eCommerce Insiders

Shopping Cart Abandonment: Why It Happens and What You Can Do About It

Calling all retailers who want a more profitable 2015!

Look no further than your shopping carts.

Online shopping cart abandonment is the bane of every retailers existence.

Cart abandonment is an especially hot topic in the e-commerce space, particularly after Q4 2014 revenue projections are being reconciled with actual revenue generation.

In 2013, 74 percent of online shopping carts were abandoned. The Business Insider findings painted a bleak picture regarding cart abandonment, stating that:

“Approximately $4 trillion worth of merchandise will be abandoned in online shopping carts this year”.

But, retailers need not fret: Business Insiders goes on to state:

“About 63% of that is potentially recoverable by savvy online retailers”, as of Q2 2014.

Some predict that up to 3/4ths of cart abandonment can be salvaged and turned into sale completions. In order to reverse the abandonment trend, it’s important thing is for retailers to:

  • Understand why shoppers abandon shopping cart merchandise
  • Create strategies for reversing the trends

Let’s take a look at why shoppers abandon their cart merchandise. But, first, it’s important to understand the mentality and the shopping habits of the e-commerce consumer.

The Anatomy Of The E-Commerce Shopper

If nothing else is understood about e-commerce consumers, it should be understood that these are very different shoppers than your average brick and mortar retail shopper.

Obviously, e-commerce consumers have far more shopping options at their fingertips. They have far more marketers vying for their attention and their shopping dollars, usually within the same time period.

Because of the sheer volume of online marketing they encounter on a daily basis, these shoppers have become far more savvy, and are often showroom shoppers—they’ve already engaged their senses at the retail store, then they come home to order to the same products online.

This is a group of consumers who understand their options and are prone to exercise their options freely. When consumers walk into a retail store to shop, they are locked into a limited selection of choices. Consumers have very little choice but to take their product off the rack, walk to to a register, and make a purchase.

On the other hand, e-commerce consumers can easily place their selections into their online shopping cart, leave the website, and resume their shopping either later in the day or on a completely separate date. This is why e-commerce retailers shouldn’t fret when online shoppers change their minds. Shopping online is more complex than the traditional retail shopping process.

Uncovering Reasons For Cart Abandonment

With a bit more clarity about the mentality and the shopping habits of e-commerce consumers, let’s delve into reasons why e-commerce consumers abandon their shopping cart purchases:

  • Surprise costs and fees
  • They were window shopping
  • They changed their minds
  • Site navigation frustration
  • The payment process was too burdensome
  • They disliked product delivery options

Let’s break each of these points down further.

Surprise Costs And Fees

Many people appreciate a personal surprise, but everyone hates surprises that will cause them to spend more money than they were led to believe.

Examples of these include hidden shipping fees, taxes, foreign currency exchange rates, and expired price points that are still being advertised as active sales.

In fact, shoppers resent hidden fees so much, they’ll often abandon the shopping site and the retailer’s brand altogether!

Transparency goes a long way in tearing down a shopper’s barriers to purchase. It also goes a long way in creating great relations and customer loyalty. Retail shoppers don’t have an issue with paying for reasonable fees. They have a problem with perceived bait and switch tactics.

Regarding high shipping fees, it’s wise to incentivize shopping with discounted or free shipping. High shipping fees is one of the top reasons for cart abandonment. Why not offer free shipping with purchase? Brands such as L.L. Bean offer free shipping as a standard part of the buying process. In fact, many gravitate towards the L.L. Bean brand specifically for this reason.

At the very least, retailers should offer free shipping during certain times of the year, or for purchases over a minimum purchase price. Offering free shipping over a minimum purchase does a great job in motivating shoppers to spend more money and raise your average order value, since they know that they will have all of their products shipped for free.

They Were Window Shopping

When brick and mortar retail shoppers engage in window shopping, they literally gaze at merchandise through store windows. If they’re feeling brave, then they’ll enter the store, pick up an item or two, then place the merchandise back on the racks. No one expects to generate revenue from window shoppers.

On the other hand, e-commerce retail shoppers aren’t offered a way to let retailers know that they aren’t currently interested in making a purchase. Shoppers such as these often fill online carts with merchandise that they intend of purchasing at a later date, on purpose.

Since e-retailers expect all shopping transactions to produce revenue, the thought of someone leaving merchandise behind in a shopping cart can seem both confusing and maddening!

However, targeted incentives are a great way to make convert online window shoppers into buyers who are eager to immediately complete their purchases. Consider using remarketing tactics to draw shoppers back when they’re ready to buy.

They’ve Changed Their Minds

Under the best circumstances for retailers, a consumer would complete their buying decisions the first time, each and every time. But all consumers have the right to change their minds about a purchase.

When consumers shop at retail stores and change their minds, they can put the product back on the shelf or even hand the cashier the discarded item at checkout. When they change their minds about an online purchase, however, they often park the product inside of an online shopping cart, to the chagrin of the e-retailer.

Here’s another thing to consider: Consumers don’t like to be held hostage to their choices. One way to hold them hostage is by making it next to impossible  to remove previously-selected products from shopping carts. This is a good way to get a shopper to leave your site for good.

For example, a shopper selects an item, then changes her mind because:

  • She doesn’t want the product after all
  • The product is out of her budget
  • She selected the wrong product by accident

She believes that she’s removed the product(s) from her cart until it’s time for checkout. Then, she notices the products are hard to remove, and she has to start the entire transaction over again. What are the chances she gives up in frustration and shops from Amazon instead?

One way to stave off shopper’s remorse in the first place is by creating a marketing campaign chock-full of irresistible reasons for buyers to complete a sale. This will often reverse the trend of unwanted merchandise getting dumped inside of an online shopping cart.

Site Navigation Frustration

No one wants to feel like they need an advanced technology degree in order to figure out how to navigate an e-retailer website. Yet, many shoppers feel this way due to complicated multi-page checkout processes, or due to websites that involve complicated sales funnels.

Examples of a complicated sales funnels include pop-up windows that requires shoppers to complete a survey (or a registration process that feels like a survey) in order to finish the buying process.

Another example are the multitudes of web pages that encourages cross-sells and upsells, instead of streamlining the process on one page. Amazon excels at the streamlined checkout process, and as its competitors, you need to keep up.

Retailers should find a sensible balance between creating more revenue opportunities, data collection, and allowing the shopper to complete their order as efficiently as possible.

At the end of the day, the shopper wants to complete their purchase as fast as possible. Smart brands will figure out how to assist consumers with their goals, while reaching their own goals at the same time.

The Payment Process was Too Burdensome

It’s often assumed that e-retail shoppers use their credit cards in order to complete a transaction. But there are many who either don’t have access to credit cards, or refuse to use their credit cards on an e-retailer website, due to concerns about security.

Brands should offer buyers every online form of payment available, including emerging forms of payment like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Pay with Amazon. While online security has come a long way, there are still many who balk at providing their credit card information on an unknown website. Payment processors such as PayPal are a wonderful way to address the needs of buyers are who leery about online security, or who might not own a credit or debit card.

They Disliked Product Delivery Options

It’s a huge mistake for retailers to assume that their favorite merchandise delivery method will work for everyone. For example, some customers only feel comfortable providing their P.O. box addresses-Fed Ex and UPS only deliver to home addresses. And, some customers might like the service that one delivery service provides over another. And, of course, certain delivery providers charge higher shipping fees than others.

The fact is, if a shopper doesn’t find a suitable delivery option for their purchase for whatever reason, they’ll abandon the transaction altogether.

Turning Abandonded Carts Into Revenue Generators

There will always be reasons why a shopper decides not to become a buyer. However, by addressing the most common issues, cart abandonment in most cases can be reversed. E-retailers are foolish to take a passive stance when it comes to motivating shoppers to convert selections into purchases.

Re-tooling marketing strategies while considering the needs of consumers is a simple way to increase sales without having to start from scratch. After all, it’s always easier to sell merchandise to customers when they’ve already shown an interest in the merchandise!

Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time.

4 thoughts on “Shopping Cart Abandonment: Why It Happens and What You Can Do About It

  1. Dave

    Hi Terri,

    Thanks for your well researched article.

    And you are right, there are many reasons people abandon their shopping carts just as they are about to order.

    The big pain though (especially for smaller online ecommerce shops) is that pinpointing the “smoking gun” that is causing the majority of shopping carts to be dumped is time consuming. You may have ideas, but those ideas need to be split tested etc and of course that all takes time.

    While you go about evaluating each part of your funnel to find the problem it’s a good idea justcopy n’ paste in a tiny code snippet into your shopping cart.

    Then if someone abandons two things happen…

    1) As long as they have at least entered their email – messages will go out to them automatically asking what the issue was with their order perhaps offering a small discount to complete the purchase. This can help recover 15-30%+ of your lost sales from just a few minutes work to copy n’ paste your code in.

    2) You will be able to see how much you are currently losing due to shopping cart abandonment because the reports tell you exactly… which can act as big incentive to really get to grips with your sales funnel to start to reduce the amount of people who dump your sales in future.

    At least then your are recovering lost revenue… even if it takes a few months to split test why there are issues until you find the “smoking gun” which is causing the greatest problems.

    Here’s the solution I have found the easiest to use and they have a free trial too so you might like to check them out (no pun intended!)… Conversion Rate Software Snippet Trial

    I hope this helps your readers.

    Kind regards


  2. John

    More broadly, an abandoned shopping cart should be seen as part of the increasingly complex series of steps a consumer might take before finally making a purchase, and a strong indicator of consumer interest in a product or a brand. Technology that helps retailers collect and leverage online shopping cart data is likely to be a worthwhile investment.

  3. David

    Fantastic post Terri! I’m doing a ton of research on shopping cart abandonment and your article is timely and in-depth! Great coverage! I like the idea of using retargeting for customers that are just “window shopping”


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