Optimization glossary

Shopping cart abandonment

What is shopping cart abandonment?

Shopping cart abandonment is when a potential customer starts a check out process for an online order but drops out of the process before completing the purchase. Any item that enters the shopping cart but never makes it through the transaction is considered to be “abandoned” by the shopper. Shopping cart abandonment is an important aspect of the online shopping process to which retailers pay careful attention.

Shopping cart abandonment rate is calculated by dividing the total number of completed transactions by the total number of transactions that were initiated. This rate will identify what percentage of a site’s users signal purchase intent by adding an item to the cart, but don’t complete the purchase.

The shopping cart abandonment rate is an important metric for ecommerce sites to keep track of because a high abandonment rate could signal a poor user experience or broken sales funnel. Reducing shopping cart abandonment leads directly to more sales and revenue, so optimizing the checkout flow is a core area of focus for many online retailers.

How to reduce shopping cart abandonment

There are many possible causes for shopping cart abandonment, making it a complex problem to tackle. The first step in addressing the issue is to create hypotheses about why visitors are abandoning their carts. This can be done by looking at analytics data and identifying dropoff points, conducting user research and surveys, or comparing your checkout flow to competing sites.

Once a hypothesis has been generated, then different solutions can be tested on the site through A/B testing to determine whether a proposed solution will help improve the shopping cart abandonment rate.

For example, one common issue that many online stores face is the issue of trust. Although web users have grown more comfortable in providing their credit cards over the web, many users can still be hesitant to provide their financial information to unfamiliar websites.

If the theory is that lack of trust is leading to abandoned carts, then different solutions can be implemented to increase trust, such as including reviews and testimonials, incorporating trust seals, prominently featuring pictures of real people, and offering money back guarantees. Each of these can be tested on the site to determine whether they have a statistically significant impact on cart abandonment rate.

In another example, a company might notice that 25% of their shoppers are dropping off on the second page of their online shopping cart. Once they have identified the problem area, they can implement different features to encourage users to complete the purchase.

For example, they could test adding a progress bar to give shoppers a visual indicator of where they are in the checkout process. Or they could offer a limited-time offer to incentivize shoppers to complete the transaction immediately. They could even eliminate the second page of their checkout flow altogether through a redesign, in order to speed up the checkout process.

By creating a hypothesis for why shoppers abandon a cart they've already added products to and testing new ideas for improving the sales funnel, ecommerce sites can constantly improve the conversion rate of their site and increase revenues without having to spend more on increasing traffic.

Shopping cart recovery

Beyond just improving and optimizing the shopping cart experience, another key strategy for dealing with cart abandonment is shopping cart recovery.

Despite your best efforts to reduce cart abandonment, some percentage of customers will always leave your site before making a purchase. That's where cart recovery comes in, to attempt to capture the customer after they've already left your ecommerce site.

There are two main methods of cart recovery:

  1. Abandoned cart emails - If the user entered their email address during the checkout process before leaving your site, then there is the opportunity to send them an abandonment email. This is usually some form of offer or coupon code to entice the user to return to your site and make the purchase.

  2. Abandoned cart retargeting - Ad retargeting is another powerful tactic in cart recovery. With retargeting, you place an ad pixel on your checkout page and then are able to remarket to those users on ad platforms such as Facebook and Google. The advantage of retargeting is that it works even if the user did not enter their email address, and you can remain top of mind for the customer as they are browsing the web.

Common reasons for shopping cart abandonment

Every ecommerce store is different, but the following are some common issues faced by many sites that result in cart abandonment:

  • Lack of trust - Web users aren’t always comfortable providing credit card info online. Improve conversions by building more trust on the checkout page and throughout the site via social proof and building a strong brand. A generous return policy can also help allay customer concerns.
  • High shipping costs - Customers often abandon shopping carts when they get sticker shock after seeing how much their order costs with shipping. Avoid this by offering free shipping promos.
  • Complexity - Online shoppers have a short attention span and will abandon the checkout flow if it is too complex or time consuming. Avoid this by making the checkout process as easy and painless as possible. 
  • Browsing - Many users who add items to the cart but don’t complete are just browsing with low buying intent. Incentivize these users to purchase immediately by offering limited time promos and creating a sense of urgency.
  • Lack of payment options - Customers often have strong preferences of how they would like to pay, and only complete a purchase if their preferred method is presented. Reduce this problem by offering the most popular payment methods for your target audience such as Amex and PayPal.
  • Price is too high - Users on the web often comparison shop to find the best deals. You can help prevent customers from jumping ship by offering special discounts and coupon codes in order to keep them from being scared away by high prices and looking for better deals elsewhere.
  • Technical problems - All technology is susceptible to technical issues and glitches. Be sure to monitor your analytics and do regular reviews of the checkout process to ensure there are no show-stopping bugs. Also ensure that the code on your checkout page is optimized so there are no long load times.

Why A/B testing is the key to reducing shopping cart abandonment

There are many different reasons why customers abandon shopping carts and many potential ways to solve them, which is why A/B testing is a key part of reducing shopping cart abandonment.

A/B testing software such as Optimizely allows you to easily make changes to your site through a visual editor (no coding required!) and then split your traffic so that visitors to your site are randomly shown either the original version of your site, or the version with your changes.

Once Optimizely has collected enough data, it uses an advanced statistical engine to tell you which version of your page performs better. With Optimizely, there’s no guesswork involved, you will know with mathematical certainty which version of your site has a lower shopping cart abandonment rate and exactly how big the impact on your business will be.

Start testing with Optimizely today and use data to increase sales and improve your customers' shopping experience!