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Online Shopping Carts

By Larisa Thomason
Monday, August 2, 2004; 4:00pm EST

The numbers are scary for online retailers and e-commerce: for every online shopper who completes her transaction, another abandons his online shopping cart without ordering. So what should be a story about online shopping success often becomes a tale of lost opportunities. Don't let your site suffer. If you know why customers abandon their shopping carts, you can take steps to correct the problem.

Online Sales Increase... And So Do Abandoned Carts

By any measurement, $54.9 billion dollars in ecommerce sales is impressive. That's the US Census Bureau's estimate of the total ecommerce sales in 2003. The "The Register" web site reports that total retail sales in the United Stated during the fourth quarter of 2003 increased just 6.2% while online sales increased by 25.1%.

Those numbers are astounding, but don't tell the whole story because they could be even larger! Different studies of online behavior estimate that between 50 and 75% of online shoppers regularly abandon their shopping carts and that 77% have done so at least once. DataMonitor statistics suggest that incomplete online transactions could deprive retailers of up to $63 billion in revenue this year.

Why People Abandon Their Carts

You've probably abandoned a cart at least once - and probably a lot more often. This isn't a problem with beginning users either. Experienced Internet users are actually more likely to dump a shopping cart because they know there's always somewhere else they can go online to purchase the same item.

There are as many different reasons for ditching a shopping cart as there are visitors, but various Web surveys have pinpointed the most common causes:

Reasons Shoppers Abandon Their Carts Source: Yankee Group

56% Shipping charges were too expensive
41% The item was unavailable
29% The site was too difficult to navigate
21% The order wouldn�t go through
18% The order form was too complicated
15% They were unable to use coupons or discounts

Reasons Shoppers Abandon Their Carts Source: WebTrends

35% Shipping charges were too expensive
35% Site requested too much information
17% Not enough product information
14% Decided not to buy online

So what's up with customers and shipping charges? Surely any reasonable person knows that it costs to pack and ship merchandise.

Of course they do, but these reasonable people still suspect that the shipping and handling costs they're asked to pay are sometimes unreasonable. A study by Ernst and Young seems to back them up.

  1. 89% of online retailers charge for delivery

  2. 11% used delivery charges as a profit center

  3. Many charge based on the cost of the item and not its actual shipping costs.

The idea of charging for shipping based on cost infuriates customers the most. It makes sense if you're ordering something that sells by the pound, but what if one customer orders a $70 scarf and another orders a $25 scarf? At most online merchants and catalog retailers, shipping costs for the $70 item are higher - even though there's no real difference in weight or packing difficulty.

An ecommerce study by the marketing firm NFO CFGroup found that "�59 per cent of online shoppers believe they're being gouged for further profit on shipping costs." At least 11% of the time, they're right!

Help For Orphaned Shopping Carts

We touched on the issue of shipping charges in the last Webmaster Tips article: "7 Ways To Increase Your Online Sales", but there are other issues you can address to keep visitors with their carts all the way through the buying process.

1. Shorten the process! Visitors get frustrated easily with a shopping cart system that asks for huge amounts of duplicate information - as in forcing visitors to enter both billing and shipping addresses even if they're the same.

An ecommerce case study published at MarketingSherpa.com found that when the Web site PersonalCreations.com redesigned their shopping cart system to eliminate an entire screen, their cart abandonment rate dropped from 45% to 33%.

Fewer clicks move the process more quickly and give visitors fewer chances to click away from your cart.

2. Make it snappy! Forms that process slowly irritate your visitors just as much as slow-loading pages. Check your page load time with NetMechanic's HTML Toolbox and use our Server Check tool to verify that your server responds quickly when visitors submit the form.

3. Check for errors. Test your forms thoroughly to make sure the information is processing correctly. Also check to make sure the form displays correctly in all browsers. A simple coding error like a misplaced input tag can prevent visitors from submitting the form they took the time to fill out.

4. Give visitors another chance. According to the MarketingSherpa.com case study, the designers at PersonalCreations.com experimented with another method that resulted in a 25% average improvement in sales.

They added a pop-up to the shopping cart system. Customers who abandon their carts see a pop-up window that offers $5 off the purchase they abandoned - but only if they immediately return to the shopping cart and finish the transaction.

Most visitors say they hate pop-up windows, but that's because the pop-ups are often for products they aren't interested in. This technique gives visitors something valuable. Learn how to create pop-up windows in our April 2001 JavaScript tip.

5. Safeguard personal data. You're asking visitors trust you with their personal information and credit cart numbers. Make sure they feel comfortable doing that by linking to your site's privacy policy, offering secure online transactions, and requesting only the information you need.

Ideally, you should ask for personal information as late as possible in the ordering process. Personally, I click away from any site that requires my credit card and contact information before they tell me the final cost of my purchase - including shipping charges!

6. Answer questions! Each shopping cart and product page should include a prominent link to your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. Visitors can refer to it to get information about shipping times, ordering options, contact information, returns policy, and any other questions they may have.

Contact information is important. The NFO marketing survey found that customers like to know they can contact a live person and might not have abandoned their carts if one were available:

"22 per cent said a 1-800 number to call customer service might have changed their minds, while 15 per cent said live text chat with a customer rep would have helped."

7. Make it user-friendly. Shopping cart usability is essential to the success of your online business, so you should always test early and often.

There's more to testing than just checking the HTML code for errors with HTML Toolbox. True usability testing gets actual users in front of your site so you can evaluate their user experience. Of course you can use the site because you designed it.

But can your visitors order your products, input information, and complete their transactions? You need to know that before you launch, not after!

Our July 2002 Usability Tip "Test Early, Test Often" outlines the testing process and explains how to conduct a usability test on a limited budget.

No matter how carefully you design your site, test your ecommerce system, and price your products, some shoppers will always leave without buying. Not every customer in a brick and mortar store buys something on each visit either.

Visitors are more likely to buy if they perceive that your site is trustworthy, provides good value, and is easy to use. That perception is vital to your online success

Source of Article
The author of this article is Larisa Thomason, Senior Web Analyst with NetMechanic, Inc. NetMechanic is an online service specializing in html code checking, search engine optimization and web site maintenance and promotion. For more information visit http://www.netmechanic.com/.


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