Top Tips for Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment and Driving Conversion

By Martin Newman | 21 Jul 2010

Shopping cart abandonment and low conversion rates are a problem for all online retailers. International e-commerce expert Martin Newman shares his top tips for improving conversion and keeping your customers shopping.

The shopping bag and the checkout are the parts of the path to purchase where a retailer will lose most of its sales. According to Forrester research, the level of abandoned baskets in Australia is 48% – slightly better than in the UK where, according to Coremetrics, it’s just over 50%. What it means is one in two people who add something to their bag/cart do not end up making a purchase.

Whilst this is a high percentage, there are various reasons for this and not all are down to specific issues with the bag or the cart. For example, some users will put products in the bag and use it as a comparison tool. Some customers will print off the bag and take it into a store as they were only ever planning to buy offline in the first instance.

In many cases, users are simply not ready to buy, which is why a PayPal survey in 2009 found that up to 33% of users who abandon their bag will come back to purchase. This is why it’s really important to enable customers to add products to a wishlist or – even better – let them save their bag.

Given that not all customers are ready to buy, even after having added something to their shopping bag, it’s a good idea to offer them an incentive to purchase. This could be a straight discount or free shipping. It’s also another way of convincing store customers to try buying from your online channel. Another highly effective tactic is to offer an incentive to buy when someone abandons his or her shopping bag. This will often drive a 10% to 20% increase in conversion.

Given that the customer is in a virtual retail environment, it’s vital to provide good information around returns both in terms of the process and the policy. Forrester’s shopping cart survey of 2007 found that 39% of non-buyers cited lack of information around returns as the reason for not purchasing the goods added to their shopping bag.

Gift buyers are often the forgotten customer segment with retailers having particularly poor propositions for this important customer segment. And this is no different when it comes to the bag and checkout. It’s remarkable how few websites offer gift-wrap and gift cards, and even fewer communicate this at the right stage of the customer’s journey. The user should see all of these options at the shopping bag and be able to add a gift message or select gift-wrap and a gift card. They should also have the option of specifying a date for the delivery of their gift. Men are historically ‘’ when it comes to buying gifts. Therefore if you can’t guarantee delivery of their gift on a specific date, they probably won’t buy from you. If you’re a multi-product, multi-category, multi-brand retailer, then offering multi-recipient delivery is also a driver, as this enables the user to send multiple gifts to multiple recipients.

Just as showing returns information is key, even more important is to show delivery options and charges at the bag. And don’t make the user have to click a link to go to another page to view these, as this will simply drive abandonment. They should see all of the options and costs as soon as they land on the shopping bag page.

Radio buttons convert best when it comes to selecting the relevant option. Failure to present all of the options will result in 20% to 40% abandonment at this stage.

A big issue with many checkout processes is that other options being presented distract the user. When a user has gone beyond the shopping bag and they start the checkout process, they are ready to buy. They’ve made their minds up. Which is why it’s never a good idea to enable users to add or remove items at this stage or to have your main navigation still available to the user. The former will sow a seed of doubt and the latter will distract the user and both increase the risk of them not purchasing at all. So, enclose the checkout, eliminate main navigation and remove any options for the user to remove items.

One of the biggest drivers of abandonment is forcing users to register on your site. Not everyone wants to be remembered. Offer a guest checkout in addition to your standard registration and checkout process. By doing so, you’ll reduce abandonment by at least 20%. Give your customer the confidence that they’re on a secure site. Add what I call ‘trust markers’ – SSL certificates and also add logos from payment methods (PayPal, Visa etc).

The forms on a checkout are often where many customers abandon the path to purchase. There is nothing more frustrating than being made to re-key information you’ve already provided such as your name, date of birth, address etc.

And just as irritating is the poor way in which many websites handle errors or information incorrectly entered. Make the process as easy and intuitive as possible for customers. Let them know at each stage why you need the information you do and exactly what information it is they have to enter. And if they do so incorrectly, then make it completely clear where they went wrong. For example, if they entered the wrong credit card number then tell them. There are far too many sites that handle this type of scenario with vague, generic error messaging such as “please check the info submitted and try again”. Or even worse, “please try another card”.

If all else fails, let them talk to someone in your contact centre. So make the option of calling someone a prominent feature at this stage of the journey. Customers can be pretty weary at this point.

From a payment perspective, offer as many ‘relevant’ options as possible. For example, if you’re selling into Germany that will include ‘ELV.’ And adding PayPal will drive uplift in incremental sales.


2 thoughts on “Top Tips for Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment and Driving Conversion”

  1. Curious about your thoughts on multi-page versus single-page checkouts. I’ve seen some mixed research about each. Have you any up to date metrics in which works best?

  2. Hi There,

    A good question.

    There aren’t that many sites around that have adopted a one page checkout and therefore the available research is still fairly limited.

    I can tell you that the Vancouver Winter Olympics site from 2010 did A/B split testing and found that the single stage checkout converted at 21% better than the multi stage/multi page checkout.

    I’ve heard of conversion improvements ranging from 15% to 70%, but you need to put this in the context of your business, or your client’s business.

    Given that between 20% and 80% of users drop out at some stage of the checkout process, there is a compelling argument for implementing a single page Ajax checkout.

    A one page checkout uses advanced AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript And XML) technology to communicate with your server during the checkout.

    This has both strengths and weaknesses. Let me start with the strengths and the benefits:

    – More conversions. Single-page checkouts have the potential to significantly improve sales conversion. But please remember that they are still not that common and so lots of users aren’t used to the one page process.
    – The one page checkout encourages them to finish the process as well as saves time. Your customers will no longer need to submit in some cases, duplicated information. Nor will they have to wait for the next web page to load…
    – Better page performance While dozens of factors contribute to page load times, using a single, Ajax-powered checkout form should improve user experience. This is important as consumers won’t tolerate slow load times, they’ll just abandon the site
    – Better customer satisfaction: A combination of better performance and no annoying form validation issues, customers should enjoy a better overall shopping experience.

    The downsides of Using a one – page checkout Process:

    – Ajax depends on JavaScript, it won’t work without it. So if a user has JavaScript disabled, the page will revert to server-side validation
    – Some browser functions will confuse the customer and won’t necessarily behave as expected—Because Ajax does not reload a page to update content the browser’s back button will not bring the user back to an early step in the checkout as might be expected. There is a work around, but it requires more development time.
    – Ajax requires more upfront investment Because Ajax will increase development time, merchants may have to pay a little more or use more development hours.
    – As above, not many sites have this so there are relatively few customers that will have experienced it frequently and therefore there could be some usability issues driven by the issues above and by lack of confidence of this process

    However all of these challenges are likely to be outweighed by the potential upside in the increase in sales and conversion generated.

    But my advice would always be wherever possible, to do an A/B test before you implement any changes.

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