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Why Do People Leave My Shopping Cart?

One of the most critical aspects of managing an e-commerce site is understanding some common behaviors that occur on the site.  Once we see trends of how people use the site, our next goal is really to reduce shopping cart abandonment. According to an in-depth Forrester study, 88 percent of consumers have abandoned a shopping cart without completing a transaction.  While you won’t be able to eliminate shopping cart abandonment, there are some steps you can take to significantly reduce abandonment and increase overall conversion rates.  Some of these may seem small and/or trivial, but implementing these changes will increase bottom line revenues, which always makes upper management happy.

1. Hidden Shipping Costs

The previously referenced Forrester study found that the number one reason a potential customer does not complete a transaction is because shipping and handling costs were either too high or they were unclear at the time of purchase.  Also high on the list was that the shipping fees were disclosed too late during the overall checkout process.  This information is one of the key drivers for a consumer to cross the decision making line. Often times, we have seen through various testing elements, the shipping costs determine the entire sale.

Another study from the E-tailing Group also revealed that unconditional free shipping is the most important factor that leads consumers to complete a purchase. Most consumers actually deem this as a critical component in the decision making process.

Zappos understands how powerful this is and introduces this emotional lift element right at the beginning of the purchase cycle, before someone even decides to click.

2. Hidden Fees at the End Of Check Out

Just imagine yourself in a grocery store. You carry around a calculator, making sure that everything you put in your cart adds up to equal or less than what your budget is. Knowing that you will have to pay tax on everything you buy, you don’t expect any more charges.  How surprised would you be if there was an extra fee for bagging your groceries, extra credit card fees or even a packaging fee.  Would you immediately be dismayed, leave and go somewhere else to shop?

The number two hot button on the list is hidden fees or unknown shipping charges calculated at the end of the process. Nothing infuriates a potential customer more than an additional charge or the feeling of getting scammed because an online vender has increased shipping to make up for lost revenue. This immediately becomes a trust issue than can affect you not only during the current transaction, but also any future transactions with that person.

Another way to prevent this is to use a shipping calculator early on in the shopping cart process so the customer has all the information needed to proceed with the sale.  Sephora does good job pointing out an amount to spend to get free shipping, even before you start shopping.

3. Cart Visibility is Not Present at All Times

Online shopping can be a complicated process overall, especially when customers are buying multiple items, have a budget to adhere to and need to keep track of exactly what they have added to the cart.  Making a user go back and forth just to check on what they have added can be an immediate deal breaker.

HLJ (Hobby Link Japan) has a feature that is becoming more and more common on sites. It allows the user to click on the cart and a drop down menu appears that shows items listed in the cart as well as their prices. It’s also good practice to show the total price in the cart from page to page as the user browsers.  This helps the user determine in a split second whether or not to add items to the cart, or just to proceed to checkout.

4. The Checkout Process is Too Long

Today’s shopping cart needs to be fast and to the point.  Collecting too much information or unnecessary information during the checkout process will result in higher abandonment rates every time. Based on surveys, tests and the big companies setting a standard in how we shop and check out, we are used to doing things in a certain manner.

Typically the process is relatively mainstream at this point.  The following should be in every process after product selection occurs and a person decides to checkout:

  • Provide billing and shipping addresses
  • Provide contact information
  • Provide payment information and select shipping choices
  • Receive some sort of confirmation email

Some retailers even give the shopper an opportunity to make additional purchases as well as inform them about how many dollars they are away from receiving some sort of benefit like free shipping.

Smashing Magazine did a study which showed that the average checkout process that consisted of five steps regularly performed at a better conversion rate than all the rest. The graph here shows the number of steps, on average, in a process and its overall conversion rate, based on the top 100 grossing e-commerce websites from the original research study.

5. Asking a User to Register an Account Before the Sale

One of the most annoying issues to a user and one that can cause immediate friction is asking for information that has no relevance to the sale, and/or asking a user to create an account before they check out.  A good practice is to offer the user the ability to check out as a guest.

A study by Webcredible shows that 29 percent of online shoppers do not like proprietary registration forms during checkout. If you analyze your checkout process, most of the information needed from a person to checkout will be created during the billing and shipping phase. Adding an additional optional section to allow a person to create a user login helps the user feel more at ease about giving this information. Don’t forget to auto-populate the user field with their email address (if that is your unique identifier) leaving them only to fill out the password.

Alternatively, you can give them different options as they are about to checkout.  Wal-Mart does a good job of asking users if they would like continue as a guest, create an account, or log in if they are a returning customer.

6. Concerns About Payment Security

Even though it may seem like a standard in this day and age of technology, it’s still imperative that you maintain security and the perception that you are delivering the highest level of security when someone is checking out on your site. This can include links to your secure https provider as well as information on your privacy policy page about the types of encryption you use. Also, one very important visual element that should be used is a padlock near any credit card information giving the customer a feeling of relief that their information is secure.


Several tests and studies have been performed and show that using a padlock right before a submission increase conversion rates two to three times the normal amount (no percentage was given).

Changing or optimizing your current e-commerce checkout process to include the six items listed in this article will have an immediate impact on your overall conversion rates. It’s never a guarantee with anything you do online, so as you implement different features, never forget to run A/B tests to see what is specifically working for you. Just as important, you will then know isn’t working for you and can get rid of it immediately. Ultimately, understanding user behavior and what site elements create more revenue will help any marketer’s bottom line increase.

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