrester study, "Understanding Shopping Cart Abandonment," and see why consumers say they abandon shopping carts. This helps ecommerce site owners address the most common abandonment issues.

According to the research report, 88 percent of consumers have abandoned a shopping cart for the following reasons:  cost of shipping (44 percent), unprepared to purchase (41 percent), comparison shopping (27 percent) and price too high (25 percent).

Four tips to encourage consumers and lower cart abandonment rates

Knowing why consumers abandon shopping carts can help you to redesign your pages to provide optimal conversion rates. Let’s look at each reason given by consumers in this research and look at ways ecommerce site owners can address the issue before the consumer even lands on your site.

Cost of shipping

 Online retailers need to be upfront about shipping and other hidden costs are associated with the final checkout price customers pay. To directly address this issue you could provide a shipping calculator tool on the 'view cart' page.  To encourage consumers to complete the transaction, provide promotion offers on this page as well. For example, if you are offering free shipping on orders over $50, if the customer sees the message on this cart page it can help you to capture that sale and, for this promotion, also increase the size of the order.

Unprepared to purchase

Just because a consumer has added an item to the shopping cart does not mean they are prepared to make the purchase at that moment in time. The best way to retain this customer is to offer options to save the cart. This lets the customer know they can come back at any time and access the cart with products in it. For e-tailers this allows you to capture the customer's email address so you can remarket to them at a later date if they do not come back to complete the check-out process.

Comparison shopping

Savvy consumers use the Internet to research products and to compare prices before making a purchase. Often a customer will add an item to the cart to view complete pricing that including shipping costs. This is another issue that can be addressed by allowing consumers to save carts. Also, when consumers are comparing prices you can encourage them to checkout on your site by displaying certified trustmarks and links to guarantees and similar programs you offer. Again, for maximum impact make sure this is on all pages of your website – including the shopping cart page.

Price too high

Being competitive with pricing is extremely important given that consumers can compare prices across hundreds to thousands of online retail sites in seconds with shopping engines or Google. One way to encourage customers to shop and complete the transaction is to offer those promotional deals on the view cart page. You can also provide links to join your subscriber list to obtain an immediate one-time discount. These types of small incentives will provide the incentive for the consumer to shop on your site.

More shopping cart abandonment tips and advice

From beginner guides to expert tips, our selection of articles focused on shopping cart abandonment and how to recover those abandoned carts can help you increase online sales.

·   A Buyer's Guide to Remarketing Services

·   9 Ecommerce Conversion and Remarketing Words to Know

·   Save Our Sales: Preventing Abandoned Shopping Carts

·   Web Analytics: A User's Guide, Part 1

Vangie Beal is a veteran online seller and frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.


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