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
Online Sales Increase... And So Do Abandoned Carts
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
Reasons Shoppers Abandon Their Carts Source: Yankee Group
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.
89% of online retailers charge for delivery
11% used delivery charges as a profit center
Many charge based on the cost of the item and not its actual
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.
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
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
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
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