Shopping Cart Abandonment
In the CRO world “shopping cart abandonment” is the big hairy monster …
The Abominable Snowman
The Loch Ness Monster
It’s one of the most fearsome things ever to haunt the dream of e-commerce professionals, corporate marketers and conversion rate optimizers.
Basically, shopping cart abandonment is the incarnation of all evil. Shopping cart abandonment is just plain bad news.
I have a strong contention regarding shopping cart abandonment. Let me sum it up with one cogent statement:
- I believe that shopping cart abandonment sparks irrational behavior and unjustifiable reactions.
I’m going to share a few of the reasons why you shouldn't spend the entire holiday season freaking out about shopping cart abandonment, and at the same time deliver advice that can help you overcome its unpleasant realities.
Here are the nine reasons why you should stop freaking out about shopping cart abandonment.
1. It’s going to happen.
My first point is a pretty obvious one, so you don’t have to think very hard right off the bat:
Shopping cart abandonment is going to happen. Deal with it.
The reality of life in a modern e-commerce world is that people will abandon shopping carts on your e-commerce site.
You can hate it, you can fight it, you can cry about it, but you can’t change it. We might as well add “shopping cart abandonment” to the whole certainty category, along with death and taxes.
Shopping cart abandonment is simply the way that shoppers shop!
Part of our conundrum may have to do with the fact that we speak of it in terms of a “shopping cart.” Ugh, what a stupid term. It makes us think of Target or Kroger or whatever. I mean, seriously, who goes into a brick-and-mortar, fills their cart, leaves it in the aisle, and walks out?
Only the incontinent, parents with kids, and other equally distressed individuals.
So, when we talk about shopping cart abandonment rates on e-commerce sites, we think that something must be tragically wrong.
Kevin Hillstrom, writing a long time ago on the issue, explained it like this:
In a store, you don't physically abandon your shopping cart, leaving ice cream sitting in the aisle for a store employee to restock. You have a social contract with the store. You respect people, and don't want to create extra work for employees. Worse, you don't want to get caught abandoning your shopping cart. You might get kicked out of the store. You might have to purchase the melted ice cream.
Online, the social contract breaks down. Who is going to penalize you for abandoning the shopping cart? The shopping cart becomes much more of a "wish list" than a "shopping cart."
That’s a more accurate way to view the online shopping cart. It’s not the same as that rickety steel wire contraption, coated with germs and littered with lost receipts and sales flyers.
Online shopping is totally different.
Those abandoners on your site aren’t people who were lingering on the cliff of indecision, credit card in trembling hand, just about to fork over their cash. They were bored teens browsing the web, a mom doing early Christmas browsing, a guy trying to figure out what lawnmower parts he needed, and someone who is so broke it’s not even funny.
They weren’t abandoning. They were just plain looking.
Shopping cart abandonment has more to do with the shopper than it does your inability to make the sale.
We blame ourselves for the abandonment rate, but we don’t even consider the medley of issues that are going on in the buyer’s head.
Here’s an oft-cited chart on abandonment rates:
Let’s go through some of those issues, and look beyond the raw statistical statements.
“I was just browsing.” Heck, they’re just looking around in the store. Don’t be so pushy!
“Decided against buying.” Yeah, and her mom told her she wasn’t allowed to buy it anyway.
“Website crashed.” Actually, the Internet connection went out, because BellSouth is just like that sometimes.
“Process was taking too long.” He was just surfing on the web while he waited for his friend to come to his house. Oh, look, there’s his friend now! Goodbye, shopping cart.
The reality of life is happening beyond the appalling statistics of shopping cart abandonment rates.
Let’s go ahead and be a bit more relaxed about this whole abandonment thing.
2. Shopping cart abandonment rates are averages, but those averages do not reflect the abandonment rates for your business.
The statistic most often cited for shopping cart abandonment comes from the Baymard Institute, which keeps a running list of 28 Cart Abandonment Rate Statistics.
As of the time I wrote this article, the average shopping cart abandonment rate was 68.06%.
But that doesn’t mean that your shopping cart abandonment rate is 68.06%. Have you ever calculated your shopping cart abandonment rate? It’s not too hard, and you can actually do it in Google Analytics.
Abandonment rates are all over the board, though. Even the averages reflect a spread of numbers.
These statistics are pretty much useless, though, because they don’t tell you what your shopping cart abandonment rate is.
You have no right to panic about shopping cart abandonment rates that aren’t your own.
Each of these statistical surveys brings together a wide swath of industries and websites:
- A crappy website selling overpriced bean bags
- A mammoth B2B website selling multi-million-dollar vibratory equipment
- A struggling mom-and-pop e-comm with four products, 50 broken links, and more 404s than you know what to do with.
Shopping cart abandonment rates are misleading, simply because they bring together an aggregate of industries, niches, products and e-commerce arenas, none of which may be applicable to your particular situation.
It is far more ennobling to look at your own shopping cart abandonment rate. You can actually do something about that.
3. The “abandonment rate” is not as bad as it sounds.
One of the biggest myths of shopping cart abandonment is that the abandonment rate indicates a loss of sales. You feel that in sensational, scare-mongering headlines like this one from Ecommerce University:
This one comes from Welcom Digital, and it’s another yawn-how-typical headline regarding shopping cart abandonment.
But is that true? Is that really the way to spin the stats?
Folks, think! Those people weren’t going to buy anyway! You’re not “losing” a sale!
Look at some of the main reasons why people leave. Notice the ones I scribbled with yellow highlighter. Those are not potential buyers.
We really need to learn how to read this stuff and sort through the junk that passes as research.
Let’s take a counter view:
- Two out of three shoppers said they would buy more online if returns were free. (source)
- Returning site visitors account for 12% of traffic. (source)
- 29% of site visitors return in the first four weeks following their initial visit. (source)
- Abandoners spend 55% more when remarketed (source)
In a masterful, lets-look-at-it-this-way piece of research, Magento and Bronto asked customers, “How frequently do you use the online shopping cart to build a wish list of items to shop later?”
Do you see that? People use shopping carts as bookmarks, wishlists and whatever else. So, let’s not be so stressed about the abandoners.
When a shopper abandons the cart, you don’t lose a sale. Some of them never intended to buy in the first place. Some of them will buy eventually. And that’s okay.
4. Shopping cart abandonment is an opportunity for research, not necessarily a complete lost cause.
Shibo Li and Patreli Chatterjee, research professors at Rutgers Business School, published a monograph on shopping cart abandonment. The title is “Shopping Cart Abandonment at Retail Websites — A Multi-Stage Model of Online Shopping Behavior.” In the paper, they make this important point.
"Clearly shopping cart abandonment may not necessarily be detrimental to the retailer, [sic] it can provide a wealth of information on consideration set formation, complementarity between items, how consumers respond to pricing offers and items that are preferred by its customer base. Items in a customer’s shopping cart are a measure of the consumer’s interest, even if she does not proceed with her purchase.”
Their point, blanketed in scholarly research language is this: You can find out a lot about your customers and your website by studying your abandonment rates.
- Where do they abandon? At what point in the process?
- How many items are in their cart when they abandon?
- What is the average value of the items?
- How did the user find the site in the first place?
- What features/sizes/colors/styles did they look at before abandoning?
To get even more direct answers, you might be able to cajole some of your abandoners to fill out an abandonment survey.
You may even want to look at shopping cart abandonment as a good thing. It’s a source of data — data that you can use to figure out how to improve your e-commerce site.
5. Abandoners who were “just browsing” will likely return.
According to SeeWhy, “75% of abandoners have some degree of intent to purchase and will return to the site to abandon again or purchase.”
Of course visitors aren’t going to buy on their first time to your site. But what about the second time?
About half of the second-timers won’t be back, but the other half? Yeah, they’re going to come back. And at least a quarter of them will buy.
The more a visitor returns to the site, the more likely they are to buy in the future. Yesterday’s abandoner is today’s buyer.
So, don’t get all boo-hoo over your abandoners. They are your future customers.
6. Most shoppers will purchase products left in the cart if offered at a lower price.
According to Visual Website Optimizer’s 2014 Ecommerce Report, 54% of shoppers say that they will buy products left in the cart, “if those products are offered again at a discounted price."
Put in other terms, here’s what that means: “I’ll buy it if it’s on sale.”
As a marketer, you have to decide if or when you’re going to put stuff on the sales rack.
Shopping cart abandoners are often price-sensitive shoppers, looking for the best deal that their hard-earned dollars will get them.
You can decide:
- Can I afford to lower the price, or ...
- Should I just live with the abandonment rate as is?
If you don’t lower the price, then you are essentially choosing a higher abandonment rate. But that makes complete business sense! You can’t afford to lower the price, so you stick to your guns and leave the price as is, because that’s what will maintain your profit margins and keep you from having to take out a second mortgage on your house.
And the abandonment rates? Let them remain high, but you’re not freaking out.
7. Slashing shipping costs will dramatically reduce shopping cart abandonment.
I’ve read more studies on shopping cart abandonment than I care to admit. Let me show you something that shows up in every single freaking study. Look at the biggest bar on each of these graphs:
Just take it in.
Still paying attention?
Good job. Keep examining it.
You getting the idea?
Okay, that’s enough for now.
Did you catch that? The No. 1 reason shoppers abandon their cart is because of shipping costs.
I didn’t cherry-pick those charts and stats. I literally just went to my research, haphazardly grabbed them, and popped them in this article.
If shipping costs are the No. 1 reason for abandonment, then maybe if you eliminate shipping charges, you will be able to lower your abandonment rate.
Take care of the most obvious roadblocks.
The statistics clearly say, “Hey, this is a problem. If you fix this problem, your abandonment rates will go down.”
Do what you can.
It’s like you’re standing at the kitchen sink, complaining about your sky-high water bills, while the fixture leaks a steady stream of water. If you can fix it, then fix it.
Maybe you can’t afford to drop your shipping costs. And that’s okay. You have a business decision to make.
But maybe you can provide clearer information on shipping charges earlier in the process. If the shipping charges are “unexpected,” then give the shopper some sense of how much it’s going to cost them before they even get to the cart.
You may be able to reduce abandonment, but at the same time you may be turning away users who are put off by shipping rates anyway.
So be it. It’s not something to freak out about.
8. Remarketing can gain back a lot of customers.
I’ve shown you above that most shoppers use abandonment as their modus operandi when shopping. It’s how they shop — they look, they sniff around and then they abandon.
A lot of those people will return and buy something later. But what if they forget about your site?
Let me introduce you to my friend, Remarketing.
Remarketing is the process of displaying ads to people who have visited your website in the past. Remarketing is a way to prop up declining sales and to bring abandoners back into the fold.
In a report from one recent convert to remarketing, for one of his clients, remarketing was responsible for 16% of all conversions within the past six months, but it was only 12% of the total cost of marketing. Besides, the remarketing efforts had the highest conversion rate.
When you compare remarketing to display ads, the differences are huge.
In the battle against shopping cart abandonment, don’t stop with onsite improvements, checkout adjustments, or shipping charge reductions.
Go out to the people who visited at one point, and coax them back.
9. The goal isn’t to reduce shopping cart abandonment, but to increase sales.
Focusing on shopping cart abandonment can create a myopic and unhealthy obsession with a single component of conversion optimization that is not necessarily the most conversion-rich area for conversions.
Instead, try other stuff.
- Try conversion optimization.
- Try search engine optimization.
- Try targeted marketing.
- Try better PPC ads.
- Try more benefits.
- Try stronger guarantees.
- Try mobile optimization.
- Try streamlining your checkout process.
- Try getting a good night’s sleep.
- Try creating an updated design.
- Try adding trust signals.
- Try implementing testimonials.
- Try dropping shipping charges.
- Try remarketing.
- Try adding video.
- Try making your buttons bigger.
Stop stressing about the shopping cart abandonment bête noire, and get up and do something different. Your shopping cart abandonment rate may or may not get any better, but there are things that you can do that will make a difference for your e-commerce success.
Shopping cart abandonment is one of those realities of life — along with a disappointing holiday season, stubbed toes, and leaving a pen in clothes that go through the washing machine. Crap happens.
But you don’t have to let shopping cart abandonment ruin your entire approach to online marketing. It happens, so expect it, deal with it, learn from it and do the things that matter.
I’m not proposing that you lie down and take it. No! Get up and take a few violent swings at shopping cart abandonment.
But don’t let it stress you out, freak you out, knock you out, or take you out. You’re better than that.
Shopping cart abandonment is real. But like the Yeti, Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, it’s not as bad as the legends might say ...