Shopping Cart Abandonment: Why They Leave and 3 Ways to Regain Their Business

shopping cart

Think your online checkout process is optimal? Think again. E-commerce visitors regularly abandon their shopping carts with … well, abandon.

  • 67% drop out according to the Baymard Institute and Comscore
  • 75% leave you according to SaleCycle
  • 61% say sayonara according to Triggered Messaging
  • A whopping 80% give the grand wave according to Rejoiner

The data points may be disparate, but the story stays the same:  shopping carts are being abandoned. A lot. Fortunately, there are strategies, and technologies – like marketing automation – that can help you make some lemonade out of this lemon. First, some context:

The shopping cart is arguably the most strategic aspect of the sales funnel to optimize. It’s the culmination of successful branding, messaging, tactics, website architecture, products, and pricing, just to name a few elements. Most importantly, sealing the deal keeps the lights on … which is the prime directive for every business.

So what’s going on? Why do shoppers so frequently and unceremoniously walk away from their virtual basket of goodies?

In a June 2013 MarketingExperiments Web clinic, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin (Managing Director of MECLABS) presented the four factors that cause cart abandonment. Let’s take a look:

Four Main Reasons Why Customers Abandon Their Shopping Cart

The overall objective of a shopping cart, says Dr. McGlaughlin, is to maintain as much forward momentum – aka cognitive momentum – as possible from the “offer/product page” to the “thank you” page. Cart abandonment occurs when cognitive momentum is obstructed. Here’s why it happens:

Factor #1: Unwarranted Confusion

For each transaction in the conversion process, the consumer experiences a moment of orientation and is looking to understand the following:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?

You have approximately seven seconds to answer those questions. If you don’t have a clear and obvious transactional sequence in place, your shopper may become disoriented and frustrated and bail on you.

Factor #2: Unexpressed Value

According to McGlaughlin, marketers often – wrongly – assume that the consumer’s motivation to purchase (which usually peaks at the offer/product page) will be strong enough to overcome the resistance in the checkout process.

The result: all value messaging stops after the offer/product page, making conversion rates suffer and leaving money on the table. But by making even small tweaks to further emphasize the value of the offer through each step of the process, conversion can see a significant lift.

Factor #3: Unaddressed Anxiety

When it comes to spending money, people are generally risk-averse. So it’s incumbent on marketers to reassure customers that they’re making the right decision during every step of the transaction. Anything that stirs up anxiety will reduce conversion.

Some examples include shopping carts that hammer people to buy something else (e.g., cascading pop-ups to add this or that to your order) or are lined with banner ads promoting other items.

In the absence of continued encouragement and/or positive sentiment about the specific products already in the cart (e.g., a testimonial or a live chat link), anxiety may get stirred up and the customer may have second thoughts.

Factor #4: Undirected Choices

Having choices is definitely a crowd pleaser.  But when it comes to the checkout process, too much of a good thing complicates momentum and decreases conversion.

So rather than providing multiple potential options that are equally weighted (e.g., different options that are all presented via clickable buttons of the same size, same color, same font, all in a row), lead customers to the one option you want them to take; that is, be clear about the next “right” action in the process.

3 Things You Can Do to Mitigate Shopping Cart Abandonment

There’s no shortage of advice out there. Any company interested in shoring up the weak spots of its checkout process can find countless lists that itemize a multitude of tips and tactics for improving cart conversion. Before you take a dive into that thicket of information, consider the “hows”, which can be broken down into three buckets:

How #1: Study the Best Practices for Your Business Type

Cart optimization can be very business-specific. For example, what works best for a supplier of first aid equipment may do nothing to mitigate cart abandonment for an electronics distributor.

Conversely, some cart-optimization practices are pretty universal for all businesses, such as not hiding your shipping costs. (Really, don’t do that.) Take a look at what your competitors are doing, what your broader industry is doing, what your customers seem to respond to, and what you like and don’t like. That will help you separate the wheat from the chaff and create a workable list of potential optimization opportunities to test.

How #2: Test, Test, Test

This shouldn’t be a surprise: Testing is essential to learning, understanding, and improving anything. But depending on the data point you look at, half or more of online businesses do not practice optimization testing before implementing a change.

Testing can seem – and be – complicated and time-consuming, neither of which has any appeal to a company racing to stay competitive, but taking the time to test can pay dividends, as even the smallest tweak can have a huge impact. It’s important to understand that “impact” can go either way – it can lift revenue or take a nasty bite out of it. Thus the imperative to test first, implement second.

So, what to test?

Start with what you know and expand from there. For example:

  • Look at your data – visitors, customers, conversions, cart size, abandonment rates, etc.
  • Compare it to industry baselines.
  • Talk to your sales associates, marketing managers, and IT to understand what happens before the visit, during the online shopping experience, and after the visit.
  • Task your team with walking through the shopping and checkout processes to understand what customers experience.

Once you get the big picture, start out small by identifying a few areas that seem to be the most important. Maybe it’s pre-visit marketing. Maybe it’s the customer login process or form design. Maybe it’s re-capturing prospects who got close to the finish line but still abandoned their carts.

You don’t have to go crazy with testing, but you really need to recognize and embrace its importance, and you really need to practice it; that is, if increasing your revenue stream is a goal.

How #3: Automate

Automation is the idea of streamlining processes in order to make them faster, more efficient, and remove (or drastically reduce) error.

It’s essential in the digital age because humans, unaided, simply cannot comprehend, crunch, parse, analyze, assess and calculate today’s massive amounts of data.

Marketing automation can be vital to re-engaging prospects and re-capturing lost sales.  A popular and very effective example is the use of automated email campaigns that get triggered when a cart has been abandoned. These can be as simple as a single email, or quite sophisticated and multi-tiered based on audience segmentation, the products that were in the cart, customer profile and lifetime value, etc.

Another benefit of marketing automation is that it can be used to optimize all points of the sales funnel. After all, abandonment doesn’t just happen at the cart (the bottom of the funnel), it can everywhere:  browse abandonment, webinar registration abandonment, email signup abandonment, mobile app download abandonment, just to name a few.

By strategically implementing automation into the checkout process, you can vastly reduce shopping cart abandonment (and other types) and, in turn, maintain your margins. Of course you’ll want to be sure and test it.

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